This blog covers handlooms of Madhya Pradesh (Bagh Print, Maheshwari and Indori Sarees), Rajasthan (Kota Duria, Pattu Weaving, Zardosi) and Chhattisgarh (Kosa Silk saree).
Known as the ‘Heart of India’ Madhya Pradesh is well known for its culture, monuments and wildlife. Though the state has some cultural similarities to states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra, it is still unique. Handicrafts of Madhya Pradesh are well sought after owing to their intricate designing. The state has rich tribal traditions as well.
This diversity in communities has given Madhya Pradesh a unique culture which can be titled as traditional and ethnic. A prominent element of Madhya Pradesh’s culture is its traditional clothing.
1. Bagh Printing:
To know about something we need to understand its history, hence to know about bagh printing styles we have to look back to its history.
Bagh is a small town in Madhya Pradesh popular for its hand-block printed textiles. A saying goes that the town got its name from the tigers (known as Bagh in Hindi) that once wandered the area. Originally, tribal residents were the only ones who wore these Bagh patterned clothes.
A Bagh printed outfit is easily identified by a simple outline motif in black and red. The beauty of this print is that it is hand-printed using only natural dyes and traditional designs. The printing is largely done by the Khatri community who are believed to have brought this craft from Sindh 400 years ago.
The Bagh printers use high-quality woods such as Sagwan and Sheesham. An intriguing story is that the Khatri’s have thousands of blocks that are inherited across generations and preserved separately and meticulously maintained, even if damaged or broken.
Geometrical and floral designs are alternatively printed in red and black dyes on a white backdrop. The most popular motifs of Bagh are flowers, mango, coconut, zig-zag lines and honey bees. Chain or anklet designs are some commonly used designs in the borders.
The native people traditionally wore odhani and lugdas (sarees) made from the Bagh printed fabrics. However, to meet customer demand, these prints are now also seen bedsheets, table cloths, cushion covers and handkerchiefs.
On the banks of sacred Narmada river, lies the town of Maheshwar. It was ruled by the Holkars, has a fort-numerous temples and a ghat. It attracts tourists the year round and is known for its weavers.
Maheshwari – one of the oldest handlooms! Maheshwar is best known for being the hub of handloom weaving since the 5th century, but it gained fame during the rule of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar (1767-1795). The delicate Maheshwari fabric is woven with silk and cotton yarns, which gives it a soft texture and makes it a perfect summer textile.
It is assumed that the very first Maheshwari sari was designed by Ahilya Bai. The queen, in 1760, asked talented handloom weavers from Surat and Mandu to work for her empire. They were appointed to prepare turban fabric and exclusive nine-yard nauvari saris which would be worn by the females of Malwa court and used for the gifting purpose to the royal guests. Well-known for being subtle and rich in quality, Maheshwari saris have always exuded dignity and elegance!
Due to the advent of factories, new and inexpensive clothes in the market, gradually the weaving tradition dropped! The revival of Maheshwari saris is credited to the members of royal family including Richard Holkar and Sally Holkar, son and daughter-in-law of Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II.
In 1979, the couple formed a non-profit organization called Rehwa Society to provide employment to women and revive the centuries-old institution of handwoven Maheshwari saris, dupattas and dress material. The society has approximately 250 weavers and over 1500 looms today.
Earlier, the Maheshwari saris were made of finest cotton yarns with motifs inspired from the intricacies engraved on the Maheshwar fort and temples.
Today, the fabric used in the sari is weaved using a blend of Coimbatore cotton and Bangalore silk yarns with some new-fangled and more graceful motifs such as rui phool (cotton flower), chameli (jasmine), hans (swan) and heera (diamond) embossed on it.
The sari comes with a reversible border and the unique five stripes on pallu or aanchal. Nevertheless, the border is usually made with zari thread which is sourced from Surat. Some of the colours used in weaving are tapkeer (deep brown), aamras (golden yellow) and angoori (grape green).
A sari takes 3-10 days to complete, depending on the design. The most time-consuming part of weaving is the making of pallu or aanchal which can take 3-4 days because it entails more detailed designs.
Regardless of its simple style many popular designers and fashion houses are incorporating Maheshwari fabric and sari to their collection.
Despite their subtle and simple style, Maheshwari saris exude charm and sophistication. Silk thread is used in the warp (tana), and cotton in the weft (bana), imparting to the fabric, a lovely, silken sheen. It is light and comfortable to drape, an ideal choice in the region’s hot weather.
