HERITAGE where it travelled to India, China and

HERITAGE
ON DECLINE

India has a rich heritage of textiles,
which have become important sought-after collectibles all over the globe for
their ornate designs, vivid colours and intricate techniques. However, despite
the huge demand for these cultural fabrics, there are certain textiles that
remain in the shadows, undiscovered and unappreciated by people. These textiles
possess their own aesthetic charm as a product of exquisite processes, and are
also historically relevant, but they have failed to capture the public eye, and
now are on the verge of extinction.

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Parsi
embroidery

Also known as Grara, this embroidery
features rich designs set in vivid colours offset on pastel shades and pale
white, crafted on all four sides of the fabric. Each textile can take up to 9
months to make, and the tedious and intricate work makes the textile a very
costly commodity. This aesthetically colourful and delicately embellished
textile has its roots in Bronze Age Iran, from where it travelled to India,
China and Europe. The Chinese influences in this Parsi tradition can be traced
back to the Chinese pherias (craftpersons), who came to India in the 19th
and 20th century and taught Parsi women their indigenous style of
embroidery. Each textile highlights symbolic motifs inspired from various
elements and locations: while the reverence to nature is evident from symbols
of the cypress tree, chakla-chakli, trees and birds, the ode to the pheria
tradition is conscipucous through depictions of Chinese court scenes, gardens
and flowers like the peony and chrysanthemum. Traditionally the pride of Parsi
households, Parsi embroidery has now lost its hold over India, even within the
Parsi community, and has been rendered a rare collectible, owned and possessed
by a select few.

 

Toda
embroidery

Set in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu,
this textile exudes a rich tribal aura and is deeply steeped in regional
beliefs and practices. Embroidery is done using red and black thread on white
fabric to create shawls, locally known as Poothkuli, drapes, dupattas, table
cloths, skirts, etc. This distinctive style of embroidery, regionally called
Pugur meaning flower, is produced by both men and women, who create designs
inspired by the tattoos of their ancestors. Motifs include crosses, rosettes
and bulls, possibly influenced by Anatolian symbols, and the colours, black,
red and white, epitomize the underworld, earth and heaven, respectively. Toda
textiles use reverse embroidery, with the underside of the fabric being used as
the right side, and embroidery is so fine that it is often mistaken for
weaving. While a matter of pride for the Todas, the embroidery has started
losing its relevance in the face of urbanization and mechanization of cloth,
and has further faced a setback because of the economic backwardness of the
tribe.

 

Patola
Sarees

Patola means ‘queen of silk’, and true to
their name, the Patola silk sarees, hailing from Gujarat, are one of the finest
handloom traditions, which flaunt delicate designs woven with clarity and
precision. The tradition was brought in by the Salvi weavers under the Solanki
Rajputs in Gujarat in the 12th century, and earned fame under the
patronage of wealthy Gujarati merchants, eventually becoming an essential part
of a woman’s closet. The sarees exhibit flaming colours embellished with
geometric designs, portraying animals, flowers, human figures and birds, and
some sarees even incorporate Kundan and Zardosi sequins. The Rajkot variety of
the Patola is made using single ikkat, while the Patan style utilizes double
ikkat, with weaving on both sides so the saree can be draped either way. Patola
sarees are time-consuming and elaborate, and can take up to 4-6 months for
completion, making them extremely valuable and expensive commodities, with
prices soaring up to 7 lakhs. The intricate work discourages craftpersons from
practicing this tradition, and currently, there are only four families keeping
the Patola tradition alive, leaving the future of these sarees very uncertain.

Chamba
Rumaal

Chamba rumaals date back to the 2nd
century, and are heavily inspired by the Pahari School of miniature art. These
handkerchiefs are made on square or rectangular fabric, and the base art is
made by miniature artists, while the embroidery is carried out by Himachali
women. The illustration on either side is more or less the same, and the
embroidery is done in a range of colours by a double stitch that is carried
both ways alternately so that either side is filled up equally and
symmetrically. Motifs are derived from traditional tales such as Mahabharata
and Ramayana as well as texts such as the Bhagwad Puranas, and the textile
features lives of the community members as well as scenes depicting Krishna
with his gopis. The lack of popular patronage over the last few years has
forced the Chambal rumaals into obscurity, making it very difficult for
embroiders to survive. Several strides have been taken towards revival by the
government, the locals and other artisans, and only time can narrate the future
of this diminishing tradition.

 

Rogan
textile

The Rogan textile is a centuries old
tradition carried down the years by the Khatri community in the Kachchh region
of Gujarat. It features intricate designs painted in bright colours, created
from a thick paste of safflower, linseed or castor oil. This paste is applied in
small portions to the palm, and then taken from the hand with a stylus, which
is twisted across the fabric to create motifs and designs. The thick paint gives
an embossed effect to the fabric, which is then folded on the blank side to
create a mirror image of the design. The motifs are highly stylized, mostly
floral in their look, and heavily inspired by natural and Persian designs, with
the ‘Tree of Life’ being the most prominent depiction. This tradition faced a
severe setback when artisans started shifting to machine made textiles, which
were more cost-effective, leaving Rogan forgotten for many years. Recently,
local artisans of the Khatri community have started producing wall pieces for
display using Rogan, and have started training girls from other communities in
the art of making this textile in order to revive the tradition.

 

Satgaon
textile

A product of the mingling of the Indian
and Portuguese culture, the Satgaon textile refers to the ornate quilts that
were sent from Satgaon, Bengal to Portugal under colonial rule. The textile
used cotton, jute or silk fabric, the surface of which was entirely embroidered
with golden monochrome silk, while the outlines and designs were created using
chain stitch, back stitch or running stitch. The motifs and iconography range
from hunters, warriors and mythical creatures to birds, animals, flora and
other natural elements that are positioned in specific patterns to give a
uniform look to the textile. While the inspiration of this textile can be
attributed to Indian cultural elements like Hinduism and Buddhism along with
folk art, it is easy to spot European influences in the style and design as
well, and the beauty of the Satgaon lies in the harmonious amalgamation of both
these imprints. The textile lost its hold in the subcontinent following the Second
World War and the end of imperialism, and artisans started moving away from
this trade; while the Satgaon might accentuate the cultural ethos of Indian
heritage, it is now nearly extinct as a tradition, with negligible demand and
appreciation.

 

Saudagiri
textile

The Saudagiri is a block printed textile
from Gujarat, which was exported from India to Southeast Asia under colonial
rule, and the design was so popular that it inspired clothing such as the pha
nung in Thailand. The textile is traditionally used to make safas (turbans) and
chunaris (shawls) using small blocks coated with natural dyes made of henna,
pomegranate skin, alum, myrobalan and madder; sometimes chrome colours are
applied on the borders to enhance the beauty. After the bleaching, the fabric
was placed over a pot of hot water so that the steam could soften the cloth and
allow the dye to seep in. The process was very intricate and long-drawn; 125
pieces could be created in about two months with the help of 80 workers. The
tradition which had emerged in the 1850s, started dying out by the 1960s
because of lack of demand, and today, the Saudagiri stands on the verge of
extinction and requires serious steps for revival.

 

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