Hotels in India » Art and Crafts in India » Quilted Comfort – Jaipuri Razai

Quilted Comfort – Jaipuri Razai

The winter buy yourself a genuine Jaipuri Razai (quilt) and know what it is to roll up in a chunk of cloud. Incredibly soft and light that’s a Jaipuri razai for you. And warm too. Craftsmen of old used to boast that wrapped overnight in several folds of Jaipuri razai, a raw egg would come close to setting!

Nobody quite knows when and how this mini marvel came into being. Why did Rajasthan alone become the home of this unique from of winter covering when quilts were common enough all over? Certain factors seem to have played a part: The inhospitable desert terrain, the bitter winter and the age-old Rajasthani penchant for being constantly on the move. Sundown in winter always sent the temperatures plummeting among the dunes. For those who stayed home there was warmth enough but to many a Rajasthani male, home was none other than the dunes themselves with only the sky for cover. Princes and chieftains on the warpath, soldiers in the saddle, banjaras (gypsies), bhopas (itinerant bards), shepherds, traders, camel caravans rolling along the featureless sands on private business- they all needed something to keep the chill out without adding significantly to their saddle bags. And some genius who remains unsung to this day found the perfect answer in the Jaipuri razai.

Down Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal bazaar, we came upon one of the oldest establishment turning out Jaipuri razais. We climbed a dozen pink stone steps to reach a long narrow shop run by three generations of men in the trade.

“Just what goes to make a Jaipuri razai superior to the others?” we asked the owner of the shop. “Do you put in a special variety of cotton?” Abdul Latif Smiled. “It’s the same quality of cotton all over,” he said. “Good desi stuff but nothing exceptional. In our case we get in from Sri Ganganagar just when the fresh crop comes in. The trick lies in the carding. We card away all the dross to get at the dross to get at the finest fibres.”

We went further down the length of Hawa Mahal bazaar, into a narrow side street where camels looked down their noses on cars and scooters scurrying past. And we arrived at the other half of Abdul Latif’s establishment. His star craftsman, Pir Mohammad, hard at work, smiled at us through a haze of cotton fibre. “Our families have been carders for generations,” he said with pride. “We excel at the job.” And we quite believed him, for one the uneven floor, atop a faded sheet of cloth lay what looked less like fluffed up cotton than a layer of silky, bubbly foam from some luxury soap.

Abdul Latif took up the story. “What you see there is all that’s left of a kilo of cotton after a whole week of carding. The net weight now would be no more than a hundred grammes and this quilt will fetch Rs. 250/- We make even lighter quilts, weighing as little as fifty grammes, by carding the cotton over and over again. But a fifty grammes quilt is done strictly to order. It takes at least three months to make and costs a thousand rupees. We make heavier quilts too, weighing two hundred and fifty or five hundred grammes. But the lighter a quilt, the more evenly filled, the warmer and more comfortable it will be.”

He went on, “Time was when these quilts were made only from the gossamer light, world famous ‘Dhake ki malmal’. To this day, old, fine textured cotton and georgette saris are used. But the cloth the Jaipuri razais, a soft quality voile, mainly razais, a soft quality voile, mainly comes from Bombay at Rs. 12/- per metre. A single quilt takes six metre and a double quilt eleven metres of cloth. We get the material printed at Sanganer at Rs. 30/- per metre. The cotton costs Rs. 25/- per kilo. The rest is hard work.”

Across the street, in a marginally brighter, not quite so tumbledown set of rooms, two sisters Kamala and Lalita sit quilting a freshly filled razai. Playing their fine needles with superb ease, they laughed when we mentioned marking the pattern in chalk. “Only novices need that kind of help,” said Kamala with a toss of her head. “We’ve been doing this for years now. In fact, at Rs. 25/- per razai, we’re earning enough to keep the home fires burning. It’s a hereditary skill. Our mother still plies a deft needle.” Quilting is the sole purview of women and three or four standard patterns have been in vogue for as long as anyone can remember. Gol (concentric circles), phool (flowers), paan (the betel leaf) and lahariya (vertical stripes zigzagging down the face of the quilt). Tow women work together on one quilt and between them manage roughly two quilts a day, give or take a little depending on the complexity of the design.

“you can wash a Jaipuri razai,” said Abdul Latif in parting. “Use cold water. Don’t scrub hard and never ever squeeze your razai when it is wet.” Frankly I wouldn’t risk it but you’re welcome to try!

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