In the Amreli district of Gujarat, women use mirrors, shells and bright colors to create beautifully embroidered patterns. Geometric patterns and scenes taken from everyday rural life or mythology are embroidered on decorations for domestic purposes. This type of embroidery is also prevalent in nearby regions, collectively known as Suarashtra or Kathiawar.

Usage

The 'Kathiawari' embroidery is popularly used to create wall hangings and household decorative items such as 'Pachhipatis', 'Torans', 'Chaklas' and 'Chandrawas'. 'Toran' is a decoration for doorways with little pendants hanging from its horizontal edge. These represent mango leaves which are considered auspicious and welcoming. 'Chakla' is a square piece of fabric used by the bride to wrap her dowry articles and later decorate her new home with it. Other objects made using this craft are garments such as 'Chaniya Cholis', 'Salwar Suits' and ethnic Indian jackets.

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Significance

The embroidery of this region is vibrant and its variety is well known. In the 'Kutchi' embroidery, the primary objective is to lavish the bridal trousseau whereas the 'Saurashtra' embroidery is mainly used for decorating their homes. With time, the intricate work and captivating beauty of the embroidery craft has taken it from rural homes to the more urban markets. This has provided a stable source of income to craftswomen. They have been contributing to the growth of small scale industries especially in the city of 'Savarkundla' in the 'Amreli' district. This is also leading to the formation of self-help groups.

Myths & Legends

As per the legend prevalent in the region, Lord Krishna once lived here. When an evil demon attacked the kingdom, he fought with the demon and saved thousands of families. Hence, the women became his devotee and these women from different communities and from several parts of the country brought many artworks and embroidery as a gift for Krishna and this is why so many types of embroideries can be found in Gujarat. 

History

The art of embroidery in India is evidenced in the Vedic literature of 5000 BC. Ancient relics such as bronze needles and figurines from the ancient ruins of Mohenjo Daro of the Indus Valley civilization also talk of the presence of embroidery as an expression of the people. 'Megasthenes', the Greek ambassador to the court of King Chandragupta Maurya in the late 4th century mentions the beautifully gold embroidered attires of muslin fabric. The 'Stupa of Sanchi' and the 'Frescoes of Ajanta' show that the craft of embroidery had reached artistic excellence during the Buddhist Renaissance. Veils, scarves and various tunics were decorated using embroidery. They are adorned with bands filled with designs such as checks, circles and even patterns of animals like geese and lions. Floral patterns are completely absent. These came to India only with the arrival of the Persians and the Mughals.

The oldest surviving specimens of Indian embroidery are the two pieces made for Jain nuns around 5th or 6th century. There are many textiles samples from the Mughal courts. Greeks, Romans, Persians and Chinese traded precious metal and silk for colourful Indian cotton. Until the European Industrial Revolution, India was the foremost centre of textile production and trade with many different branches of Indian embroidery being invented.

Embroidery being intricate, artistic and beautifully elaborate was used by the emperors and kings of yore as a mark of royalty and wealth. As time passed, inexpensive material were used instead of gold, precious stones and pearls and were incorporated into embroidery to make it approachable for the common man. Newer ideas and expressions evolved with factors like the Mughal invasion and nomadic tribes that certain types of embroidery came to be characteristic of a particular region, community and tribe.

Various influences from other cultures have blended into the Indian embroidery patterns due to invasions or trade. For example in 'Kashmiri embroidery', the satin stitch is borrowed from China and the 'Phulkari' resembles the embroidery of Baluchistan. Throughout the 17th century, Gujarat was most probably the most important centre for fine commercial embroidery in the world. The Kutch - Saurashtra belt has slowly grown to be known as the richest source of folk embroidery. Distinct designs of each tribe or caste is passed down with very little changes or modification.

In Saurashtra, the Kathis were believed to be the first practitioners of embroidery. It was called the Kathipa style of embroidery. Heer Bharat or silk floss darning constituted a major part of this style, combined with herringbone stitches and geometric patterns. This style absorbed influences of the Ari chain-stitch embroidery of the Mochis and also spread to other communities in Saurashtra. In the past few centuries, some overlapping styles of embroidery evolved and gave it its present form.

