By Sushmit Sharma
One of the most easily recognizable articles in the entire repertoire of embroidered textiles from Gujarat is the Ganesh-sthapana, a pentagonal textile delightfully embroidered with the image of Lord Ganesh and his acolytes, Riddhi and Siddhi.
In Gujarat, the pastoral groups residing in Kachchh and Saurashtra, a girl from a very young age would embark upon a mammoth project of embroidering textiles which would form the part of the trousseau that she would carry to her new home. She would be trained in the stitches and the style prevalent among the group by the women of her family and clan. This project generally commences with the embroidering of the Ganesh-sthapana, a symbolic prayer to the ‘Lord who removes obstacles’, which would safeguard and ensure the successful completion of the task in hand and also eventually find her a suitable groom. Ganesh-sthapanas play an important role at the time of the wedding. It is installed in the family homes of the bride and the groom respectively for three days prior to the wedding. Various ceremonies or pujas would be performed in front of it and when the wedding is finally completed, it would be taken with the rest of the trousseau. This major role in the wedding makes it a treasured article for every woman and no matter what, never parts with it easily.
Some of the most beautiful Ganesh-sthapanas are embroidered by the Kanebi-Patels of Saurashtra. Although in recent years, other groups such as Boricha Ahirs, Kharaks and the Chaaran or Gadhvis have also taken up the tradition. A coarse cotton fabric which is dyed in yellow or a lighter shade of orange is used for the sthapana. Plain white is also used as it symbolises purity. The fabric is shaped into a pentagonal form intended to depict a niche or a shrine. This pentagonal piece is then given to a local draughtsman who would sketch out the theme with a small twig or match stick strictly adhering to the stylistic guidelines of the community who commissions them. After this, the women of the community would embroider along the lines with floss silk (heer) or cotton threads of various colours. There is no limitation to the type of stitches used. A single piece can show multiple techniques. It is also embellished with mirrors (ranging from small to tin mounted big mirrors) and narrow bands of gota. The lower side of the sthapana is often decorated with leaf shaped pendants (patti) in mashru, bandhani or sometimes embroidered. There are also plenty beaded versions (moti-bharat) of the sthapanas in the same format found in Saurashtra, probably commissioned by affluent landlords.
Lord Ganesh with his two acolytes Riddhi and Siddhi are lovingly embroidered, either in an abstract or slightly natural form. None of the Ganesh-sthapanas are the same, making it a highly individualistic work of art. The spaces around him are filled with parrots, peacocks, cows, his vahana, the mouse, attendants and devotees, all venerating the Lord. S.S. Hitkari in his monograph, entitled, “Ganesh-Sthapana: The Folk Art of Gujarat”, has not only documented some of the rare and interesting examples of the craft, but also decoded many symbolism that are associated with the embroidered motifs.
The sthapanas made by Boricha Ahirs and Chaaran/Gadhvis are generally in square format. The ones belonging to the Chaaran/Gadhvis are particularly awe-striking as the entire space around the divine Lord is filled with different birds, animals, fish and tortoise. The beloved Ganesh is also seen embroidered on door valance (torans) and lintel decorations (pacchitpatti). Sometimes, the pentagonal sthapana comes in a complete set of toran and a pair of sankhs (L-shaped extensions flanking the door).
1Hitkari, S.S. Ganesha-sthapana: The Folk Art of Gujarat. (New Delhi: Phulkari Publication, 1981), 23-24.
About the Author:
Sushmit Sharma is an Art historian, and associated in various capacities with museums in New Delhi, working on the documentation of their decorative arts, textiles/costumes, arms/armour and folk/tribal art collections. He has also co-authored the catalogue, titled, "Divyambara: Masterpieces of Costumes from the National Museum Collection" together with eminent historian, Late Dr. Lotika Varadarajan. He is also trained as a Fashion Designer in National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, creating collections for various high end brands.
To read more about Indian Arts and Crafts, visit Sushmit’s blog: www.livingwithart.blog