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In the shambles of Pride of Kutch lies priceless art

SINOGRA (ANJAR), MARCH 8: Sinogra is known as the `Pride of Kutch.' At least it was until January 26. The killer-temblor has taken down with it this unique village created more than a century ago by `mistris' or masons with a plan that would make modern town developers blush.

There were about 100 buildings -- all two or three-storyed built between 1890 and 1910 -- and each was an architectural marvel in itself. However, what made these buildings stand apart was the exquisite art and their interior design. The century-old art and interior design was unique to Sinogra because they have never been painted or created again anywhere else. The entire village belongs to `mistris' and kadias or masons who designed the builings and the village layout themselves.

However, all that is lost for good as almost all the buildings have collapsed taking down with them these marvels.

The ceilings of each room in these majestic buildings had been painstakingly hand-painted -- some of which were as big as 30 feet X 30 feet. There were rare paintings of Queen Victoria, Lord Krishna with gopis, floral murals, intricate carving in iron grills and wooden jaalies, besides the exquisite `jharokhas' which made each of these buildings a masterpiece.

According to curators of the Kutch Museum in Bhuj, these paintings, jaalis and jharokhas are worth preserving for their uniqueness and rarity. Besides, the buildings are adorned with tiles specially designed by a British firm Garlicks and Co Flooring Tiles. Coloured cement prepared by Katni Coloured Cements, Mumbai, has been used in most of the buildings.

Sinogra local school master Umakant Vadher says there are marble mosaic tiles, mother of pearl tiles (meant for palaces annd theatres) and glazed tiles in the massive drawing rooms and dining halls. ``Some of the kind of colours used inside are not available these days.''

However, most of the owners of these buildings have migrated two decades ago, mostly to Orissa, where they work as masonry contractors or own brick kilns. Now the collapsed buildings, along with their treasures, are lying like that. And due to their great economic value many people have set their sights on the village.

The residents are keeping a watch, wary of anyone who even shows a passing interest in the huge ceiling paintings and grills that are now hanging out of the partially-collapsed buildings. The residents take turns keeping a watch so that these rare items are not taken away.

``What to do? This is our treasure. Our village was known for it but now it is in ruins,'' says Dharmendrasinh Pragji, the sarpanch of the village with a population of around 800.

Somabhai Chavda, who alongwith his huge clan of relatives occupied an entire lane with 20 houses, says all the buildings may have to be demolished because they are badly damaged.

Gupta Global, a voluntary agency from Gandhidham, had initially adopted the village but withdrew after there were protests. ``They wanted to demolish these structures and rebuild. This means all the treasures these buildings have will either be blown to bits or taken away somehow,'' says Vadher.

Kutch District Collector Anil Mukim says, the Government did not want anyone to interfere with the village after it realised its importance. ``We have now left it to the villagers to decide. Whatever they tell us to do we will do. I believe there is rare and unique art in this village. We don't want to squander it away.''

``Besides, many of the owners have not yet decided what to do with the buildings because they are in shock after losing this valuable heritage they preserved for so many years,'' says the sarpanch.

The Gupta Global has packed up leaving behind a few tents. One employee who stayed back told The Indian Express

that they just wanted to help the villagers and not take away any of their treasure. ``Anyway, it is useless now because except the iron grills nothing can be retrieved.''

According to the villagers, some of the buildings are nearly 150 years old. However, around 1890 a dynamic Sinogra villager Ranchor Virji, who worked as a contractor with the British Railway PWD and Irrigation Service, took upon himself to make Sinogra a unique landmark in Kutch. Ranchor Virji had originally migrated from his native village to Kotma in the Rewari state in eastern part of India and become a contractor before he decided to rebuild his village.

Initially, about 30 families got together and made the village plan. ``Each street is almost 30 feet wide, there are proper gutter connections, cemented lanes and bylanes and all the buildings have been designed in such a way that they catch the rising sun and the rooms are well-ventilated,'' says Babubhai Maheshwari, a village elder.

``We want to try and retrieve whatever we can of this heritage, but the unique Sinogra village is now gone for good,'' says sarpanch Pargjibhai.

Copyright © 2001 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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