Women entrepreneurs in Uttarakhand revive traditional culture

Traditional art forms are the heart and soul of any culture. It is intimately linked to our diet and our way of life. We find every day that as we move towards junk food and popular art forms, we move away from local food culture and popular art. Here are five women entrepreneurs from Uttarakhand who are bringing traditional art, culture and food practices back into fashion. Through their work, these leading entrepreneurs have adapted traditional knowledge to produce diverse, aesthetic and competitive products.

1. Minakshi Khati, Founder of Minakriti

Minakshi Khati, through his organization Minakriti: The Aipan Project, revived the popular art form Aipan in the state. She is known as the Aipan girl hailing from Ranikhet, Uttarakhand.

Aipan is a traditional wall and floor art from the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Principally, this form of art was made by women to decorate the entrances of the house and places of worship on special occasions such as weddings or religious festivals. The patterns in these art forms are believed to bring good luck and ward off evil. Aipan paintings are contrasting red and white in color, made with organic materials like red Geru (Ochre) and white rice paste.

Minakshi’s goal is not just to revive the art, but to turn her initiative into a campaign to empower women. Minakshi has repeatedly reiterated the message through her social media that although women are no longer confined to homes or barns, gender inequality and discrimination are still practiced. It is important to empower women so that they can make decisions in all areas with freedom and courage. In line with this objective, Minakshi Khati provides self-employment opportunities for rural women. She leads workshops to train these women in the art form and effective marketing.

Her journey has created a spiral effect where her work motivates others in the state to practice this art form. Minakriti uses Aipan designs in several ways – their license plates are in particular demand. They also design Rakhis, Mandala paintings, candle lamps and a variety of decorative items.

2. Shashi Bahuguna, Founder of Namakwali

Namakwali aims to provide healthy and organic flavors from Himalayan villages to consumers around the world. Behind this quirky brand is Shashi Bahuguna Raturi who feared that the traditional eating habits of the hill state were being lost. She brought in women from different parts of Uttarakhand to start this initiative. They use a traditional stone mill (known as a silbatta in Hindi) to serve their customers as it was done many generations ago. They hand pick all the herbs and spices from the hills. The brand uses conventional methods to manufacture products without chemicals.

Through her initiative, Namakwali is using traditional cooking knowledge to provide employment opportunities for rural women and raise awareness of state cooking.

Salt prepared traditionally in Uttarakhand is called “Pisyu Loon”, famous for its native ingredients. However, due to modernization and migration, the younger generation is unaware of this. So, Shashi started using social media in 2017 to raise awareness of the wide variety of local salts. One of his social media captions reads “Agr Tata Namak Desh ka namak hai to Pisyu Loon Uttarakhand Ka” (If Tata Salt is the Salt of the Nation, then Pisyu Loon is the Salt of Uttarakhand). Today, Namakwali offers a range of products ranging from flavored salts, chutney powders and ghee.

3. Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh, co-founders of Bhuli Design Studio

Co-founders, Bhuli Design Studio

The duo behind the Bhuli art are artisan fashion designers and nutritionists. Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh with their pure passion for Uttarakhand culture storm the art space.

Ever since she was a design student at NIFT, Tanya Kotnala has always had an interest in folk art and crafts. His passion later culminated with Bhuli. She was joined by Tanya Singh, nutritionist and food communication expert. The duo put their professional sense to good use in the art they create. They mix folk elements with contemporary designs to raise awareness of social issues through their art. Most of their projects revolve around the themes of child development and women’s empowerment.

The word “Bhuli” means little sister in the Garhwali dialect of the hill state of Uttarakhand. Their art regularly features the daily life of weavers, local craftsmen as well as traditional tales. An intriguing feature at Bhuli has been the recurring theme of tribes from the Himalayan states of India. Tanya Kotnala has studied and documented several communities across the North East region and Ladakh such as the Khasis, Brokpas and Monpas.

Tanya Singh, on the other hand, after studying food culture and communication in Italy, returned to India to work on traditional knowledge of food culture in the state. She realized that the food here is simple but very nutritious.

Bhuli’s work ethic includes three simple principles: Simplicity, Sustainability and Swadesi. However, Swadesi does not mean that the art form could not be changed with the changing times. Kotnala believes that if the art form is to be revived, it is inevitable that some changes will be made and design innovations seen as a solution. She calls it an “evolution of art” and not a revival. Bhuli’s print has been recognized and picked up by top designers for display during fashion weeks.

What inspired the duo to work in the state was the lack of interest local people show in traditional crafts, food and culture. They aspire to minimize the large-scale migration from villages in Uttarakhand by improving the skills of the inhabitants.

5. Shikha Prakash, co-founder of Valley Culture

Uttarakhand women entrepreneurs

Co-founders, Valley Culture

With a mission to ruralize urban eating habits, co-founders Shikha and Robin embarked on a journey through the Himalayas. They explored villages in Uttarakhand where communities have grown, extracted and ground food using traditional methodologies in an organic, sustainable and chemical-free way. One of these is the use of the ‘gharat’, a turbine powered by running water instead of electricity. These communities mapped nature-certified superfoods. The duo have integrated traditional wisdom into urban food sensibilities by sourcing raw materials for their products from locals. Today, they have created a community of over 5,000 female farmers in Uttarakhand associated with Valley Culture.

Today, due to modernization, traditional art forms and eating habits are rapidly eroding. SheThePeople introduces you to extraordinary female entrepreneurs from Uttarakhand who have used long-lost knowledge through modern means to revive their cultures. They identified and shared their love for art and traditional cuisines to generate livelihoods and jobs for many other women.

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