Sindh has a rich heritage of traditional handicraft that has evolved over the centuries. Perhaps the most professed exposition of Sindhi culture is in the handicrafts of Hala, a town some 30 kilometres from Hyderabad. Hala’s artisans are manufacturing high quality and impressively priced wooden handicrafts, textiles, paintings, handmade paper products, blue pottery, etc. Lacquered wood works known as Jandi, painting on wood, tiles, and pottery known as Kashi, hand woven textiles including Khadi, Susi, and Ajrak are synonymous with Sindhi culture preserved in Hala’s handicraft.
The artisans of Hala rarely get the justified price of their labour. The middlemen have been exploiting the artisans for decades selling the handicrafts at exorbitant profit margins at tourist hot spots of Karachi Lahore and Islamabad and even abroad.There is a dire need of patronizing the handicraft cluster of Hala, provide the artisans a platform to sell their products in cities and export markets so as to enable them earn handsome amount of their produced goods.
The Small and Medium Enterprises Authority (SMEDA) is planning to set up an organization of artisans to empower the community. SMEDA is also publishing a directory of the artisans so that exporters can directly contact them. Hala is the home of a remarkable variety of traditional crafts and traditional handicrafts that carry with them centuries of skill that has woven magic into the motifs and designs used.
The diverse Sindhi cultures, lifestyles, traditions as well as geographical conditions have influenced Sindhi art, and for over a century handicrafts have been a source of pride and a livelihood for the people of Hala. Kashi woodwork and other products made by the artisan community of Hala have established a position in the domestic and international markets. Jandi woodwork of Hala gives a glimpse of the richness of Pakistani culture and tradition has been followed through generations.
Sindh is known the world over for its various handicrafts and arts. The work of Sindhi artisans was sold in ancient markets of Armenia, Baghdad, Basra, Istanbul, Cairo and Samarkand. Referring to the lacquer work on wood locally known as Jandi, T. Posten an English traveller who visited Sindh in early 19th century said, the articles of Hala could be compared with exquisite specimens of China.
Jandi is famous all over the world due to its delicacy, durability and the natural beauty of the wood. Jandi is rendered on lamps, candle stands, flower vases, jewelry boxes, cigarette boxes, ash trays, pots, swings, cots, dressing tables, chairs & tables, bedroom sets, sofa sets, and telephone stands. The Jandi work also has its drawbacks. The persons associated with the business said that lacquer furniture and items have a long life but acid, alcohol, and oil will damage the colour. Moreover, direct sunshine and water can destroy the life of the products. Hala has also preserved the extraordinary traditional ceramic techniques.
The village potters known as kumhaar across the Indian sub continent are still producing exquisite earthenware in Hala. In Pakistan the finest examples of Kashi work are in the Sindh province. Kashi work consisted of two kinds: (a) Enamel-faced tiles and bricks of strongly fired red earthenware, or terracotta; (b) Enamel faced tiles and tesserae of lightly fired lime-mortar, or sandstone. Some authorities describe tile-mosaic work as the true Kashi.
Hala’s apparel tradition is one of the world’s oldest with handlooms and power looms dating back to the Indus valley civilization. The hand-spun and hand-woven cloth called "Khadi" was being exported to various countries since time immemorial.
Since Khadi deals in natural fibres viz. cotton, silk and wool only, spun and woven in natural environment, it can boast of being 100 percent natural, unlike handloom and mills which receive cotton yarn, blended with some regenerated cellulose fibres. Khadi cloth has found its place in haute couture and on the ramps of most eminent fashion devas.
Over a period of time cotton was mixed with silk to create Mashru, a double layered material with a thick cotton base and a silken warp woven in satin weave, a purely Indian innovation. It was woven specially for the ladies. In the Susi weave the cotton weft lay against the skin; hence it was permissible to wear it. In the Ain-i-Akbari, it is mentioned that Susi, a reputed silken fabric from Shush, a town in Persia, was originally brought to the Deccan via Alexandria during the 11th century. Susi lost its silken character somewhere along the line and reappeared as a cotton fabric in Lahore in the 1620’s. Susi later became synonymous with Sindh, the primary production centres being Hala and Hyderabad.
Technological improvements were gradually introduced such as the spinning wheel [charkha] and treadle [pai-chah] in the weavers’ loom, to increase refinement in designing, dyeing and printing by block. Painting process amounted for a much higher volume of output. The refined, lightweight, colourful, washable fabrics from Hala became a luxury for people used to only woollens and linens of the age.
Ajrak has been in Sindh since the birth of its civilization. Blue colour is dominantly used in Ajrak. Also, Sindh was traditionally a large producer of indigo and cotton cloth and both used to be exported to the Middle East. Ajrak is a mark of respect when it is given to an honoured quest, friend or woman. In Sindh, it is most commonly given as a gift at Eid, at weddings, or on other special occasions - like homecoming.
Along with Ajrak the Rilli or patchwork sheet, is another Sindhi icon and part of the heritage and culture. Every Sindhi home will have set of Rillis - one for each member of the family and few spare for guests. Rilli is made with different small pieces of different geometrical shapes of cloths sewn together to create intricate designs.
Rilhi is also given as a gift to friends and visitors. It is used as a bedspread as well as a blanket. A beautifully sewn Rilli can also become part of a bride or grooms gifts. Rural women in Sindh are skilful in producing Sindhi caps.
Sindhi caps are manufactured commercially on a small scale at New Saeedabad and Hala New. These are in demand with visitors from Karachi and other places and these manufacturing units have very limited production due to lack of marketing facilities.