Beadwork from the Indian Kingdom of Saurasthra.


Two charming head pads in the Saurashtra style. They are used to cushion the heavy water pots carried from the well on women’s heads. The example on the left is decorated with lions, the one on the right with elephants. Author’s collection.

While glass beads are used today in necklaces and bangles in many parts of India, glass seed beads seem to have been introduced only after, 1700, and only in one small area of this vast continent – the Kingdom of Saurashtra in what is today southern Gujarat State. (Suarashtra’s name survives in the modern city of Surat  in Gujarat). In fact, the art of bead embroidery was only practiced in one small area of modern Gujarat, where it is associated with the ancient city of Kutch, and was limited to only  two villages, which are said to be the only places producing this distinctly Indian style. Furthermore, this beadwork was produced only by members of the Kathi land owning caste (and presumably their servants). Sadly production apparently ceased in the 1940s.

The matching left and right hand sides of a toran doorway hanging – they hung on either side of the doorway, with the tabs at the bottom pointing outwards, and they would once have been linked by a valance over the lintel. This pair is for sale at

The shapes and forms of the beadwork echoed those of the embroidery and appliqué handwork of the area such as ornamental hangings and valances for doorways (toran), embroidered decorations for bullocks, horses and carts used in wedding processions and everyday objects such as fans and pads used to support heavy water jars when carried on the  women’s  heads.

The beadwork itself is both distinctive and delightful, consisting of naive animals, people, gods, flowers and trees, usually scattered on a white background.

Door valance (toran) featuring birds, dancers, trees and flowers. Author’s collection.

The purpose of these toran door hangings was not merely to decorate the entrance of the home on special occasions, but also to welcome the visitor, and to protect the house and the household. The peacock at the very top of the pair of hangings above  is a very common design element as it is a sign of welcome to guests, while embroidered gods and goddesses would also offer their protection. Other common elements were royal lions, cows and bulls, dancing maidens and may other charming images.

Festive covers for the orns of the bullock dawing the bridal cart.

An Indian wedding is a joyous affair, whether it takes place in a palace or a village compound. The bride and groom are treated like royalty for that wedding day, and the groom arrives on a splendid horse, while the bride is often transported from her home on a bullock cart covered  with flowers. In the old kingdom of Shaurashtra, the groom’s horse and the bullock pulling the cart are often decorated with  special beadwork coverings.

Apart form this small Shaurashtrian enclave near Kutch, I know of only once other Indian community that makes extensive use of beads – the Banjara nomads of  India, who are historically  related to the Romany gypsies of Europe and  produce superb belts and dress ornaments, often combining beads with embroidery , mirror fragments and coins.

A beaded mask for a bridal bullock.

The wandering Banjara also call Gujarat home, and their beadwork is often described as Kutchi (anglicised to Coochie)and was surely inspired by the magnificent beadwork of the ancient kingdom of Saurashtra.

Important notice: Many of my readers may find English easy to read,  but difficult to write. Please feel free to  post comments in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian  or Spanish if it makes it easier for you. I can read German, Dutch and French and have friends who can help translate the rest.

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