Sahaj: Vernacular Furniture of Gujarat

Sahaj: Vernacular Furniture of Gujarat

A new book from the collaborative Vernacular Furniture of N-W India project, co-authored by Mitraja Bais, Jay Thakkar, Samrudha Dixit and Ben Cartwright. Sahaj focuses on vernacular furniture in Gujarat from c.1900 to the present. Nearly 2000 furniture pieces and associated objects were recorded during the course of this research, which is the first of its kind. 

Vernacular furniture is the traditional everyday furniture made and used by many different communities throughout Gujarat. The Gujarati term Sahaj can mean either ‘inherent’ or ‘intrinsic’, and this book introduces the vernacular furniture that is inherent to, and still is made and used throughout Gujarat: whether that be a local household constructing a kothi (grain store) from mud; a kharadi (woodturner) crafting the lacquered frame of a parnu (cradle); or a suthar or mistri  (carpenter creating the series of joints  and complicated interlocking compartments in a majju (a large ornate hope chest on wheels, decorated with carved wooden grills or inset glazed ceramic tiles). 

The vernacular furniture presented in ​Sahaj​ plays an important role in the tasks and rituals of everyday life in Gujarat, and in some cases, has done for centuries. Furniture items are presented in five use-based chapters: ​Aasan​: seat; ​Manch​: bed; ​Manjush​: storage; ​Sapaat​: surface; and Vastu​: objects. Each furniture type is accompanied with detailed physical information (materials, construction methods, scaled drawings and exploded drawings made using 3D modelling software) and a more human story (location, contextual photographs, oral histories). Gujarat is a large and environmentally diverse state with a number of different communities and language groups; the vernacular furniture in ​Sahaj​ reflects this diversity.  

Despite vernacular furniture’s important position in the material culture of Gujarat, there is a lack of accurate information on these items, which is linked to a wider absence of research. This book addresses some of the factors that have influenced changes in vernacular furniture use and manufacture from c.1900 to the present, reviews previous scholarship and ideas about this furniture across the twentieth century, and provides an in-depth overview of Gujarat, its landscapes and the communities that live there. This is the first study of its kind, and hopes to inspire future research.  

The Vernacular Furniture of North-West India project is a collaboration between the Design Innovation and Craft Resource Center (DICRC), CEPT University and the South Asian Decorative Arts and Crafts Collection Trust (SADACC), UK. The result of Phase I: Gujarat is a twofold output - ​Vernacular Furniture of Gujarat: Catalogue ​is the accompanying publication to ​Sahaj: Vernacular Furniture of Gujarat​. The catalogue presents, in detail, over 400 vernacular furniture pieces and objects from Gujarat. The items in the catalogue are classified under the same five broad categories as used in ​Sahaj​. The subsequent phases for Vernacular Furniture of North-West India project, each involving fieldwork, documentation and research, are Phase II: Rajasthan and Phase III: Punjab and Haryana.  

Sahaj: Vernacular Furniture of Gujarat is published by CEPT University Press.