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The Colourful World of Lambanis

Mangyamma – Lost in her kangura work
Bent over a red cloth, the old lady moved her fingers with precision. When I started to click her, she burrowed herself deeper into the cloth, not looking up even once. A smile from her seemed unattainable. Her fingers moved meticulously twisting a bright white thread around a mirror and fixing the duo on the cloth. Finally, after a persisting few minutes, she looked up and grinned, flashing her once white teeth. For the next hour, I sat and asked her about the craft, her unique jewellery and the journey fro

m Marwar in Rajasthan to Sandur, 40 km from Hampi.

Mangyamma had arrived here with a small troupe of other banjaras (Lambanis) as a young girl – so young that her memory fails to recollect the exact events of the trip. All she remembers is stopping in various villages, by the road, setting up their tents and thick grey smoke rising up from makeshift stoves fed with firewood. Her grandmother and mother took turns to the house (well, temporary tent) chores and embellish bits of cloth with mirror shapes and colourful threads. Bits of hair on each side of their head were held together by an elaborate silver clip – something she loved and has continued to fashion it herself till date. The design language was passed on for generations and new motifs and styles were added as the nomadic group moved from town to town. Darned and stitched with a dash of mirrors and applique work, this ‘Kangura’ piece was then sold to tourists or shops along the way. , Finally, it was Karnataka where the family came and settled down, abandoning the nomadic lifestyle. Others from Marwar were already settled here and in the Northern parts of the new state.
Growing up, Mangyamma and her sisters continued with the art of Kangura, producing a number of goods like bags, belts and skirts. The foreign tourists who visited Hampi seemed to love them. Many years later, when the Sandur Manganese and Iron Ores Ltd (SIMORE) owners started the Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra, many women from the village urged the husbands to move closer to the establishment for employment. Initially a handful of women were asked to produce the colourful patterns. Now, Mangyamma is one of the many who sit against the rust wall of the Kendra and create magical designs; these reach not only stores in India but all around the world.

Awestruck by the speed and aesthetics of the design that has taken shape over the last hour, I ask her if she has passed on the knowledge to her kin. That’s the only time she lifts her tattooed chin to tell me that the young women have taken to new ways of making money. There is no admonishment in her voice – just a sombre reality that if the younger generation does not pick it up soon, the wonderful craft of the Lambani will soon be on its way to extinction.

Access the Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra from Shivavilas Palace. 070220 13180; www.shivavilaspalace.com

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