In 1989, when Niaz Hussain’s son got married, his daughter-in-law requested a hindoro, a traditional cradle which is a large swing without a back rest. “I promptly bought her one and placed it in the veranda. Since then, it has been the centre of activity for the women of the house,” says the 65-year-old grandfather. “They sit on it to chat over a cup of tea, chop vegetables, shell peas or lie down for a nap. Babies are rocked to sleep and children are told stories on it. And when it needs a bit of repair, the women are on my case until I get it done quickly,” he laughs. “My granddaughter loves sitting in it so much that she once asked me if there is a hindoro in heaven,” he added with a huge smile.
“According to our elders, the craftsmanship of cradle-making is almost 300 years old,” says Iftekhar Vighio. Craftsmen who make these coveted swinging cots have attained the status of a caste in Sindh. They are known as Vighio or Vigha Mal. Interestingly, in Sindh, many castes are still identified by the profession that their families practised in the past or are still engaged in.
“My father Muhammad Salih Vigha Mal received the presidential award in 1980 for the craft of making hindoro,” says Nabi Bux, with a proud smile. He pauses the lakar, a device that consists of a long, curved piece of wood with a loose string joining its ends, used for rolling circular wooden pieces with the sway of a single hand. “This is an ancestral art; we have learnt its intricacies from our forefathers. No one can fit different pieces of a hindoro together except us as it requires an ingenious technique,” he explains
The traditional Sindhi swings and cots from Hala are the perfect choice to bring a touch of artistry to your home. But fewer and fewer craftsmen engage in this art
A cradle is suspended at the height of 1.5 feet from the ground by columns or legs that are 5.5 feet high, while the length of the cot is 3.5 feet, explains Shakir Ali Vigha Mal, a craftsman at Khanoth, a little village not far from old Hala.
“A few years ago, the cradle was manufactured as well as assembled at Khanoth,” says Pir Dino Vighio, an assembler at Bhit Shah. “But now, after several expert assemblers have passed on, its parts are brought to Bhit Shah where they are fixed and then carried back to retail outlets to be sold at exorbitant prices, the minimum being about 30,000 rupees.”
Being the main commercial town in the vicinity, Hala is famous for ‘jandi’ work, although initially, jandi was made in Khanoth.
The drawing of various designs and hues on wood is called ‘jandi’ in Sindhi. Because of the minute, coloured spots that resemble tiny beads, this jandi work is called ‘jahawardar jandi’. The colours used to make jandi are also manufactured by local women.
Jandi work is popular for a special feature. It is smooth visibly and also to the touch but there some sharp points on the surface here and which are meant to rip the skin of a snake if one happens to slither over the hindoro as reptiles are not uncommon in villages.
The hindoro is considered a status symbol in Sindh. In the past, homes with hindoro were considered well-off. Gradually, though, the swing made its way into the homes of the not so well-to-do as it became a cultural symbol.
A hindoro is not to be confused with a peengho, even though both are Sindhi words meaning ‘cradle’. The latter is made of square-shaped wooden pieces whereas the former is the product of circular woodwork of varying sizes.
Cradles with art and designs on them are generally preferred over ones that are plain. In order to preserve the colour and shine of the wood, they should be protected from water and direct sunlight.
To make intricate designs on a hindoro, the artisans use various handmade tools, such as pango (a piece cut from a frond for levelling colour on the wooden piece), rachi, palkar and khurchan (chisel). Jandi work is done not only on cradles but also on sofa sets, rollers, glasses, cots, chairs, ashtrays, etc.
A specific type of wood called bahan is fetched from Balochisan, Kandhkot and Shikarpur for making Sindhi cradles. Bahan wood is preferred because it is light, dry and repels woodworms. As it is dry, it absorbs and retains colour well.
It takes at least 15 days to make a hindoro. Once the bahan wood has dried, it is cut with a machine into standard-sized pieces with curves and curls. After being smoothened out, it is wrapped with pango to be rolled in order to apply seven colours and shine under heat emanating from coals set on a brick. The cot is woven up with string or rope. Finally, it is dispatched for final assembly.
Sadly, the beautiful craft does not bring substantial financial returns for the craftsmen. “We get 700 to 800 rupees for eight hours of work per day by the seths,” says Muhammad Musa Vighio, an expert at chiselling. Seths are the merchants who provide wood and other material to the artisans, collect various pieces of cradles from them, get them assembled and sell them for a large profit.
Along with financial difficulties, their health also suffers. “We can work at this craft till the age of 50,” complains Abdullah Vigha Mal “After this our eyesight tends to become weak as we are constantly looking at the wooden piece in our hands and rubbing colour on wood strains the eyes. Smoke from the coals also affects our lungs.”
Doubtful of the future of this awe-inspiring art, Shahid Ali Vighio says, “I will not encourage my children to pursue this profession as it has not provided a decent standard of life for me and my family.”
This art is now being transferred to the local Sheedis and the Bhutto caste. Since they are extremely poor, they have been learning this craft to make ends meet.
“The centuries-old art of cradle-making is unique and must be preserved by the government,” says Syed Majid Shah, a well-read resident of New Hala. “The craftsmen need modern workshops that have basic facilities. They could do with training in awareness about health and hygiene. If they could be educated for developing business ideas, their craft would grow into a successful business instead of being relegated as a dying art.”