Understanding the Ancient Art of Zardozi
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”.
Art is intrinsically useful, vital to humanity. We need poetry, we need melodies, and we certainly need the gratification of assiduously hand crafted embroideries - humble, but utterly dazzling. Sublime works of art on canvases of rich velvet and smooth satin, crafted with glistening gold leaves and incandescent silver strings that make intricate patterns. Embellished with precious stones and pristine pearls, this is the elegant art of Zardozi; the mark of royalty in ancient India.
Here’s a glimpse into the history of this ancient art.
The etymology of this dulcet word dates back to its Persian origins: zar, meaning gold; and dozi meaning sew.
One of the oldest forms of hand embroidery, Zardozi craftsmen have been weaving poetry on fabric for over 3000 years. Though it came to India during the age of the Rigveda, about 1500 BC, it only began to truly flourish under Akbar’s rule. However, there was a brief dip in its popularity during British rule and the rise of industrialization. It didn’t take too long for the handicraft to pick up again though, soon finding its way into every modern Indian home as a symbol of rich heritage and nobility.
Kalabatun, as it was originally termed, takes inspiration - like all great art - from the infinite beauty of the natural world. It often incorporates patterns related to flora and fauna, as well as echoes of the night sky, including gleaming stars and crescent moons.
A peek into what really goes into this elegant form of embroidery
The two dominant styles of Zardozi include Karchobi, which is characterised by dense, intricate stitches done on heavy velvets and satins, and Kamdani, which involves a slightly more delicate approach done on fabrics such as muslin and silk. The intricacy of this work gave the early Zardozi craftsmen the tag “‘gardeners of garments” in honour of the elaborate floral patterns they carved out with their humble tools. These patterns were embroidered using crochet needles, weaving gold and silver threads together.
Of course there are alterations in the tools and materials used: pure gold and silver is replaced by combinations of the two known as dabkaa, gold or silver plated threads known as kasab, and other slightly less authentic uses of copper and brass. Similarly, metal stars and sequins have replaced the rare gems littering the motif patterns. While the use of non silver and gold material is heavily criticised, it’s made Zardozi way more accessible to the everyday Indian, as well as the global consumer.
The process of embroidery, however, has remained more or less the same. The garment is secured over a frame known as the “adda”, which gives it tension and allows the artisan to draw over the material. The next step is to begin the actual embroidery- specifically, the applique method, involving fine, light and small stitches that give the embroidery the quality of finesse and luxury. It takes about 5-6 artisans to work on one 6 meter fabric of sari over the course of almost 3 days.
Although it’s become a lot more accessible in today’s world, it still retains its badge of luxury. Zardozi is usually reserved for the more lavish occasions, like for bridal costumes in weddings.
That’s not to say that the technique is reserved for garments: from very early on, the versatile Zardozi was used to decorate common household items, from wall hangings to handbags. Perhaps you’d like to peruse over our range of pillow covers ornate with the delicate signature of Zardozi work.
Zardozi today and it’s place in the world
The fascination with this glamorous craft has spread across the globe; Zardozi contributes to the domestic economy not only through the local markets, but its impressive export rates as well. This glitzy, sublime art has a rich historical context, contemporary socio-cultural relevance and besides that, immense economic value. A big chunk of the revenue that the art of Zardozi brings in is due to its ability to cater to a universal desire to see, touch, feel, own beauty and art. Especially handcrafted art; it just has that slightly more exclusive, special touch, doesn’t it?
To behold and witness the product of such high craft, of 3 days of diligent labour, love and care. Of an artist's reproduction of the world’s beauty.
And what if you can do all that, while simultaneously supporting the ingenious hands of India’s artisans that weave humble fabrics into works of such exquisite art?
One word: Zardozi.