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Intrinsic to the Lambani community in Karnataka, Lambani embroidery has a variety of uses. Comprising detailed designs, intricate patchwork and mirror patterns, this form of embroidery is now used to embellish clothes, ornaments, bags, wall hangings, bed covers, cushion covers and household items. Traditionally, this form of embroidery was only used to design clothes and items for special occasions, but later, due to its increased prominence, it has been used to deck other objects too. Following is a list and description of traditional items that make use of Lambani embroidery techniques and patterns-
1. Lehenga– A Lambani woman’s traditional dress is always adorned with typical embroidery. A lehenga is a type of skirt that has a rounded flare at the bottom. Made with patches of different coloured cotton cloth, the skirt is tied around the waist with a cotton cord. The lehenga also has a waistband on which silver beads, glass and small mirrors are stitched. Flowers made from cloth are stitched between beadwork and mirror work. The lower border of the lehenga is called laavan and is made by putting together colourful strips of cloth.
2. Choli (Kaachli)– The lehenga is always worn with a choli or a blouse. The blouse reaches below the women’s breasts and is tied at the back. Patterns with glass, mirror work and silver beads similar to the ones seen in the lehenga are also used here. However, the mirrors used in the blouse are designed differently. The mirrors are cut in square shape and at the bottom, they are attacked with a ghungroo. The area between the chest and the shoulders is heavily embroidered and is referred to as kadapa.
3. Odhni (Ghunto) – Odhni is a light piece of cloth which can be described as a veil. The part of the odhni which is taken over the forehead is separately embroidered with intricate patterns and embellished with heavy mirror work called the ghungath patta is then stitched into the odhni. The mirror work is stitched in such a way that its bottom end sticks out and forms a cover over the forehead.
4. Pulia and gala– Historically, the tribe of Lambani have worked as carriers and were employed by people to transport grain, water and cloth from one area to another. While some of these materials were carried on the backs of bullocks, others were carried by Lambani women on their heads. For instance, vessels containing water were carefully balanced on a woman’s head. At one time, several pots could be stacked on top of each other. To balance the vessels on her head carefully, a Lambani woman used pulia and gala. Gala is a circular piece of cloth whose inside was empty and circumference consisted of knotted rope. The empty inside part was used to fit the base of the vessel, usually a pot and the outside supported the vessel and restricted its movement while travelling. The knotted rope was embroidered in different colours and patterns. A piece of square cloth referred to as pulia was also used. This was placed on the hair, covered the entire head and extended till one’s shoulders and back. It was used to protect the women’s head from spillage of the contents inside the vessels. Sometimes, hot water or hot liquids were carried on one’s head and the pulia provided an extra layer, preventing the woman’s head from feeling hot. The pulia was also heavily ornamented in the typical Lambani embroidery styles and complemented the outfit worn by the women.
5. Sandiya and singdi- During Lambani weddings, bullocks, which comprise an important part of Lambani life and culture, were clothed in special garments. According to Lambani tradition, a bride must sit atop such a bullock with dandiya in her hands and sing songs to bid farewell to her parents and home. For this purpose, the bullocks are decorated in fine cloth too. The sandiya is a piece of cloth which covers the bullock’s forehead. Four rectangular shaped cloth pieces are stitched together. In their middle, a square piece of mirror is stitched which greatly adds to its aesthetic value. The rest of the cloth piece is adorned with beads, cowries, shells and glass pieces. The outer boundary of the piece was fitted with hanging shells and mirrors which dangled delicately.
The singdi is a pyramidal shaped piece of cloth which covers the bullock’s horns. The piece contains elaborate embroidery and is also decorated with shells which hang over the animal’s horn.
6. Kalchi- A kalchi is basically an envelope shaped bag. In daily use, kalchis are quite small and are used to keep and carry rotis in them. When travelling long distances or working in fields, Lambani labourers carried kalchis with rotis in them. Either ends of the kalchi were tied with a thread which could be hung over one’s shoulder.
Kalchis of a larger size were made for bridal trousseaus to be kept in. Klachis of both types served a functional purpose and were, therefore, designed with a sense of practicality. Besides, kalchis were made with 2 layers of cloth which were quilted together. The outside of the kalchi was decorated with geometric designs. Threads of one colour were used to make dots which were alternated by threads of another colour. This interspersing gave way to geometric patterns.
7. Tope– A tope is a bag which is used in wedding festivities. It is created with a square shaped cloth, whose four corners are tied together with a thread. The surface exposed outside was embroidered with vele stitching patterns and created geometric motifs. A cloth-made flower was stitched to the bottom of the tope. This bag was used by the groom to carry bangles which would be worn by the bride during their wedding ceremony.
