Kids Corner

Photographs by Shweta Moterao


The Khes of Punjab





charkha mera rangla
vich charkhe de sone diyan mekhaan
naale main yaad karaan naale rovaan
jad charkhe val vekhaan

"Full of colour is my spinning wheel
Its nails are made of gold
Every time I glance at it
It reminds me of you
And brings me to tears …"

[Punjabi folk song]

For generations women residing in the villages of Punjab have woven the khes as a part of the trousseau that they take to their future home.

With bold, harmonic and imaginative colour patterns, it is requisite as a coverlet while sleeping.

Khes serves as a floor spread as well as a bed covering and is traditionally made of cotton. The thinner ones are used as bed coverings in winter and the thicker ones are used in place of shawls during winters.

It is a household craft and is mostly woven by the women folk for their daughters, as an article for dowry.

According to historians, weaving is traditionally thought to have developed from mat making which uses simple geometric patterns, sometimes braided and sometimes just coiled. Impressions of evidently similar coiled mats are found on the bases of pottery vessels from the Indus sites as early as Neolithic times.

These recurring designs give fresh evidence of the remarkable survival of cultural patterns in Punjab. Khes was evolved centuries ago and became popular during the Mughal period to meet the demand for a cotton blanket.

Before the import of machine-made goods from Britain and Europe in the mid nineteenth century, small scale cotton industries in Gambat, Hala, Nasarpur, Thatta and Karachi across the subcontinent, all now in Pakistan, were known for their handlooms. Hand spinning was practiced and the thicker phulkari fabrics, khes, are living examples of it.

Cotton as we know has been grown in abundance in the plains of Sindh and Punjab for centuries and the climate has dictated the use of light-weight cotton textiles for summers and the thicker ones for winters. Cotton was used in almost everything from clothes to furnishing items and thus formed an intrinsic part of the life in this region.

Khes continues to be woven with traditional geometric patterns on a pit loom using twill or plain weave.  The main field is filled with small repeating patterns, usually a diamond, a triangle or a polyhedron enclosed within a square. The end borders are white and combine a number of narrow and broad stripes in complex permutations of the forms seen in the field.

Khes are generally woven in sets of four pairs, end to end and then stitched together to produce the requisite width. A khes with two panels joined measures about 2 metres in length ad 1.5 metres in width.

The most popular colours are deep yellow, red, black, blue and green (white being regarded as neutral).

Khes weaving is originally a household craft, exclusively done by women and it had very little commercial value. A girl is taught to weave by an elder woman of the household. This is done so that the tradition does not die out and she can carry it forth. The women refuse to sell khes due to their sentimental attachment with it.

Khes is therefore largely unknown to the outside world.

Khes is one of the few household articles to have survived the rapid transformation that twentieth century has brought to Punjab. The bride’s mother takes extra care in weaving the khes right from the beginning till the end as the dowry will be a lifelong possession of the daughter who will carry it to her husband’s house in a sandook -- a box -- containing articles of the trousseau. She also nourishes her daughter who is one day taken by the suitor along with the khes.

It is therefore compared to the daughter and the love that the mother shares for both.

Khes is thus symbolically infused with life.

[Courtesy: Gaatha. Edited for]
June 12, 2014


Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 12, 2014, 6:35 PM.

In olden days a colourful charkha was an essential part of the trousseau. We had a Bhai Mehtab Singh, the carpenter, living nearby who looked every inch like Father Christmas with a tremendous sense of humour and an easy smile. One poor hapless father asked him, "How much would a charkha cost?" "Rs. 17/-," said Bhai ji, "is the going price. "Oh!" said the father, "I could buy a jhota (bull) for that much!" "Good," said Bhai ji, "then go and get your daughter a jhota."

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