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THE SPLENDID TEXTILES OF INDIA: TRADE|COTTON| CLOTH By Shelly Jyoti 2012

Textiles were a principal commodity in the trade of the pre-industrial age and India’s were in demand from china and Mediterranean. Indian cottons were prized for their fineness in weave, brilliance in colour, rich variety in designs and a dyeing technology which achieved a fastness of colour unrivalled in the world-‘Woven cargoes-Indian textiles in the East’-by John Guy

In the centuries before 1800, the Indian subcontinent throughout the history was the most important cotton manufacturing region in the world. From Punjab to the North and West India to Bengal and South India, the cotton shrub or tree was essential to peasant crop rotations and integral to peasant’s strategies to survival. Between 1200-1800 CA cotton was the cultivated crop in virtually every region of the Indian sub continent. Author Hamida khatoon Naqvi has enumerated some thirty five different varieties of cotton cloth and that were produced and consumed in this region in 1500BC. Indian textile workers supplied a vast sub-continental market in which cotton was a wide margin .The fibre of choice for textiles both for garments as well as decorative was cotton. While silk was held in higher esteem and was considered more auspicious material, its high cost made it prohibitive for all except wealthy. In addition to the vast sub-continental market, Indian cotton goods were demanded throughout the world. Both material and textual evidence attests to the consumption of Indian cloth from Gujarat to Sindh, Egypt to Iran and other countries in the west Asia from as early as 11th century. Textiles were also recognised means of storing wealth, a readily convertible form of wealth. A reference from Duarte Barbosa


(Portuguese)writing in the beginning of the sixteenth century mentions the wild tribesmen of Malaya who do not consider their freedom secure till they have had stored in a pile of Ahmadabad brocades equal too their own height. This was standard ransom for a captive in a war. From western seaboard, and from the Coromandel coasts, woven, very fine painted and dyed cloth were exported to the Arab states ,to East Africa and to the prosperous nations of Europe. The antiquity of the foreign trade in three important Indian coasts is clear from the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, where all are named as cotton exporting centres. The skill and knowledge to convert the cotton fibre into the yarn and then into the cloth and then into the bleach, dye or paint or print the fabric was similarly wide spread. In 1200-1800 activities in Gujarat, Coramandel in the South East and Bengal in the East stood out for their cotton manufacturers. All three had a long coast lines, appropriate ports and commercial sophistication to manufacture and send clothes to the vast markets and extensive trading routes of Indian Ocean. Gujarat being on west coast was thriving printed commercial hub and pre-eminent source of cotton cloth in the Indian Ocean world for much of a period. The port city of Surat was also the entry point to India for the British East India Company. It was also named as Bunder –e khoobsurat by pilgrims going to the sacred city of Mecca. ‘Cambay chiefly stretches out her two arms, with her right arm reaches out towards Aden and with other towards Malacca.....the trade of Cambay is extensive and comprises cloths of many kinds and of a fair quality. Tome Piers 1515’.Cambay maintained its position as a major western port after the Mughal conquest of Gujarat 1577 The Coromandel coast (famous for painted cloths) in the south had along legacy of trade with South East Asia in particular. The fertile delta of Bengal in the East came to be world’s famous for its finest muslins and silk cotton mixtures (embroidery and finish given by chank shells rubbed on fabric to give a smooth silk look).Coromandel coast , Gujarat and Bengal also possessed highly productive agricultural systems which contributed to their commercial importance in the first place and abundant supplies of grain also meant that food prices were low, which gave Indian textile manufactures and competitive advantage in the markets around the world especially in those where price levels were much higher such as western Europe. Punjab, a fourth major cotton manufacturing region possessed the same features- access to major trade routes, highly productive in agriculture and connecting Northern India with Iran and Central Asia. The heart land of Northern India was the fifth major centre of textile activity which had long been an area of dense settlement, productive agriculture and extensive


economic activity. Textiles were manufactured in this region from Delhi sultanate times to early Nineteenth century. By 15th Century, the export of cotton textiles to the markets in the Indian Ocean was on a large scale. From the 16th century Indian cottons achieved global reach by trade dominating world’s textile market. From the coastal ports of the East, woven and printed cloths travelled to Indonesia, Malay and the Far East. Between 1600 and 1800 Asia unleashed a decorative torrent in thread, silk and linen, to bedeck the walls and furnish the homes of European elite and common citizens .With Indian painted and printed textiles and with Europe's burgeoning trade on the painted chintz which traders of the East India companies brought back to Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. There was unlimited, demand for these cotton textiles in all the Southeast Asian markets during the seventeenth century. From here the trade took place with other countries that shaped the pattern of Inter-Asian trade of with the European Companies and laid the foundation of their wealth and commerce and later political power in the eighteenth century. With the beginning of the modern period or the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, the Indian weavers shaped the course of world history by unconsciously laying the foundation of British and Dutch colonial empires The records of the seventeenth century European traders confirm that they found examples of Indo Persian style. The traders demanded designs in the English fashion and Indian embroiderers executed them beautifully .In Bengal eastern India , embroidered quilts were made for Portuguese traders with a blend of Indian and Portuguese motifs ( Illustration below of IndoPortuguese influence seen in ‘satgoan quilts ‘in 16-17th century).The craftsmen were not only making them for Indian use as hangings and covers but were also producing patterns acceptable to the traditions of the islanders of South East Asia and separately cloth of the fine quality required for the Persian trade.