8. Toperghaler kotli– The bag’s form resembled that of the tope except that it was embroidered with kalchi embriodery. However, this bag was used by the bride to carry a coconut which would be used during the nuptials.
9. Sarafer kotli– This is also a small bag used by the groom to carry tobacco. Tobacco was gifted to the headmen of the bride’s village by the groom and his family.
10. Paisaghaler Kotli– This is a rectangular pouch carried by the bride. It was tucked into her lehenga and was filled with money and tobacco. The side of the pouch which was visible to the public was decorated with shells and mirrors. Beads hung from its bottom surface.
11. Dantni– This rectangular bag also comprised an integral part of wedding festivities. The bag was used to carry neem sticks that are used for cleaning one’s teeth. The pouch had two openings; on either of its narrow sides. Neem sticks were gifted by the bride to the groom.
12. Pothadiya– A small bag carried to keep betel nut and paan leaves. This bag is also for engagement ceremonies.
Due to the popularity and attractiveness of Sandur embroidery techniques, they are now being used on wall hangings, pillows, curtains etc.
The Lambani community is known by different names: as Banjaras, Lamanis, Lavanis, Lamsn, Lemadis, Lakhpatis, Lambadis, Lumadales, Brinjars, Briparis, Goormatis, Goolas, Tandas. The Lambanis are a nomadic community who are believed to have come to India from sindh. However, some other theories assert that the Lambanis are natives of India and first lived in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Many socio-cultural similarities have been found between Roma Gypsies and the Lambanis. However, since both groups are nomadic and tend to avoid human contact, a clear relationship cannot be explained.
As nomadic people, the Lambanis moved around to different parts of India. In the past, they used to be salt carriers and during the British period, they carried weaponry, armament, grains and other materials on the backs of their buffaloes. However, due to advancements in technology and the British monopolisation over salt, some Banjara lost their jobs and turned to dacoity. This earned them the tag of Criminal Tribe which was only revoked after Independence.
Presently, some Lambani communities have settled in various parts of India. They either occupy entire villages known as tanda or live in segregated parts of a village (also known as tanda). While some Banjara have tried to assimilate themselves into mainstream society, some continue to live on its fringes; away from substantial human contact. Tattooing and embroidery compose an integral part of every Banjara community’s identity and have become famous markers of the group’s communal pride and belongingness. Embroidery takes an integral part in their lifestyle, ritual practices, beliefs, marriage and cultural identity. They adorn themselves in different embroidered accessories and attires according to the occasion. Lambanis worship the Ganas and the Chaura Devi as their prime deities. So during poojas and rituals, they offer different embroideries and also offerings inside peculiar embroidered bags namely sarapi kothdi, as tributes.
The government of India has accorded a Geographical Indication Tag (GI Tag) to Sandur Lambani embroidery. This GI Tag is applicable to 6 out 7 taluks in Ballari district. This indicates the uniqueness of this craft and the product’s importance as an Indian handicraft. The craft originated in Karnataka, and remains widely popular in several parts of the state such as Ballari (especially Sandur) and Bijapur. In fact, since some sub-communities within Lambanis are nomadic, the craft has also spread to the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh.
Generally speaking, clothing comprises an essential component of one’s identity and culture. Today, the Banjari community has come to be recognised by their clothing, distinctive ornaments and unique embroidery designs. Their clothing definitely contributes to a sense of growing communal pride and cultural heritage amongst the Banjaris. It also helps distinguish themselves from other communities and tribes.
Furthermore, the cloth on which embroidery is done is locally sourced and dyed. Yarns, fabrics and natural dyes too are obtained through small-scale local industries. Hence, Lambani clothing, itself a handicraft, provides a boost to small enterprises in the region. It exists in tandem with the local economic ecosystem.
Some might say that Lambani clothing is quite extravagant due to heavy embellishment in the form of mirrors, beads and cowrie shells and it loses its practicality. But, this is not the case at all. According to one source, Lambani clothing was interspersed with embroidery and heavy mirror work for a particular reason. In the past, Lambanis travelled through rough terrain and thick forests to transport grains from one place to another. Since forests contain a lot of predators like tigers, leopards and lions, the Banjaris decided to create clothing which would protect them against such attacks. It is said that the large mirrors help scare such predators and deter them from coming near to Banjaris. So, not only do the embroidery work and designs possess aesthetic value, they also possess functionality.
