The versatility of this craft has led to its implementation on many surfaces for decorative and embellishment purposes. Traditionally used to adorn Lehengas, Turbans, Dupattas and Sarees, zari-zardosi work now extends to accessories like purses, footwear, caps etc. A popular product is the drawstring purse. Home decor products like cushion covers and tea cozies are also embellished with the zari-zardosi works.
The craft requires high levels of skill and expertise. The dexterity of the craftsman is a measure of his speed and judgment. All the stitches should ideally be of one size. Zari work is done using the aari needle and zardosi is done using the varieties of embroidery needles. This craft evolved when the women of the household used to sit and work on fabric after the daily chores. They used to meticulously work on the minute details and churn out elaborately beautiful patterns.
Myths & Legends
Historical evidences point out that needlework and embroidery has been practiced in India from very early times. Bronze needles excavated from the site of Mohenjo Daro (2300-1500 BC) of Indus Valley Civilization, along with figurines speak of drapery that are of the embroidered type. The Greek explorer, Megasthenes in 300 BC records the zardosi type of embroidery in his Indian travelogue. He describes robes or flowered muslin garments worked in gold and ornamented with precious stones. According to a master craftsmen in Bareilly, the art of Zardosi originated in Egypt. The technique was said to have been introduced in India by the Portuguese who would send satin to India to be embroidered with European designs. In 1948, the Zamorin of Calicut is said to have received Vasco da Gama dressed in fine cotton clothes, a silk turban which was all embroidered in gold. Works of Sanskrit literature of the 14th century speak of products like the Svarnopanad (shoes embroidered in gold and inlaid with jewels), and the Suchipalki (narrow piece of embroidered silk). With the onset of the Mughal era, zardosi saw great patronage. The Ain-i-Akbari mentions the love of the Mughal Emperor Akbar for the woolen shawls embroidered in Zardosi.In the 19th century, two distinct types of gold and silver embroidery developed. Zardosi came to be the heavy gold inlaid work upon velvet or satin. The other branch was Kalabattu which was light and delicate embroidery in gold and silver thread, wire and spangles upon fine silk, cotton and muslins. The early Mughal style of the design finely embroidered in silks with the entire background filled with gold threads became rare after the 18th century due to the expense in both material and labor. The dispersal of the craftsmen from the workshops in Agra and Delhi during the decline of Mughal power brought the skill of the men trained in the royal workshops or Kharkhaanas to the Hindu royal courts. These crafts quickly adapted to the imaginative tastes of the Hindu state.The crafts began as objects of patronage for kings, but the people who possess a stronghold in the textile industry serve the same patronage now. In addition, the Government State emporiums are developing craft articles utilizing the zardosi technique. This not only sustains the craft but also provides livelihood to many of the fine craftsmen.Bhopal is known for its rich heritage of crafts and this art of zari-zardosi too has been predominant here for almost three hundred years. The influences are from the western parts of the country. It is said that the Begum of Bhopal invited the artisans here, the rulers of Bhopal being great patrons of art and culture. Their passion for grandeur and extravagance drew them to the zari-zardosi craft. The members of the royal family were dressed in the exquisite zari creations.
The designs used in the embroidery include motifs of birds, fishes and floral patterns. The peacock is a recurring motif in the zardosi embroidery. The Zhumar is an example of a graceful tessellating pattern. In zardosi embroidery, the patterns are given a dimension and thickness using stones and spangles, whereas in zari the chain stitches form elaborate and intricate designs. Various types of thread work is done in this craft. A few are as follows:
Mina work: The name comes from the resemblance of the designs to that of the enamel work in the jewelry.
Kataoki Bel: This is a border pattern which has a very stiff canvas and sequin edgings covering the entire surface. A variation to this is a lace made on net and interspersed with zari stitches and spangles.
Gota work: Woven golden borders are cut into various shapes of birds, animals, and human figures etc. These are then attached to the cloth and covered with wires of silver and gold.
Kinari work: This type of design is seen mostly in the Batwas or the purses. The embellishments are done as the edges or tassels.
The craftsmen presently following this craft have come into this not merely as ancestral occupation but also as a source of income. Most of them are working under a middleman who supplies the embroidered products to exporters. The export houses and designers are the very few patrons of this technique. A major setback has also been in the deterioration of the quality of the material on which the zardosi work is done. The quality Makhmal used earlier has been replaced by the synthetic velvety fabric and so is the case with the threads as well as the beads and stones, making the entire piece look like a deranged version. However, for the right value and from the right place, high quality work can still be procured. Many old examples of the work have also been lost as the owners sold their textiles to recover their investment.