Traditional art forms are the heart and soul of any culture. It is connected to our food and lifestyle intricately. We witness every day that as we move towards junk food and popular art forms, we are moving away from local food culture and folk art. Here are five women entrepreneurs from Uttarakhand who are bringing traditional art, culture and food practices into fashion again. Through their work, these leading entrepreneurs have adapted traditional knowledge for making diversified, aesthetic and competitive products.
1. Minakshi Khati, Founder of Minakriti
Minakshi Khati through her organisation Minakriti: The Aipan Project has been reviving Aipan folk art form in the state. She is famously known as the Aipan girl who hails from Ranikhet, Uttarakhand.
Aipan is a traditional wall and floor art from the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Primarily, this art form was made by women to decorate the entrances of the house and places of worship during special occasions like weddings or religious festivities. The motifs in these art forms are believed to bring in good luck and ward off evil. Aipan paintings are contrasting red and white in colour, made with organic material like red Geru(Ochre) and white rice paste.
Minakshi’s goal is not only to revive the art but to turn her initiative into a women empowerment campaign. Minakshi on a number of occasions has reiterated the message through her social media that although women are not confined to the house or field barns anymore, gender inequality and discrimination are still practised. It is important to empower women so that they can make decisions in every field with freedom and courage. In alignment with that goal, Minakshi Khati is providing self-employment opportunities to rural women. She conducts workshops to train these women in the art form and how to market them effectively.
Her journey has created a spiral effect where her work is motivating others from the state to practise this art form. Minakriti uses the Aipan designs in several ways- their house plates are particularly in demand. They also design Rakhis, Mandala paintings, candle lamps and a variety of decorative items.
2. Shashi Bahuguna, Founder of Namakwali
Namakwali aims to provide healthy and organic flavours of Himalayan villages to consumers across the globe. Behind this quirky brand is Shashi Bahuguna Raturi who was worried that the traditional eating habits of the hill state were lost. She brought women on board from different regions of Uttarakhand to start this initiative. They use traditional stone grinder (known as silbatta in Hindi) to serve their customers as it was done several generations ago. They handpick all the herbs & spices from the hills. The brand uses conventional methods to make products that are free from chemicals.
Through her initiative, Namakwali is using traditional knowledge of cooking to provide employment opportunities to rural women and spread awareness of the state cuisine.
The salt prepared traditionally in Uttarakhand goes by the name “Pisyu Loon” which is famous for its indigenous ingredients. However, due to modernisation and migration, the young generation is not aware of it. Thus, Shashi started using social media in 2017 to raise awareness about the wide variety of local salts. One of her social media captions says “Agr Tata Namak Desh ka namak hai to Pisyu Loon Uttarakhand Ka”(If Tata Salt is the salt of the Nation, then Pisyu Loon is the salt of Uttarakhand). Today, Namakwali has a range of products from flavoured salts, chutney powders and ghee.
3. Tanya Kotnala & Tanya Singh, Co-Founders of Bhuli Design Studio
The duo behind the Bhuli art is a crafts fashion designer and a nutritionist. Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh with their sheer passion for the culture of Uttarakhand are taking the art space by storm.
Since her days as a design student at NIFT, Tanya Kotnala has always been interested in folk art and craft. Her passion later culminated in Bhuli. She was joined by Tanya Singh, who is a nutritionist and a food communication expert. The duo put to use their professional acumen in the art they create. They mix folk elements with contemporary designs to raise awareness of social issues through their art. Most of their projects revolve around the themes of child development and women empowerment.
The word “Bhuli” means little sister in the Garhwali dialect of the hill state of Uttarakhand. Their art regularly features the day-to-day life of weavers, local artisans and also traditional folktales. An intriguing feature at Bhuli has been the recurring theme of tribes from the Himalayan states of India. Tanya Kotnala has researched and documented several communities across the Northeast and Ladakh region like the Khasis, Brokpas and the Monpas.
Tanya Singh on the other hand, having studied Food Culture and Communication in Italy returned to India to work on traditional knowledge of food culture in the state. She realised that the food here is simple yet very nutritious.
Bhuli’s work ethics include three simple principles: Simplicity, Sustainability and Swadesi. However, Swadesi does not mean the art form could not be tweaked with changing times. Kotnala believes that if the art form has to be revived it is inevitable to make certain modifications and consider design innovations as a solution. She calls it an “evolution of art” and not a revival. Bhuli’s print has been recognised and picked up by well-known designers to showcase at fashion weeks.
What inspired the duo to work in the state was the lack of interest that local people show towards the traditional craft, food and culture. They aspire to minimise the large-scale migration from the villages of Uttarakhand by upskilling the locals.
4. Shikha Prakash, Co-Founder of Valley Culture
With the mission to ruralise urban food habits, co-founders Shikha and Robin embarked on a journey across the Himalayas. They explored villages in Uttarakhand where communities have been growing, extracting and pounding food using traditional methodologies-organically, sustainably and without chemicals. The use of “gharat”, a turbine which is powered by flowing water instead of electricity, is one of them . These communities were mapping the superfoods certified by nature. The duo integrated the traditional wisdom into urban food sensibilities by sourcing the raw materials for their products from the locals. Today, they have created a community of more than 5000 women farmers from Uttarakhand who are associated with Valley Culture.
Today, owing to modernisation, the art forms and traditional eating habits are eroding rapidly. SheThePeople brings to you extraordinary women entrepreneurs from Uttarakhand who utilised long-lost knowledge through modern means to revive their cultures. They identified and shared their love for traditional art and cuisines to generate livelihoods and employment for several other women.