Embroideries of India: Reflecting the cultural pride of the people

Research, Conceptualization & Written by Kaavya Lakshman

Embroidery, the origin of which dates back to ancient times, is a unique form of art where the cloth is embellished with designs using needle and thread. The ten lettered word encompasses a wide range of significance and utility- it is a source of livelihood of many Indians, it is worn as a statement of elegance by women, it is respectfully bestowed on our beloved deities and marks the beginning of various occasions all over the country.

India has a proud heritage of exquisite embroideries, which vary from region to region. In the city of Punjab, Bagh, a special type of Phulkari, is the auspicious embroidery adorned on the bride. Traditionally this embroidery is prepared by the grandmother of the bride, the making of which starts right from the time of her birth. It is a peculiar style which holds the design inside a square, giving it the imagery of a garden, from which the name ‘Bagh’ is derived. The embroidery is also done on bedcovers, and shawls made of thick handloom cloth usually dyed in terracotta shade to give it an earthly touch. Silver and gold threads are used for the embroidery work, along with decorative objects such as small mirrors and beads. The unfinished corners and discordant colours represent a nazar buti which is meant to protect the wearer from evil eye.

Women of Punjab working on Bagh embroidery

 

The Persian form of embroidery Zardozi is derived from the two Persian terms ‘Zar’ which means gold and ‘Dozi’ which means embroidery. It is a form of metal embroidery which makes use of gold and silver threads to create elaborate designs. The original process was termed as ‘Kalabatun’. While the embroidery has existed in India from the time of Rig Veda, it essentially flourished under the patronage of the Mughals as it agreed with the lavish taste of the emperors and their queens. Under the patronage of Aurangzeb, Lucknow became the main hub of Zardozi artists. In present time the embroidery has been rediscovered and highly commercialized, finding space in designer attires, bags, shoes, interiors and much more. The motifs remain close to nature, ranging from flowers, trees, animals to the whole of Indian ecology.

 

Zardozi embroidery design

 

The embroidery of Kantha has an interesting historicity behind it. One of the oldest forms of embroidery, it can be dated back to pre-Vedic ages, but the Kantha work known in present times was found in Krishnadas Kaviraj’s 500 year old book, Chaitanya Charitamrita. The word Kantha has two meanings, the first being derived from the Sanskrit language which means ‘discarded garments’. The second meaning which is ‘throat’, is associated with Lord Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva consumed the poison that came about due to the churning of the ocean. Goddess Parvati was shocked by Lord Shiva’s actions and wrapped her hands around his neck, strangling Lord Shiva and stopping the poison in his throat, rather than allowing it to drop to the universe that is held in Lord Shiva’s stomach. The potency of the poison caused Lord Shiva’s neck and throat to turn blue, therefore giving him the moniker, Nilakantha; ‘nila’ translates to ‘blue’. Therefore the motifs of Kantha are derived from ancient Indian art, including images of the sun, the tree of life and the universe. West Bengal is the proud bearer of the Kantha tradition, with the women of the region playing a significant role in its upkeep.

 

Traditional Kantha Work of Gujarat

Kachchhi embroidery of Gujarat, which is usually done on cotton or silk fabric, involves the use of silk or woolen thread in fine stitches to create elaborate patterns. It draws inspiration from romantic, architectural and human motifs as well as Persian and Mughal arts, with the main colors being used include green, indigo, deep red, black, yellow and ivory. The distinctive feature of the embroidery is the use of mirrors and beads, strategically placed in between patterns. The famous attire of Gujarat, ghagra choli, carries the graceful embroidery of Kachchhi.

 

Gujarati Woman wearing Ghagra Choli with Kachchhi work

The embroideries of India form an integral part of the rich heritage of India. The variation seen from state to state is regarded as a strong cultural identity of that region. The embroideries of India not only capture the interest of us Indians, but fascinate people all over the world!