The Banjari dress has become such a popular aesthetic statement in India, that today, its designs are replicated over chaniya cholis worn by women during Navratri. The garba and dandiya raas are important customs of the festival of Navratri. During this dance, women don a garment called chaniya choli which is similar to the lehenga choli worn by Lambanis. The chaniya choli dress is also embellished in heavy mirror work, cowrie shells and beads embroidered over it in beautiful patterns. This is indicative of the manner in which different communities are adopting the aesthetics of the Banjari community.
Vinayak Dev and Lambanis
According to one story, the Lambanis rose to prominence in the Madras Presidency during the rule of Vinayak Dev, the first king of the Jeypore dynasty. Vinayak Dev ruled between 1443 and 1476. During his rule, a group of citizens became unhappy and started revolting against his kingdom. However, with the help of the leader of the Lambani community, Vinayak Dev was able to negotiate with his citizens and maintain peace in the area. At that time, the Lambanis were known as carriers and herdsmen. It is said that the king was extremely grateful to the Lambani leader and to demonstrate his gratitude, from that time onwards, the king signed off his name with a wavy line at the bottom. This wavy line was thought to represent the rope used by people from the Lambani community to drag their livestock around.
The tribe’s connection with Vali and Sugriv
The 1901 census report mentions that the Lambanis consider themselves to be the descendants of Vali and Sugriv. Vali and Sugriv are a pair of brothers who ruled over the vanar sena (monkey army) in Kishkhinda. Both are anthropomorphic characters who played an integral role in lord Ram’s battle against Ravan.
According to one story, while Vali was killed by Ram, his brother Sugriv lived on and married his widows. The story revolves around two of Sugriv’s descendants who are known as Mota and Mola. Mota and Mola are brothers. Mola had no heirs and was married to Radha. Radha could sing beautifully and Mola was a skilled gymnast. Both went to Rathanatch and performed in front of three kings. The three kings were greatly impressed by their showmanship and told Mola that they would give him whatever he wanted. Mola was happy and asked each of the three rajas to give him and Radha one of their sons. Accordingly, the rajas gave Mola one of their sons and Mola took their leave. Mola named his three sons Chavia, Lohia Panchar and Ratade. It is widely believed that the Lambanis originated from Bheekya, the eldest son of Ratade.
Ritualistic connections with Vali and Sugriv
According to one story, a tradition called Vali Sukkeri exists amongst Lambanis. As per the tradition, if in a pair of brothers, the elder brother dies, then the younger brother is expected to marry the widow. If the elder brother dies without children, then the younger brother must marry the widow and procure children. He must consider these children to be his elder brother’s and raise them as such. If the elder brother dies with heirs, then the younger brother can choose to marry the widow. If he wants to marry the widow, he must give fifteen rupees and three oxen to each of his brother’s children. It is said that this practice of remarrying one’s sister-in-law is prevalent in the Lambanis due to their connection to Vali and Sugriv. In the Ramayan, once Ram killed Vali (the elder brother), Sugriv (the younger one) married Tara and Ruma, his widows.
Embroidery is a historic craft- its origins can be traced back to the 30th century BC, close to the Palaeolithic Age. The earliest evidence of embroidery has been found in China and India and it is believed that the practice originated in the former country. Embroidery on silk cloth was the most prominent craft in India and China during those times. According to another source, in India, originated in 5000 BC and finds mention in Vedic literature too. In Harappa and Monhenjodaro too, excavations found bronze needles which point to the fact that the craft was practiced even then. Later on, in ancient Indian kingdoms, members of the royal family donned muslin cloth with gold embroidered on it. During the Buddhist renaissance, beautiful embroidery designs were stitched on veils, scarves, tunics and coats. It is believed that these designs were inspired from the designs on Sanchi stupa and other Buddhist frescoes.
Presently too, embroidery occupies an integral part of handicrafts and cultural exchange in India. Today too, in some rural areas, as part of dowry, families exchange hand embroidered clothes. Besides clothes, today, embroidery can be found on decorative items and showpieces for one’s house.
When it comes to the history of Banjara embroidery, it is very difficult to trace. To assume the history of the craft, we can trace the community and their origins. We can trace the origin of Banjaras or Lambadas only from medieval times, after the battle of Tarain in 1192. Legend says that the word Banjara is derived from the word Vanachara, meaning ‘wandering people.’ The word Vanachara was the result of the death of Prithviraj Chowhan in the War of Tarain. The followers of Prithviraj Chowhan ran away into the forest, and while wandering, they gradually took to trade for their subsistence. From then onwards, they were known as Banjaras.
