Origin: Amidst all the beauty and mesmerizing treasure cove of Rajasthani handicrafts, there is one shining jewel that is the leather handicraft work. In the dry and barren land of Rajasthan, leather manufacture was the mainstay of the Raigar community. Traditionally they have been experts in the tanning of hides and making leather products. While members of the Raigar community are still involved in leather making, the hub of leather manufacture is now in Bikaner. Whereas the sale of leather item is spread across cities of Rajasthan such as Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Pushkar and of course Jaipur the capital. Due to availability and to religious customs, most leather items are from camel hide.
Present Day: Cottage industries generate jobs and employment opportunities while handicrafts help preserve culture and traditional art. However, as this craft is an insular art form passed from one generation to another, this art is slowing down considering that the next generation is losing interest and heading towards the cities for other jobs. Yet, interest towards leather products and especially handmade leather items is only increasing with each passing year. Global market demand has given leather handicrafts a fresh influx of talent and investment, with training given to artisans in new requirements such as leather laptop bags and tablet covers. Indeed if you head to Jaisalmer the array of leather bags are astonishing. You will discover such finds like men’s wallet, women’s wallet, purses, clutches, sling bags, laptop bags, backpacks...and the list goes on.
Procedure: Several communities are part of the leather making process, each one responsible for a separate step of the procedure. Carcasse collections and skin flaying is done in the villages by kasais. After which it is then given to tanning units. In the tanning units the skins are washed with salt water, then dipped into a solution mix of millet flour and milk of oak plants. Afterwards, hides are washed again with salt water, once dried they are dipped into a solution of Babool bark that gives a natural colour. Once the tanning is completed, the leather is rubbed with castor oil.
Tanned leather is then provided to production units. Based on the type of production unit, the leather is further processed. For example for jootis, the leather is softened and cut into patterns for the sole and upper part. Rubber sheets and foam are pasted on of the sole and the upper part and lower part of the jooti are stitched together Jootis are then put into shoe frames to give a proper shape. After which women embroider designs on it. Finally the soles are polished and dried in shade. Once complete leather items are sold to either retailers/wholesalers or to Exhibitions and fairs.
The demand of leather crafts has increased tremendously. There is a lot of demand from other countries for new and creative leather goods.
Bring Home Leather Handicrafts: Jootis/Mojaris (shoes) are readily available in the following markets: Jaisalmer Sadar Bazaar, Pushkar market and Mochi Bazaar in Jodhpur (Mochi Bazaar means Cobbler’s market). Bikaner is famous for Kupi (Kupi is a particular type of leather bottle made hide of camel) as well as producing decorative saddles for horses and camels. A shop-all place for all camel leather goods is Jaisalmer : including bags, wallets, lamp shades, belts, shoes, jootis, musical instruments, clothes, diaries and even i-phone and i-pad covers. If you happen to be in Jaipur, you can go to Bapu Bazaar and Nehru Bazaar to pick up pretty jootis and mojaris.