Posted by R. John Howe on 02-23-2004 05:48 PM:

Migrant Blacksmiths in Sarees

Dear folks –

A few months ago Michael Wendorf reminded me in a reference to it, that I had a book entitled “Nomads of the World,” a National Geographic publication. I looked through it in my review of my books for possible instances of sarees, without really expecting to find any.

But an article on the Gaduliya Lohars of India surprised me. The Lohars are cart blacksmiths who migrate somewhat in their work. They travel in carts pulled by bullocks.

The Lohar women wear a species of saree called “odhani,” described as being composed of “yards and yards" of fabric. Here is a photo of a group of Lohar women ritually bathing as part of their religious practice.

You can see that they are wearing saree-like garments.

Here are a couple of closer pictures of Lohar women and their dress. First, a woman with a child.

And here is the cover photo on this book, also of a Lohar woman.

The odhanis are often, the text says, decorated with peacock designs.

So these migratory women do seem to wear saree-like garments, but the real surprise was in the accompanying text. Listen to this passage:

“…Even if I had not known the site, I could have gone straight to it from the bus stop. All I had to do was walk toward the slow, rhythmic pounding of their sledgehammer. Thud…thud…thud…

“Despite having seen these artisan nomads at work many times during the 11 years I have studied them, I still find the scene rather startling, mostly because the person swinging the long-handled hammer, or “ghan,” is usually a woman.

“In her long skirt of brightly printed cotton, her red and green “kanchali,” or brassiere, and her light “odhani” yards of gaudy cloth draped loosely about her, she stands barefoot before the little anvil, the “eran.” Over her shoulder she raises the great hammer and brings it smashing down. Again and again she strikes. Thud! Thud! She hits the ten-pound hammerhead against a scrap of fire-hot iron her husband holds with tongs on the anvil. Her 46 ivory – or plastic – bracelets, irremovable symbols of marriage, jangle and click with each blow.

“Slender, barely five feet tall, and often either pregnant or still suckling a child, she may work 10 to 14 hours a day at the anvil in addition to grinding grain to make bread, carrying water, cooking and looking after the children.

“But until her sons grow strong enough to share her job, she must swing the hammer to help her husband earn a meager living. During a few months in early spring and fall, they may work from dawn into night beating iron bars into plowshares, sickles, hoes, wheel rims, and bullock shoes for busy farmers. On such a day, they can net as much as 10 rupees, less than $1.50 or about 15 cents a plowshare. Among the Lohars a lazy person is considered as immoral as one who steals and only a little less sinful than one who kills a sacred cow or cobra.”

A truly unexpected find: nomadic female blacksmiths in sarees.


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 02-23-2004 08:30 PM:


Isn't the uniform colour just marvellous ?

The people of the desert state of Rajasthan which is to the West -have a preference for the hot colours - oranges and reds.
They have gorgoeus tie-n-dye works called 'bandhini' which come in saree forms as well as Odhinis - in cottons and silk.

They share a border with the state of Gujarat and mirror work on textiles is also very common - called "abhalaa". Several styles of abhalaa work are seen and possibly have originated in different parts of these states.

The state of Rajasthan is a treasure trove of art - their architecture e.g. Umaid Bhavan Palace - their old silver jewellery - their textiles all are breathtaking. The bone / ivory armbands that get progressivley wider are worn for life !

Even the men have a very quaint very cute dress ......

Will send some pictures to Steve to post.

Jaina Mishra

Posted by Danny Mehra on 02-23-2004 09:28 PM:

Lohars and Lurs?

Thanks, Jaina and John. This is indeed a terrific salon.

Your thread about Lohars is intriguing.

As a quick aside, these "Lohars" are also known as one of the nomadic Indian gypsy tribes. If I remember correctly, some of these tribes are supposed to have migrated all the way up through Central and Eastern Europe and have become assimilated with the gypsy tribes that have settled in those parts of the world today.

As another quick aside, if you recall the Luri salon by Pat Weiler, there was a thread in there where we were debating the connection between Luris and Lohars. Loha means iron. Lohars are ironsmiths. And Lahore, the Pakistani city, may also have some remote connection thereto. As may also my late father-in-law's family - Laroia - who originally came from Lahore.

Small world! Makes one want to see more of it!


Posted by R. John Howe on 02-24-2004 07:03 AM:

Jaina -

In your post above you said in part, referring to the Lohars:

"...They have gorgeous tie-n-dye works called 'bandhini' which come in saree forms as well as Odhinis - in cottons and silk."


There seems to be a distinction in your sentence here between "saree forms" and "Odhinis." Perhaps this is part of what you can help us understand. Are "Odhinis" not a species of "saree?"


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 02-24-2004 08:33 AM:


No - Odhinis are, in my understanding shorter versions of the saree. They may worn as a 'half - sari' which means that the skirt can be seen a lot. It gets tucked into the front near the navel and goes to the back and gets diagnolly crossed over the shoulder almost immediately. The skirts used with half saris are necessarily prettier and well decorated.

The saree on the other hand goes around at the waist level for a complete round, and pleats are created by folding the fabric over before tucking in, and only after the complete circling does it go over the shoulder diagnally. Since the skirt is fully covered in this case, it usually is much like a plain petticoat.

Since odhinis are structurally the same as 'dupattas' in the sense that the length is the same, they can be interchanged. A dupatta is worn over the shoulders and is free at both ends.

Jaina Mishra