The uniqueness of Maheshwari saris lies in the weave. The body of the sari has small checks, stripes, or can be plain, but the typically striped pallu and border designs are inspired by traditional motifs, or architectural embellishments found in the town’s temples and monuments.
The centuries-old handloom weaving tradition is practiced in almost every Maheshwar household.
3. Indori Saree:
The pallu is done up in bright colors like magenta, pink, green, mauve, violet and maroon for the Indori Saree. These sarees are known for their unique pallu which are made five stripes, three colored and two white alternating, running along its width. There are only a handful of craftsmen who weave the original striped designs of the sari making for the Indori Saree.
There are 5 major categories namely, ‘Chandrakala, Baingani Chandrakala, Chandratara, Beli and Parbi. The Chandrakala and Baingani Chandrakala are the plain kind, whereas the Chandratara, Beli and Parbi fall under the striped or checked technique. Neem-reshmi is a variation of silk checks on a cotton ground, both in the warp and weft.
Rajasthan’s textiles represent an amalgamation of generations of experimentation with fabric, handicraft skills and a sharp eye for detail. These textiles, woven with incredible precision, are the result of an oral tradition that has passed down generations, and honed with finesse and purpose.
It is always advisable to “buy local” – i.e. visit small villages instead of buying from Rajasthan’s urban shopping centers, as this is where you can get the kind of fabric, weaving and embroidery that is impossible to get anywhere else in the world.
4. Kota Duria:
Kota Doria is the name of a light woven fabric made of tiny woven squares (khat) which is still handwoven on traditional pit looms in Kaithoon near Kota in Rajasthan and in some of the surrounding villages. Kota Doriya Sarees are made of pure cotton and silk and have square like patterns known as khats on them. The chequered weave of a Kota sari is very popular. They are very fine weaves and weigh very little.
It is said that Rao Kishore Singh of Kota brought weavers from Mysore in Karnataka to Kota in the mid-17th century, as they wove a characteristic small squared lightweight cotton fabric that looks like graph paper and is suitable for turbans. Rao Kishore Singh died in a battle in Karnataka in 1696 while fighting for the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Kota Doria is a one-of-a-kind hand-woven fabric with a distinctive square-checkered pattern. The exquisite quality of the yarn, its agility and softness, which are created by polishing the warp yarn with a particular starch or kanji, are the distinguishing features of this fabric.
Different counts of cotton yarns or a blend of silk and cotton yarns are differentially woven to create the checkered pattern.
Weaving with silk is a very unique and different type of weaving in which cotton and silk threads are combined in both the warp and weft directions. This results in the development of squares, which are referred to as khat. The khats are referred to by many names such as khan, charkhana, chokhdi, and checks in various parts of the world.
The popular motifs used are keri (mango), phool patti (flowers with petals and leaves), chokdi (checks), ginni (coin), paan (leaf), shakarpara (sweet) and geometrical motifs.
5. Pattu Weaving:
Pattu Weaving is very popular throughout Rajasthan and it is a type of general weaving. Pattu weaving is used a lot in Rajasthan and other parts of the Western India. Western Rajasthan has special importance for pattu weaving where you can find its made blanket, shawls and pattu or patti which is a narrow strip of cloth.
The traditional pattu wears can be found in Barmer, Jaisalmer and nearby villages. Sheep and camel wool found in natural cream color, black and brown are widely used for weaving pattu. The usages of cotton fiber and synthetic dyes have included others such as orange, bright red, blue, pink, green and saffron.
Fabric is used in twill weave on pit loom and numerous methods are produced through the interlocking techniques and additional weft figuring. In warping, different kinds of vertical warp bands in complementary colors are included on both sides of the loom and then the technique of interlocking is employed to obtain the pure color. Bobbin contains a weft in similar color as the separate band, applied of weaving the restricted parts of bands.
Additional weft calculating that carried around embroidery looking on loom. It appears beautiful on the clothing. The additional weft is added on a small size of stick which is passed amid a bare minimum of 2 and a maximum level of 12 picks. The craftsman picks up the warp yarns and passes it to put in the additional weft yarn.
The Meghwal community in Rajasthan specialise in making a wide range of pattus such as kashida pattu, baladi check and hiravali pattu. Other 2 popular designs made in this region are malani and bhojsari. Weavers in Rajasthan use the similar pattern for producing woollen dhabla and other types of lower garments for Kumhar and Gujar women.