Court embroidery - This type of work was created during the Mughal period. Emperor Akbar patronized this craft and welcomed foreign talent into his court. There were exclusive workshops or 'Kharkhanas' to cater to these. He brought many artisans from Iran and Persia to set up their workshops and educate their local counterparts. The famous 'Zardosi' is a consequence of this .Gujarat was annexed by the Mughal Empire in 1572 AD under the governorship of Prince Khurram. He took this craft to new heights and Ahmedabad is still an important centre for gold and silver embroidery.

Trade embroidery - Gujarat, Southwest Rajasthan and Sindh were the prime centers of trade for embroidered textiles. The 'Mochi' community of Kutch and Saurashtra worked for merchants and landlords. They were traditionally cobblers who developed a fine chain form using a crochet-like hook called 'Tamboor'. Skillful work was done on many surfaces including leather. After the Mughal patronage, the East India Company of the British took over. Their records reveal the sale of textiles with elaborate embroidery with floral shapes, animal designs and gold/silver embellishments. The 'Kashmiri shawls' too made a large mark internationally such that later the 'Scotland's Paisley looms' were engineered to copy those designs. 'Chikankari' and 'Chinai' work are some of the other famous examples.

Folk embroidery - This was done mainly by the womenfolk on articles made especially for weddings, festivals and mostly on personal outfits. Western India and the lower Ganges valley are two areas that are famous for this type of embroidery. They embroider their own outfits and household articles. The gypsy tribes have been greatly responsible in upholding this craft since it is deep rooted in their culture and tradition.

Temple embroidery - Temples have had their devoted craftsmen embellishing the sacred items of worship over centuries. These works are of religious nature that is largely pictorial, depicting the lives and religious epics of the various deities. 'Pichwai', the religious wall hangings of 'Nathdwara', has been the source of inspiration for many Hindu and Jain temple embroideries. The '˜Vaishnav' tradition of Pushti Marg is of a sect called 'Vallaba' that has been instrumental in exalting the craft. In the south of India, appliquè embroidered banners and decorations for temple carts were made in 'Tanjore', Tamil Nadu. 'Mandalas' are another example of temple embroidery. Made primarily in Gujarat, these were ceremonial presentations to Jain nuns. These expressed the Mandalas of Jain cosmology or the 'Puthias' and were also placed behind Jain monks during their religious discourses. 'Chamba rumals' of Himachal Pradesh is another fine example, which comprises of floral borders chalking out finely drawn religious scenes from Lord Krishna's life. The temple embroideries of Orissa also adorn their many 'Chhatries' (canopies) crafted specially for temple purposes.

 

Design

The main feature of 'Kathiawar embroidery' is the application of mirrors. Various stitching techniques are unique to this feature, where tiny mirrors are sown in with threaded patterns. The motifs are largely inspired from nature, be it geometric or organic. There are birds, animals and human motifs in the designs, stitched in their realistic and abstract forms. The designs are distinguished between a few schools in Saurashtra embroidery depending on the people who make them.

a. Kathi embroidery: Early designs comprised of handspun black cloth for the background and coloured floss silks for embroidery. Deep crimson and violet are used a lot in the color scheme while yellow, white and green are used to highlight and balance the colours. In recent designs, bluish grey cloth has replaced the stark black color for background. The 'Adiya-fatiya' or the elongate darn is the main stitch in 'Kathi' embroidery. The stitch is worked in the form of a figure eight, widely spaced or compact. The chain stitch and the interlacing stitch are also used.

The patterns in this type of embroidery are geometric and figurative. The geometric motifs are set within square boxes. The patterns are unique and are believed to resemble the patterns in the proto-historic ceramics of Sindh and Baluchistan, the terracotta's of the 'Kushan' and 'Gupta' period, trellises of temples in the 'Solanki' period and the mosques and tombs of the Sultanate times of Gujarat.

Pictorial representations include episodes from 'Ramayana', the ancient legends and marriage scenes of 'Rukmini' and 'Krishna', with grand processions of elephants, chariots and musicians. 

