Hyderabad: The Haj pilgrimage is just a month away but there are no smiles on the faces of traditional Haj belt makers in the old city. The steady influx of online stores that retail in Haj clothing and adoption of innovative materials in manufacturing Haj belts in place of the traditional leather belts has made the future of such niche craftsmen uncertain.
Haj belts, also known as Ihram belts, are an important part of the Haj attire and are in huge demand during the Haj season among ‘Hajis’. The belt is 2.5 inches wide and three feet long with four to six pockets and is used to secure the Ihram dress, the two-piece white cloth worn by men during Haj or Umrah pilgrimage.
“These days, people buy belts directly from online stores or at bigger shops that sell them as part of a complete ‘Ihram set’ for men and women going on the pilgrimage. As a result, our sales have dropped considerably,” says Syed Hashim, a Haj belt maker at Shah Ali Banda.
Apart from securing their attire, Haj pilgrims use Ihram belts to keep cash, cards, titbits and travel documents. “Four of the six pockets have zippers to secure the stuff inside,” says Hashim.
Craftsmen in old city have mastered the art of making leather Ihram belts. However, over the years, the taste of Haj pilgrims has evolved and these days they prefer belts made up of thick cloth, which has had a cascading impact on the small industry.
The Ihram belts made up of thick cloth and even plastic are priced between Rs. 400 and Rs. 500 each and are washable and long lasting. “Due to the strenuous manufacturing process and expensive raw material, the leather Ihram belts are a bit costly. So people now prefer cloth made or plastic Ihram belts,” explains Amjad, another Haj belt maker at Hussaini Alam road.
In the past, such belts were not just restricted to Haj pilgrims but even businessmen bought these products throughout the year. “People who carry large cash on them use the belt as they feel it is safer when compared to placing the currency in pockets. Those heading for far off places too bought it,” explains Amjad.
There were several craftsmen engaged in making leather Ihram belts and a decade ago one could find such shops opposite Pista House at Shah Ali Banda, before the owners decided to wind up their business and head to greener pastures.
Old timers reminisce that those from the ‘Chaoush’ tribe of Barkas, who were engaged in selling fruits at various places in Hyderabad, took immense pride in wearing such belts over their ‘lungi’. One pocket was to store higher denomination notes, while others were meant to keep small currency notes, they recalled.