"Bhuj, the capital of the Jadeja Dynasty, was established in 1510. Legends say that the Earth rests on the head of a snake. The first king chose a location on which he wanted to build his empire. He began to hammer a nail on the chosen spot to make the earth stable on the snake's head. One of the king's courtiers asked the king if he was certain that the chosen spot was placed on the head of the snake. The now doubtful king began to remove the nail. And as he did so, the ground began to bleed, this is when he realised he had in fact dug a nail into the head of the snake. So he dug the nail deeper into the ground little knowing the snake had moved. The earth was now fixed onto the tail of the snake. The people of Bhuj believe that the constant movement of the snake causes earthquakes in this region."
– Transcribed from Aina Mahal Palace, Bhuj
Bhuj was once a city of extraordinary beauty that endured destructive earthquakes. Upon arriving at the flat dusty edge of the town and into Dabargadh, its historic center, one cannot help but be struck by remaining visual scars. Initially, the mind's eye needs effort to patch together and reimagine its past splendor. Heart sinks at the thought of the magnificence lost, the people who needed to rebuild their lives after the devastating earthquake of 2001. Yet, it takes a mere 24 hours of patience to scratch away at the surface to unearth its sense of resilience and profound pride in its rich cultural heritage and ancient lineage of artisans. Its essence had been preserved. Life had rebuilt itself. The bazaar awakens to the early mornings typical of anywhere in India, retreats to its afternoon siesta at the height of day, and reawakens to its chaotic frenzy. This town, seldom visited by outsiders, slowly starts to reveal its magnetism.
The landscape of Kutch is stark, spectacular, and stripped of vegetation except for some resilient acacias and the odd cotton fields. Yet, the monotonous and dusty roads are secret passageways to a vibrant ecosystem of nomadic tribes, artisan life and legends. Here, a leopard family lives in the low mountain. A tribal woman enrobed in technicolored, mirror-work embroidery metamorphoses into bright spot of color and flickering light as she crosses the field. Weavers hum away behind traditional looms while indigo-dyed fabric in sublime shades flow in the arid air. Men who are unafraid of wearing flowers on their shawls roam the Great Rann, the "white desert", with their festively adorned horses and camels. A favorite local legend tells of a sadhu who offered his own flesh to give to a starving jackal.
Intricately embroidered antique camel festival saddle.
The Great Rann is 7,505 square kilometres of piercing whiteness and uncanny nothingness. It is hostile and strikingly beautiful at the same time. Known to be the largest seasonal salt desert in the world, it used to be one of the biggest grasslands of India where people grew rice. The earthquake of 1819 altered the course of the Indus River, changing the landscape entirely. Only during the monsoon season does this area become green for two to three months. Otherwise, it is a vast, uninhabited area where rivers of Rajasthan flow out to the Arabian Sea. The mirage-conjured distances of the Great Rann deceive the eyes, and many are the tales of souls who lost their ways and were never seen again. Fate may take away, but it gives something back in the form of primal beauty.
Mona Kim is the Founder and Editor of Moowon. As the Creative Director of award-winning multidisciplinary design studio, Mona Kim Projects, she has been conceiving public space experiences and large-scale experiential projects for global brands and cultural institutions. Her museum and exhibition design for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, World Expo, Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã), and UNESCO-sponsored projects, gave her the opportunity to document and be exposed to some of the most distinctive examples of social realities and cultural expressions. On these projects, she had co-curated world issues such as endangered languages, cultural diversity and sustainability. The Moowon project is an extension of this background. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, WWD(Women's Wear Daily), The Creative Review, and in publications by Gestalten and The Art Institute of Chicago.