Friday, March 11, 2011

Indian Textile History




India has a diverse and rich textile tradition. The origin of Indian textiles can be traced to the Indus valley civilization. The people of this civilization used homespun cotton for weaving their garments. Excavations at Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro, have unearthed household items like needles made of bone and spindles made of wood, amply suggesting that homespun cotton was used to make garments. Fragments of woven cotton have also been found from these sites.

The first literary information about textiles in India can be found in the Rigveda, which refers to weaving. The ancient Indian epics-Ramayana and Mahabharat also speak of a variety of fabrics of those times. The Ramayana refers to the rich styles worn by the aristocracy on one hand and the simple clothes worn by the commoners and ascetics. Ample evidence on the ancient textiles of India can also be obtained from the various sculptures belonging to Mauryan and Gupta age as well as from ancient Buddhist scripts and murals (Ajanta caves). Legend has it that when Amrapali, a courtesan from the kingdom of Vaishali met Gautam Buddha, she wore a richly woven semi transparent sari, which speaks volumes of the technical achievement of the ancient Indian weaver.

India had numerous trade links with the outside world and Indian textiles were popular in the ancient world. Indian silk was popular in Rome in the early centuries of the Christian era. Hoards of fragments of cotton material originating from Gujarat have been found in the Egyptian tombs at Fostat, belonging to 5th century A.D. Cotton textiles were also exported to China during the heydays of the silk route.

Silk fabrics from south India were exported to Indonesia during the 13th century. India also exported printed cotton fabrics or chintz, to European countries and the Far East
before the coming of the Europeans to India. The British East India Company also traded in Indian cotton and silk fabrics, which included the famous Dacca muslins. Muslins from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were also popular abroad.(Muslin-a very thin cotton material) (Chintz-cotton cloth, usually printed with flowery patterns, that has a slightly shiny appearance)

The past traditions of the textile and handlooms can still be seen amongst the motifs, patterns, designs, and the old techniques of weaving, still employed by the weavers.

BROCADES - THE TRADITION OF BRINGING SILK TO LIFE

Brocade weaving, especially with gold and silver, has been an age-old tradition in India. There are two broad classes of brocades. Brocades of pure silk or silk and cotton blends and zari brocades with gold and silver threads. The most important material in brocade weaving is silk. It facilitates lovely weaves, is durable, strong, fine and smooth. There are several varieties of raw silk of which the chief ones used for brocades are Tanduri, Banaka and Mukta. Tanduri is imported from Malda and other places in Bengal. Banaka is thinner and finer variety and is mostly used to weave soft fabrics such as turbans and handkerchiefs. Mukta is a coarse and durable silk used for kimkhabs, as fine silk would not withstand heavy gold patterns.

REFINING SILK FOR BROCADE MAKING

Raw silk is specially treated for brocades. It is first twisted (called 'silk throwing') after which the threads undergo reeling and checking for uniformity and roundness. When the yarn has been processed, it is bleached and "degummed", as raw silk has a gum-like substance (sericin) in its composition. This has to be removed in order to bring out the sheen and softness and to enable penetration of the dye. The task has to be done with great care as the fibers can weaken or get damaged. The silk is boiled in soap water for a certain duration and then sent for dying.

IMPORTANCE OF COLOR

Color plays a vital part in weaving a brocade. The charm and subtle beauty of the brocade depends upon color synchronization. Colors are surcharged with nuances of mood and poetic association in fabrics and weaving as much as in painting.

Red - the color of love. The three tones of red evoke the three states of love.
Yellow - is the color of vasant (spring), of young blossoms, southern winds and swarms of bees.
Nila (indigo) - the color of Lord Krishna who is likened to a rain-filled cloud.
Hari nila - the color of water in which the sky is reflected.
Gerwa (saffron) - the color of the earth and of the yogi the wandering minstrel, the seer, the poet who renounces the world.

Earlier, vegetable dyes were used during weaving. These produced fast colors, lasted for almost a generation, and remained as beautiful and vivid as ever. Nowadays aniline dyes have gained popularity as they are cheaper, less time-consuming and produce a larger variety of colors.

MAKING NAKSHAS (DESIGNS) ON BROCADES

Making of nakshas (designs) forms an important part of brocade weaving. Banaras is the main center where the nakshabandha (designer) tradition prevails. The skill and imagination of nakshabandha plays a prominent part in making of designs. Designs are associated with legends and symbolism. The most popular motifs are drawn from nature. In Banaras, it is said that nakshabandha families were brought to this country during the reign of Muhammed Tughlak (1325-1350 A.D.). They were supreme masters of the art of tying designs into the loom. Local artisans and weavers learned this art from these great craftsmen. Some of these craftsmen were also great poets-perhaps they wove their poetry into their designs. One such renowned poet was Ghias-I-Naqsband, mentioned in Abul Fazl's 'Ain-I-Akbari'. The nakshas are first worked on paper. This part of the work is called likhai (writing). The nakshabandha then makes a little pattern of it in a framework of cotton threads like a graph. This pattern gives guidance to the working of that design into weaving.

CHANGES IN DESIGNS THROUGH THE CENTURIES

Designs and motifs have undergone changes gradually and imperceptibly. These changes can be traced through paintings made during different periods. Ajanta and Bagh murals show the existence of different techniques of designs and textiles. During the Gupta period (14th century A.D.). popular designs were formal floral motifs or scrolls entwined with hansas or sinhas -bird and animal depictions. In the 16th century, the old designs were replaced by Persian floral motifs. Akbari paintings show half-blooming flowers, the Jehangir period, full-blown blossom and the Shahjehan period, tiny blossoms with emphasis on the leaves. In the 19th century, with the advent of British rule, there was a drastic change in designs. Some brocades started depicting English wallpaper designs to suit the tastes of the British rule.


1 comment:

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