Scattered in small villages throughout India are women artisans who use their hands and needles to craft the beautiful materials we buy to beautify our homes. But who are they? Where do they live? How did their products get here?
Introducing a daughter of India: Arundhati Mandava
Arundhati Mandava, the owner and manager of Kanthausa, was born in India. She was one of seven children. As a young bride of seventeen years old, she came to the USA with her new husband. His job led her on different journeys, living in different places until finally settling in Pittsburgh. During that time, she completed her college degree on a part-time basis. She finally raised her two sons by working as a real estate agent.
Remembering her Birthplace
Arundhati, remembering India and her roots, took her sons back for recurring visits. She recalled the vibrant colors of India and the different artisans handcrafting woodcarvings, carpets, and hand block art. Even today, most things are still handmade, not automated. What stayed with her was the bright tie-dyes, the intricate embroidery, and the legacy and art of Kantha embroidery.
In her own words: "I started Kanthausa to give back to India. My main goal is to help rural artisans gain financial independence by buying their craft. Hopefully, in this way, we can help bring the artisans out of poverty. They will gain a better living standard, be able to put food on the table, and send their children to school. Their independence will give them a voice. So, I found a mediator who could relay the message to the women who agreed to supply their works of art to Kanthausa."
Who are these women?
Although artists in their own right, the Kantha-making women are everyday wives, mothers, grandmothers, and friends.
One of them confessed: " We love meeting in different houses, sit on the carpet, and catch up with each other while we stitch."
And what a colorful picture that makes, too. Imagine women wearing beautifully embroidered long saris, embellished bangles on the arms, and simple one-band rings on the fingers, sitting hunched in a circle, on handwoven carpets.
To them, Kantha quilting is a way of life; a tradition passed on from mother to daughter. Different generations sit together, creating new throws or pillows from layers of saris.
Even master stitchers admit that a lot of love, labor, and time goes into handcrafting an item. "It may take up to 60 hours, or more, to make a Kantha quilt," said one.
Where do they live?
Most of these ladies live in Rajasthan's rural areas, meaning "The Abode of the Rajas." Jaipur, or Pink City, is the capital city. Some of the villages are in the Ramsar wetlands or the intertidal flats of the town of Barmer. Others are in the Thar Desert of India, and can only be reached after a full day traveling over rocky terrain and dirt roads.
How do their products get here?
Arundhati employs an intermediary who knows the women, ensuring personal contact with the artisans, thereby securing a steady supply of beautiful materials.
"We bring something from these ladies' homes into our own houses when we fill our personal spaces with collections from other countries. The designs tell their story, while the display in our living areas blend their history with ours."
by Elsa Dixon, Ph.D | Travels with Elsa
Elsa recommends checking out KANTAUSA to find more Kantha information