Lambani embroidery refers to a group of embroidery techniques and patterns used by the Lambani community to adorn their clothes, bags and other items. Lambani embroidery portrays a strong personality to the tribal attire with its usage of huge mirrors, cowrie shells, that completely spans across the fabrics in threads of very warm and vibrant color palettes. Each embroidery pattern is unique and more than two can be used on a single item to create beautiful designs. While there are 14 main types of embroideries that are used regularly, Lambani embroideries consist of about 40 techniques!
Bakiya– It is a type of back stitch which is similar to a running stitch. Distance between two thread dots is quite less.
Vele– Vele is used to fill in spaces and cover the underlying fabric completely. This stitching technique involves creating parallel lines and is a type of chain stitch.
Theen sui maki– This stitching technique is usually done alongside another like relo or mirror. It looks like a straight line but is actually composed of a tiny vertical loop.
Marimanakalli maki– This embroidery pattern is made up of successive triangles which face downwards.
Suryakanti maki– This stitch resembles the theen sui maki stitch except that it is done in a horizontal manner.
Ulta dhora– Like its name suggests, ulta dhora is a type of back stitch in which no space is left between two consecutive thread stitches. This stitch is usually used in a combination with two other stitches.
Doraanaki– Doranaaki is both a running stitch and a single stitch. This stitch looks like a running dotted thread.
Pote– Pote is a complex stitch which resembles a chain. Two intersecting lines of different colours are made and the part where the lines meet is filled with thread of another colour.
Cheena– Cheena stitches look like two parallelly running zigzag lines.
Buria– Buria is a circular embroidery shape that is filled with another colour in the middle.
Chood Buria– This is a circular stitch pattern with no closing.
Buria Bakiya– This consists of a series of circular stitches which are sewn together by a back stitch.
Katta nakra– This stitch is done at the ends of any clothing. The cloth is folded into small triangles and then sewn together.
Nakra– When threads of one colour are used to make a rhombus, thread of another colour is used to draw diagonals inside the rhombus.
Nakra bakiya– In this stitch, a pattern of rhombuses are made which are connected by a back stitch.
Nakra pote– The rhombus shape is alternated with a flower motif (pote) to create a beautiful geometric pattern.
Aad kalyani– Its design is similar to cheena but the lines are much smaller.
Soniya tang– Soniya tang is a herringbone stitch- the design of a cross is made albeit the first two lines of the cross intersect a little below their top ends and the second and third intersect a little above the bottom end. One line or multiple lines of this pattern can be made.
Kalyani– Kalyani stitch is done in combination with Dooranaki stitch. Kalyani is a big cross-shaped stitch which overlaps with the running dot pattern of Dooranaki embroidery.
Pote Maki Valo Dharo– This stitch is used to fill up colour in the link formed by a chain stitch. Each link is stitched with a different colour thread.
Pote dhora– A sequence of pote designs are made between two converging lines.
Angali– Angali stitch is used to stitch small flowers and leaves in the filler sections of other stitches.
Angali vele– Angali patterns are drawn over chain stitches that border the clothes’ edges.
Relo– A sequence of vertical coils are stitched close to each other so that each coil is closely intertwined with the next.
Alli– When rhombus shaped motifs are made using the dots left by Doranaaki stitch, it gives way to Alli stitch.
Vegro Alli– Where the dots left by doranaaki stitch are not joined, there a rhombus motif is made.
Pote Alli– When a series of rhombus shaped motifs are made using a chain stitch.
Alli and chain stitch– The rhombus motif is outlined in a different colour by a chain stitch.
Jawlia– Jawalia stitch resembles the pattern of a net.
Choop Jawlia– When the jawalia stitch is stretched and at its bottom, a triangle is formed.
Gadri– Tiny rectangles made out of satin are stitched in either one colour or three different colours to form a sequenced pattern. These blocks are bordered by a chain stitch.
Teen Dhora Vegro– This stitch is done over the doranaaki stitch. They are a series of running stitches consisting of three lines of different colours.
Saath Dhora Vegro– Made at the base edge of any clothes, this stitch consists of a series of 7 running stitches done in 7 different colours.
Paanch Dhora Vegro– A design is made over a base of five running stitches.
Ado Dhora– When cross stitches are made in two distinct colours.
Suod– A vegro pattern is stitched over a base of 9 running stitches done in different colours. It resembles the shape of an arrow head.
Thero Dhora– Thero Dhora resembles typical rangoli designs. When a vegro pattern is stitched over a 13 line running stitch.
Kanchetunero– This refers to the stitching of mirrors on a cloth. Mirrors may come in rectangular, square and circle shapes.
Khilan– This is referred to as a buttonhole stitch and is primarily used at the borders of any clothes.
Dora Khilan– When there is considerable space left between two stitches of a Khilan stitch.
Sangam Khilan– When two stitches in a khilan sequence are done closely together.