Motifs have a special geometric way. A wide range of articles and the floor and wall paintings are known as mandana. All pattus have a feature connected in the centre part. There are 2 strips connected to make the pattu available for both men and women. Colorful and bright pattu is warm and large enough to easily drape the body. Shepherds, farmers, and other people use it widely in the villages of Rajasthan esp. in the winter season.
Zari or Zari Work as it is known, is an intricate art of weaving threads made of fine gold or silver. These threads are further woven into fabrics, primarily made of silk to create intricate patterns. The designs are so exquisite that apart from the monetary value attached to these threads, the fabric also gets an overall rich look.
Origin and History of Zari Work:
It is believed that the word Zari originated in a village by the same name in ancient Persia (Iran of today) where artisans used the skill of weaving thin threads of gold and silver onto fine fabrics of silk. The art was brought to India by Persian migrants between 1700-1100 BC. However, zari work flourished during the Mughal era esp. under the patronage of Emperor Akbar.
Elegance is what lies in the intricate patterns of Zari work. If we trace the actual inspiration behind this technique, it would take us to the medieval times where Zari was used on silk fabric. The patterns were inspired by ancient beliefs and rituals but they vary from place to place and are passed down over the centuries.
Zari is produced by twisting a flattened metallic strip made from pure gold, silver or a metallic polyester film around a yarn made of silk, cotton, polyester etc. These zari threads are processed to increase the brightness of gold plating, giving it an aesthetic look.
The intricate art of Zari is passed down from generation to generation and is protected by a few only. Zari work is the result of amazing talent & needlework. The artisans sit on the floor behind the equipment working on a piece of saree or suit.
The speed at which they do the task is simply amazing. Kinari work done by men & women of the Muslim community also formed the original faces behind this art form redefining the essence of traditional artistry.
Zari, which once enjoyed a lot of royal patronage, has slid down due to high costs of precious metals such as gold and silver. In keeping with the times and in a bid to appeal to various income groups, Zari has gone through some changes and extensions.
Chhattisgarh is one of the 28 states of India. The textiles here are woven in heavy cotton. Keeping the public demand saris are now also being woven in finer counts as well as combination weaving of cotton and tussar.
Traditional way of weaving on manual looms is followed in Bastar having motifs of birds, lions bows, animals, arrows, huts, peacocks, pitchers, temples and tribal flowers. These fabrics are worn by adivasis on auspicious of festivals, marriages and dances.
7. Kosa Silk :
Kosa silk is obtained from an Indian silkworm – Antheraea mylitta and is a variety of Tussar silk. It is drawn out of cocoons which are especially grown on specific trees known as Arjun, Saja and Sal. Kosa silk is known for its sturdiness and is preferred to pure silk in Chhattisgarh.
The tribal, forest origins of the Kosa silk saree have greatly influenced the kinds of nature inspired designs seen on it. This saree is highly in demand across India and the world. It is available in both traditional and modern varieties. To this date, this fabric is exclusively produced in India.
The main distinguishing factor of the Kosa silk fabric is that it is produced using threads from a special type of silk worm called Kosa which is specially grown in Arjun, Saja or Sal trees in forests in the center of India.
The threads thus produced are quite coarse in their texture but it is this coarseness that sets them apart and hand-woven, pure Kosa sarees are often priced higher than the fine silk versions.
The beautiful Kosa silk sarees are not only distinguished by the heavy, bumpy yet graceful look of the fabric but they are also known for the beauty of the designs woven into them.
Typical patterns such as the Jaala (net) and Fera weave patterns are often used in these sarees to create unique, artistic designs inspired by natural scenes (especially those from the forests), tribal tales and mythological stories.
The contrast of the rich gold shade of the original fabric against the bright natural dyes used for the designs and patterns creates an attractive aesthetic effect for the sari and really sets it apart from any other type of silk saree.
Nowadays, all types of modern and ethnic designs from other parts of the country are used to decorate Kosa silk sarees, creating a vast range for women to choose from.
Kosa sarees are considered auspicious, traditional saris in the region where they are produced and are therefore the number one choice for important functions and ceremonies such as weddings, festivals and celebrations. Many women consider these a great ceremonial or festival wear option because of their combination of beauty, comfort and traditional designs.