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Textile Traditions of India

Temple Hang

Textile Traditions of India

Fragment of a temple hanging of the Vaishnava sect. Fine chain stitch silk embroidery on silk; 214 cm x 145 cm. Kachchh, Gujarat, c. early 20th century. 7/1545.

This intricately embroidered fragment is a part of a larger temple hanging of one of the Vaishnava sects, depicting Lord Krishna or Shrinathji as the main deity. The present piece shows only one segment where his female devotees are depicted worshipping their Lord amidst flora and fauna. This type of embroidery was the work of professional male embroiderers belonging to the mochi caste or leather workers who as a result then worked in chain stitch, both on leather and on cloth, and their work was therefore also known as mochi embroidery.

One remarkable aspect of the technique is that by merely altering the direction of lines in chain stitch an effect of shading has been achieved. This feature, combined with the general rendering of the theme, makes it evident that these embroidered pieces were based on painted Rajasthani and Gujarati prototypes.

In Kachchh these pieces were patronised by the staunch Vaishnava community of Bhatias whose women also wore skirts, blouses and odhnis or veil cloths, embroidered in a similar manner.


Textile Traditions of India

Shikargah, or sari with “hunting scenes”. Gold and silk brocade on silk; 635 cm. 109 cm. Varanasi. c. early 19th century. M/5/102.

The superb craftsmanship of this purple or uda coloured gold brocade sari lies in the design which has been brocaded, not by a throw shuttle, which would lead to loose threads on the underside of the motif, but by what is known as a kadhua jangles. In this brocaded pattern only the outlines of the motif receive the pattern thread on the underside, so that the interstices are not covered with unnecessary loose threads. Moreover, the silk used in the weft is the untwisted variety, rarely found in saris of today, giving the sari its title patbane ki sari.

The corner or konia of the anchal, or end-piece, is characterised by the paisley motif bound on two sides by a floral creeper. The border has a row of parrots, with their heads turned back, followed by another row of elephants amidst foliage. An additional order, with the chevron pattern , has been sewn separately on to the border.

Unusually, the upper border has been brocaded in yellow silk to make pleating and tucking-in of the sari easier. The main body is embellished with a variety of hunting animals – the tiger, peacock, deer, elephant and parrot – bound within a floral jangla or mesh.

1. In conversation with weaver M. Zafar Ali, from Varanasi.


Textile Traditions of India

Shawl. Loom woven design in natural dyes on wool or goat fleece; 270 cm x 140 cm. Kashmir. c. late 18th century. 7/1285.

The kani shawl, a particular loom-woven shawl, as opposed to the later amli or embroidered variety, was once the mainstay of the economic industry in Kashmir and the village of Kanihama1 from where the shawl probably derives its name.

The hashiya2, or narrow-patterned border along the sides of this yellow ochre shawl is executed in a floral creeper on a white ground. The broad end-pieces or phala are embellished with flowering cones shaping out into an ambi or mango motif. These in turn are bound between two horizontal narrow borders, or tanjir, in single flower motifs within separate hexagonal white grounds.

1. Ames, 1986, p.63
2. Irwin, 1955, p.49-50


Textile Traditions of India

Man’s robe. Zari embroidery on wool; 168 cm x 141 cm. Kashmir. c. early 20th century. 7/4235.

This majestic robe of fine green woollen cloth has a lining of red raw silk. It is embroidered all over with kalabattun or gold thread by a hath-ari or hand-operated awl. With this technique of embroidery it is possible to obtain a range of chain-stitches, employed sparsely or densely, depending upon the required design. The front and the back yoke, the shoulder, the cuff, the border and the edges of the front opening, are densely embroidered with flowering scrolls and paisley motifs, whereas the rest of the robe is covered with a repetitive pattern of lobes, each enclosing a tiny flower. The buttons are in the form of two horizontally placed paisleys on either side which ingeniously break the continuity of the embroidered design.


Textile Traditions of India

Kerchief depicting scenes from god Krishna’s life. Silk embroidery on cotton; 69 cm x 68 cm. Chamba, Himachal Pradesh. c. early 20th century. 7/4908.

Chamba, one of the former North-Western hill states, was renowned for its floss silk embroidery in fine darning stitch, evenly worked on both sides of unbleached cotton cloth. Incidents from history or mythology were narrated in the pictorial clarity of miniature paintings on square or rectangular pieces known as rumals.

This particular rumal depicts the theme of Rukmini’s abduction by Krishna. Rukmini, Krishna’s chief consort was in other incarnations Rama’s consort Sita, Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi and Parashurama’s consort Bhudevi. Rukmini, who had fallen in love with Krishna, was engaged to Shishupala by her brother Rukmi. As the sacrament of her marriage with Shishupala was about to be completed, Krishna carried away Rukmini and eventually married her.


Textile Traditions of India

Kantha, or “patched cloth” embroidery. Cotton threads on cotton; 168 cm x 110 cm. West Bengal. c. late 19th century. 81/6331.

Bengal is renowned for its kantha embroidery on patched cloth, in which the quilted surface is executed in running stitch with threads recycled from old saris.

This particular kantha is unique for its imagery and workmanship. Like any conventional kantha it has floral borders, paisley motifs in the four corners and a central lotus medallion. But the images in the main field depict a highly individualistic and sensitive world view. We have here all the symbols of 19th century Calcutta: a currency note, European-type playing cards, sahibs and memsahibs, chandeliers, medallions of Queen Victoria, memorial busts of Marwari seths or wealthy men, the facade of the Universal Medical Hall, side by side with scenes from Hindu mythology in which Shiva looks like a Madonna in a Christian painting, and Rama and Lakshmana appear as European boys.

The spaces between the characters and images are filled with delicately-embroidered creepers occasionally intercepted by a butterfly or a dragonfly.

The outline of all the figures is embroidered with a very fine single black thread, whose movement is so well controlled that the “drawing” appears as if done in ink.

Double Ikat Sari

Textile Traditions of India

Patola, a double ikat sari. Natural dyes on silk; 842 cm x 111 cm. Provenance uncertain. c. mid 19th century. 7/3772.

Due to the unusual length (for Gujarat)of this sari, i.e. about eight and-a-half metres, and the main field composed of a unique yellow-ochre background with fine length-wise stripes in black, it appears that this patola was either made in Gujarat for use in the Deccan or the South, where striped saris of this length are commonly used, or was woven in the Deccan itself.

In fact, “a patolu fabric of this size is called dakshini patolu, lit. `South Indian Patolu’ “1. At one time Jalna, in Maharashtra, was known as an important centre of patola weaving in the Deccan. In Maharashtra, and certain parts of South India, “the sari is worn without any underwear and is generally more than eight yards in length to admit of its folds being carefully arranged to leave a double thickness over the upper parts of the legs”

Since similar specimens are not to be found in large numbers from Gujarat, it could be assured that this type of patola sari was meant for use in the Deccan or the South. The only other known piece of this kind is in the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad.

1. Buhkr, A. et. al., 1980, p.59
2. Dar, 1969, p.91

Block Printing

Textile Traditions of India

Yardage. Block-printing on cotton in vegetable dyes. 302 cm x 84 cm. Rajasthan. c. 19th century. 19/85.

This type of block-printed and mordant and resist-dyed fine cotton yardage was used as material for women’s garments and hand printed by the community of Chhipas traditionally engaged in the task.

Its pattern comprises a diaper of floral butis, each a graceful flowering plant with separated leaves and flowers of different colours and species — a tradition commonly seen in Mughal designs.