While successive governments in India have implemented policies, plans and acts to ensure the integration of Banjaras and other such communities in society, these have largely failed to fulfil their aims. Some communities of Banjaras still lead a secluded life and lack the necessary opportunities and capital to acquire education, earn a stable income and even access medical facilities. Their previous status as criminalised groups has also led to mainstream Indian society viewing them with a certain prejudiced lens.
Academics and researchers have pointed out the current tendency of the Indian state to move towards a very intolerant and uniform society. This also means that those who lie at its fringes tend to remain unacknowledged as part of society. This scenario has also led to the alienation of Banjara tribes from most aspects of Indian society. It has severely affected the job opportunities available to such people and has had a detrimental impact on their cultural activities.
Lambani embroidery with its long cultural history has also began to adapt to the present times. Initially they used to color the fabrics used for embroidery using natural dyes by themselves, but now they directly source it from markets. Also, compared to the fully embroidered fabrics, now they also add plastic beads and laces according to the suitability of the design, which is a quiet shift from tradition.
Yarn– Unbleached yarn is sourced from local businesses, it is used to embroider different patterns on clothes and other objects.
Fabric– Like yarn, fabric is also sourced locally. The fabric is cotton and is already dyed, each one in a different colour. Some of the most common fabric colours are red, black, mustard yellow, green and blue.
Dyes– Dyes are used to give colour to the unbleached yarn and the unbleached fabric. Natural dyes are obtained from indigo, anar (peels of pomegranate), katha brown (Akasia katechu), golden yellow Anato seeds (Bixaorellana), Ratan joth grey (Onasmasechiodies), green (indigo+anar), black (Terminalia chimula) and brown (bark of sappan wood) (now days colored fabric are directly sourcing from market).
Mirrors– Small mirrors of different shapes and sizes, mostly, round, square and rectangle are stitched to the clothes.
Cowrie shells– Cowrie shells are another decorative element. Cowries are actually sea snails and belong to a family of mollusks.
Bead-different type of glass and plastic beads.
Old Coin, Lace, Buttons are the other popularly used raw materials.
Needle– Needles are the most important tool in this process. They are used to make embroidery of different kinds on garments and other materials.
Pencil– Although not necessary, a pencil might sometimes be used to trace patterns over fabric which are then embroidered using the yarn.
The process of creating a garment in Lambani embroidery involves the following steps-
Dye extraction, cloth preparation, dyeing, cutting the cloth, pattern making, embroidery and tailoring.
Nowadays, dye extraction, cloth making and dyeing might be omitted from the process as Lambadi communities might choose to use pre-dyed yarn and fabric that is readily available in the market for purchase and use.
For the first step, the raw materials used to make dyes are sourced and then boiled in hot water. If the material is a flower, then it should be boiled for about twenty minutes and then strained. If the materials are barks and roots, then they must be soaked in water overnight and then boiled for half an hour the next day. After being boiled once, the water with dye extract is strained and then boiled again. This process is repeated once again to deepen the colour of the dye.
To make sure that the cloth is clean, it is boiled in hot water with soap and soda. Then the cloth is washed in cold water. Now, it is ready to be dyed.
Water, dye solution and mordant are mixed together. A mordant is chosen and used depending on the colour that the cloth has to be dyed in. Then, these three are boiled together until the right shade of cloth has been achieved. If one finds after boiling that the shade is too light, then more dye extract can be added and the boiling process is to be repeated. After the desired colour is achieved, the cloth is cooled, washed and dried in the shade.
Cutting the cloth
The dyed cloth is then cut according to measurements and shape of the garment required. However, they are not stitched and embroidery is done on the unfinished piece of cloth.
For the next step of the process, a pencil might be used to trace slight lines of patterns and designs on the cloth. The cloth is spread out after which a pencil is used to draw which embroidery pattern must be stitched on what part of the cloth.
Slowly and steadily, the Lambani people use the yarn and needle to create intricate, beautiful and geometric patterns on the cloth. A Lambani has to choose from a wide variety of embroidery techniques and designs (listen above) in order to carefully embellish the dyed cloth. Yarns of different colours are used to embroider the cloth. Mirrors and cowrie shells too are used in this process. The small mirrors are placed against a small piece of cloth which is then stitched onto the surface of the cloth. Needle and thread are passed through the hollow of the cowrie shell which is then stitched to the cloth.
The cloth of which the embroidery pattern has been made is unstitched and hence, is stitched together in the required shape and size after the embroidery process has been finished.
List of craftsmen.
https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/Sandur-Lambani-embroidery-gets-GI-tag/article16051971.ece – GI Tag