Bimla Devi: An International Design Icon from Rural Rajasthan

The depth of tradition and potential of skill that India has to offer lies far beyond what’s visible. It’s been a leader in handicrafts for millennia, which makes it no surprise that millions of rural artisans span every area from Kashmir to Kerala. For centuries, this nation has contributed to some of the finest crafted hand-made rugs the world has seen. It’s with those artisans, tucked in the most remote corners of North India, that Jaipur Rugs Foundation began its journey.

Jaipur Rugs Foundation, through the launch of the Artisan Originals initiative, has provided a platform for weavers to test and express their creativity in the form of a one-off rug. And one of the weavers has gone on to do something truly spectacular. Bimla Devi is a humble weaver from Aaspura, Rajasthan. She married young but tragedy struck when her husband passed away right before the birth of their second child. Distraught and unmotivated to pull the remaining pieces of her life together, Bimla fell into depression and found it tough to live her day-to-day life. With children to take care of and household responsibilities on her plate, she took up weaving to financially support herself. After a few years and with the support of her family, she remarried and started to feel a sense of normalcy. Weaving, she says, has pulled her through some of the worst times in her life but now with over 15 years of experience, her skills have not only pulled her through but brought her a level of success she never imagined.

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Kamal Rug by Bimla Devi

She was one of the first weavers to join the Artisan Originals initiative and really started out with a bang, with her rug, Kamal. This rug inspired both by the diamond-shaped shakkarpara snack popular in rural villages and the giant ornate floor painting in her current home, used vibrant reds and browns to create a truly unique piece of art. And people noticed. Winning multiple awards and putting both herself and Jaipur Rugs in the limelight, Bimla Devi’s rug transcended the boundaries of design, culture, and most importantly, personal struggle. The peak of Bimla Devi’s success so far came about in February this year when she was invited to receive her German Design Award on stage. Flying for the first time ever, Bimla Devi traveled from Aaspura all the way to Frankfurt, Germany, to get up on stage alongside Jaipur Rugs’ design director, Kavita Chaudhary, to collect her award. Donning her fanciest sari, she stood out amongst her suited and dress-clad peers.

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Bimla Devi – German Design Award Winner 2018

Keyword “peers” and this is where the story becomes one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. In her world, Bimla Devi was looked to as a hard-working mother and wife who had to re-marry due to her first husband’s death. That was the gist of her story, but now she stands equal with the top designers throughout the world. But even more impressive, she embraces all of this new found fame with the same demeanor she’s always had, quietly ensuring her family’s success comes first always. She has gone from weaver to artisan, to award-winning designer, and now after her whirlwind journey, has dedicated herself to empowering other women in her community and rural villages across India. Most recently, she traveled to Bihar for two months on behalf of Jaipur Rugs Foundation to start the training and orientation processes for the new weavers in the company’s first-ever center in the state.

Her goal is simple: she wants to see where weaving takes her and is openly willing to share her success with everyone around her. She will see to it that her children are well-educated and is happy to know how proud she has made them feel. Through sheer perseverance and talent, she stands as an inspiration for her village, the weaving community, and artisans worldwide. She is a role model for me now and a testament to the idea that development work often has positive but less tangible consequences that we really should take note of and learn from.

Vipin was born in India but hasn't spent time there since his move to the U.S. at age 6. He understands the magnitude of change the country has gone through in the last 21 years but is now thrilled to experience it first-hand. He hopes to use his skills in digital marketing and technology to help bridge the gap between untapped artisans, skills building, and leadership training at Jaipur Rugs Foundation. Before becoming an AIF Clinton Fellow, he's had the unique experience of working directly with AIF as a volunteer with the New York Young Professionals Chapter for the past four years to raise funds and awareness about AIF's programs among young South Asian professionals. One of his goals is to see if what he's learned as a physically distant volunteer, effectively translates to the work required on the ground. Another goal? He wants to try as many regional varieties of biryani as his ten months will allow him to stomach and see if his current favorite, the hometown Hyderabadi variant, can be topped.

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