The borders usually have checks, chevron and lozenge patterns with an occasional animal or bird motif. 'Kathis' were devout sun worshippers so their craft also features sun-disk motifs.

b. Mochi embroidery: Fine silk cloth was used for the background in the 'Mochi' embroidery. Red or blue colors were mostly used. The darn stitches were extensively used whereas the chain stitches were mainly used for the periphery of the figures and the 'Karamphuls' (flower motif). 'Buttis', floral patterns and peacock shapes are found in this type of embroidery also. The patrons of the 'Mochis' also determined many of the patterns. There were scenes inspired from the 'Puranas' such as the 'Samudra Manthan' (churning of the celestial ocean) as well as depictions of hunting and household scenes. Embroidered fans, threadwork on the sleeves and turbans and purses with golden laces are known to be characteristic of 'Mochi' style. The styles of motifs are believed to be of the late 'Mughal miniature' style.  

c. Chinai embroidery: In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a community of Chinese embroiderers living in Surat, who produced work which were completely Chinese in their design and technique. Known as Chinai work, the embroidery was done using fine floss silks and garments adorned using precisely embroidered tightly spun 2-ply silk. Bird and flower motifs were extensively used in bands, made using white threads against colored silk backgrounds. These were very popular amongst the Parsi communities.

d. Mahajan embroidery: The Mahajan's preferred machine made cloth as the base. Like the other classes, they too made use of the surface satin and chain stitches, with occasional usage of the herringbone stitch or 'Khajuri na Tanko'. Rich red and violet threads were lavishly used in the threadwork. The surface stain stitch was used to give a solid smooth finish to the work, with interplay of dark and bright shades of the same color.

In this type of embroidery, the first border was a crenellated one called 'Kangra', crested by a peacock's footprint motif called the 'Mor-pagala'. This was followed by a band of lozenge patterns and then a double series of mirrors or 'Ahalas'. The 'Daria' or the checkered border comes after this, leading up to the large central square called the 'Chokhand', which is divided into four parts of nine quadrants. The division is done by the intercrossing bands of mirrors. This style had a lot of 'Parsi', 'Bohri' and 'Meman' influences.

d. Kanbi embroidery: The 'Kanbis' do not use very dark backgrounds for their embroidery. Yellow, deep orange and sometimes white base cloth is used. The threadwork is not done with silk but with inexpensive cotton threads of bright colours like red, carmine, bluish green and purple. A sub-sect of the 'Kanbis' called the 'Lewa Kanbis' prefer a grey-blue ground for their work. Darn, chain and herringbone stitches are used. The motifs are inspired from nature and include peacocks, parakeets, 'Ambadal' (mango shoots), creepers, 'Kewdaphul' etc. They make embroidered accessories for their bullocks -“'Jhul' (back cover), tasseled 'ShingaDiyas' (for the horns), 'Mathavati' (for the forehead), 'Makhiyala' (for the muzzle) etc. They also make household decorations like 'Torans', 'Todaliyas' and 'Ulechs', which are used for covering a pile of quilts.

e. Ahir embroidery:  The 'Ahir' or 'Ayar' embroidery shows influences of the 'Kanbi' and 'Mahajan School'. Deep violet, crimson and occasional golden yellows are predominant in their work. Mirror-work is a favored technique among the 'Ahirs'.

f. Charan embroidery: There are strong 'Mochi' and 'Kathi' influences in the type of embroidery followed by the 'Charan' community. The darn and the interlacing stitches are most popular. The figures in the patterns are however not well defined and are seen to be shaky.

g. Rabari embroidery: This style is crafted by the Rabari tribes who use the embroidery for their own costumes mainly. It has a close ladder chain stitch and mirrors of different shapes are added using the buttonhole stitch. It is mostly done on a dark maroon or blackish 'khaddar' cloth. Minor motifs and Buttis are arranged in a circular or octagonal manner. Rabaris also use decorative back stitching, called Bakhiya. A characteristic feature of the Rabari embroidery is their Chakla with big flowers on the grey background.

h. Satwara embroidery: The Satwara women embroider their personal garments like the Ghagra and the Gadahari or head covering. There is no particular method for the composition. The designs contain an attractive array of motifs. The Buttis are very realistic with the foliage looking close to being hand-painted. The color contrasts of a circle within a circle are reminiscent of peacock feathers. The Buttis are interspersed with animal and bird motifs like elephants with riders, peacocks and parakeets. A lot of Kutchi influence is seen.

Challenges

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