Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

That Riot of Colour

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There was a time colourful rugs adorned the homes of nobility in Sindh and Bahawalpur. Known as farasi in the south and falasi in Bahawalpur, they were produced by a very busy cottage industry for a market that was ready and wanting. Whatever the artisan, traditionally always women, could bring off the handloom, was quickly lapped up. Turnover was swift; recompense for the long hours over the loom good. Inevitably, every village had several households practicing the craft. Today, these masterpieces of weaving are getting harder to come by.

The word farasi, sometimes pronounced farashi, is clearly a corruption of farsh, Persian cognate for floor covering. Baloch families of Badin claim they brought farasi weaving to Sindh some four to five hundred years ago. At home on the vast, wind-scoured desert plateau of western Balochistan, the dirt floor of their dark goats hair tents was adorned with these hardy, virtually wear-resistant rugs. In that khaki landscape of flying sand and dust, this was one flamboyant riot of colour.

Earlier, the colours were all derived from locally available
mineral  and vegetable sources.
Here, white lamb’s wool is being dyed brown.
Some colours, in order to remain fast, need to be cooked
As goat and camel herders, the Baloch had a ready supply of the hair of these animals, the basic raw material. The claim therefore that they were the pioneers of the colourful farasi may well be true. Moreover, deriving from the Persian, Balochi could just as well have carried farsh, later corrupted to farasi. Because of its demand in Sindh, the art quickly radiated out of Baloch homes to be learnt by the desert dwellers of Thar and Cholistan who also possessed a ready supply of necessary material.

Camel and goat hair, spun manually into thread, is dyed in every conceivable colour. Time was when dyes came from natural sources such as acacia or jujube leaves, lac, cochineal and indigo. Primary colours were mixed together in varying quantities to produce the desired variety of shades. And the colours were made fast by cooking the dyed material either with soda or alum or with a mash of millets. Modern times have simplified the process, however: now farasi weavers buy manufactured chemical dyes cutting out the process of making colours.

The loom, a timber apparatus, has not changed in perhaps more than a millennium. The warp of white cotton thread goes around two axles back and front, each anchored to upright stakes in the ground to keep the material taut. The weft of coloured woollen threads produces the designs as each thread alternates over and under the warp.

As is the case for all hand-woven carpets, the loom for the farasi has no moving parts other than the axles. Consequently, in order to produce a firm pile each weft has to be seated tight against the other with the help of the weaver’s comb or peezug.

Raw camel hair being manually spun into thread
on a spindle that has not changed
in the last 5,000 years or more.
This is strictly men’s work as women take care of weaving
On completion of a panel – and not beforehand – the weavers decide what pattern the next panel will be. The singular consideration here is the overall harmony of design. So it is that centimetre by centimetre, pattern by pattern, panel after panel, the farasi becomes a phantasmagoria of colour and design to come off the loom.

Intriguingly, there is no pattern book to consult as the designs and forms, passed down through generations, remain etched in the minds of the weavers. Despite being unrecorded, each design has a specific name. As the two weavers begin laying in the weft they decide what the first panel will carry. And since there are sequences of patterns that go together, the first establishes the overall look of the finished product.

Interestingly, farasi making has clear division of labour. Men prepare the woollen thread whereas the cotton thread of the warp is mostly prepared by women on a traditional spinning wheel, now purchased readymade. Colouring of wool is again the matron’s job as is the weaving that is, without exception, done by women.

While they start to learn the art young, today one sees only elderly matrons, bent with age, labouring at the loom. And with good reason.

A 3.5x6.5 foot farasi takes up seven kilograms of cotton thread for the warp. The wool for the weft is approximately twelve kilograms. The cost for materials for the standard farasi therefore runs up to Rs. 12,000 to 14,000. With household chores to attend to, the weavers spend some six to eight hours at the loom every day in order to produce the standard sized farasi in two months’ time. Now, if their hard work is not made good with a sale price of at least Rs. 30,000 for one farasi, the work is simply not worth their while.

Hasan Mehri of Baghli Mehri village in Badin says there are few takers these days. It is now impossible, he says, to see a young woman at the loom because they know this dying craft will never butter their bread. Indeed, in this village there is not a single young woman apprentice for they all deem farasi weaving a waste of time in terms of earning a livelihood.

Detail of white cotton threads of the warp on a handloom. Notice how the colours of the weavers’ attire compliment the scheme of the farasi
According to Mehri, the older women keep at it out of a peculiar loyalty to their art. Since they continue to weave, there is a store stacked with a few dozen carpets with no market. Visiting bureaucrats and politicians sometimes feign interest in the farasi and end up purchasing a piece. Other than that, there are no buyers. Worse still, there is absolutely no institutional recognition of this fast-vanishing craft nor any support for it.

What then will be the fate of this ancient art? Mehri smiles a melancholic smile. ‘When the last weaver passes away from this life, the timber of the loom will very likely end up as firewood.’

Previous: Silence in Kosh Kalat

Muhammad Hasan Mheri can be contacted at 03458281786

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 1 February 2016 at 14:32, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

A beautifull mates no more available because of dust allergy problum


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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Riders on the Wind

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