The English, the Dutch, and the French recognised the potential for their own home trade and began to send out designs in their own fashions for bed spreads and set of curtains for four poster beds. By the end of seventeenth century Indo-European styles were emerging to the individual tastes for those three countries. A favourite subject was in Persian –‘The Tree of life’ (illustration page) bearing many kinds of leaf, flowers and fruit. European flowers appear amid the Indo Persian conventions (see illustration) but it is in the border design that European influence is often most evident, with classical garlands during eighteenth century prosperous trade in such deigns developed. Amongst the master pieces of this trade were the painted and embroidered cloths from Masulipatnam and the Coromandel Coast, from Surat and Burhanpur.The designs on these cloths reflected the sensitivities of the West. India has been known for high quality madder dyed, indigo resist dyed, block printed and hand printed cotton textile from ages. The patterned cloths were dominated by combinations of red, blue, black, violet, green and yellow.


Kalamkari is an ancient craft of painted and printed fabrics illustrating the narratives of epics illustrating the narrative of Mahabharata and Ramayana

The beauty of the Kalamkaris of the Coromandel coasts lay in the quality of the dye from the alizarin, bearing tap-root of the plant called chay (oldenlandia umbellate) used with an alum mordant. It produced glowing red with iron, a soft brownish black and with a mixture of alum and iron. Other alizarin bearing dye roots were used elsewhere in India, notably al or sarnguy (morinda citrifolia), but none matched the purity of chay. Greens and yellow were painted from less fast local vegetable dyes. European observers began to inquire onto the techniques of Indian cotton painting with a view to improving their own textile industries. A cotton material called chintz which was stencilled; mordant dyed, resist-dyed and painted was exported to Europe in 17th and 18th century. The earliest account by Captain Beaulieu, an officer in the French Navy (d.1764) on behalf of the French dye chemist Charles Francois du Fay de Cister Nay (1968-1739)was written about in 1734 near Pondicherry . Beaulieu gave the cotton painter a length of cloth and cut off a sample piece at each stage to illustrate his account. India has had the capacity in the arts of absorbing new influences and making them her own. The court workshops of the Mughal emperors, at Lahore, Ahmadabad, Agra and Fatehpur, and in the ateliers of Golkonda


had the finest weavers from India who worked alongside master craftsmen from Persia, Turkestan and other centers of textile weaving. New textile structures were introduced .Inspirations that had been strenghtened, explored new uses of gold thread and coloured silks, creating infinite fantasies of enamel display. As the goldsmith fashioned the beaten sheets of gold so the weaver and the embroderer and the painter and the dyer used their skills to bring to life jewel like ornaments on the heavy gold end pieces of duppata and patkas and on the butas that ornaments the body of the fine silk and cotton weaves. The fine painted and embroidered cottons were used not only for garments but for floor coverings, walls of tents, awnings, hangings and as screens to ensure privacy in royal palaces. During the seventeenth century, Brocade weaving became one India’s finest textile craft. Under the puritanical Aurangzeb (1658-1707), the Moghul court kharkanas at Lahore, Agra and other cities declined and the craftsmen returned to their own towns and villages, a new generation of Indian weavers became experimental with the techniques of brocade weaving and spread all over Central India and Bengal. Bengal being the natural habitat of the Indian wild silk moths produced finest silk cloth with simpler design and was woven for generations. It is renowned for soft brocades of pure silk, mellow in colour. In the 18th century, it was Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan of Bengal who patronized the weaving tradition of Bengal. Since the seventeenth century, the weaving of kinkhab on muslins and silk brocaded with silver and silver gilt thread flourished in western and Central India. kinkhab sarees are known by names of poetic fancy ‘ripples of silver’ In southern Rajasthan and central India the lovely minakri (enamelled work)style , where the motifs were brocaded in colored silks up in the field of gold giving traditional Indian look. (sari illustration).


The buta , peacock motifs jewelled at the pallu end (the end fabric )

Chanderi is a historic city in Madhya Pradesh, which has been famed for these gossamer sarees known as asavali. Made in pastel shades and cream, they have chaste floral woven patterns and matching borders and pallavs. With ingenious technique of extra warp and weft introductions, craftsmen have been able to produce a marvellous effect that appears jewel like on surface ,borders and pallav end .The finer weaves of chanderi are from tanda and shantipur are well known.The Jamdani of west Bengal is a type of woven figured muslin sari and in this type of weave, the special skill of craftsmen can be seen for using the bamboo splinter like needle, he can combine,weaving,embroidery and ornamentation. Brocades, Jamdani, Baluchari(west Bengal) ,Paithini types of fabrics are products of inter-related techniques where in patterns are created by weaving by transfixing the pattern thread between warp. In zari brocade silver or gold plated silver threads are thrust either as special weft or warp to create glittering raised ornamentation. With embroidered fabrics the striking feature is fundamental similarty not only in the craftsmanship of stitch but in the choice of designs and the colours utilised. Each region has worked out its own modes influenced by particular envoirnmental conditions, customs and history. But all through there is similarty in the use of basic stitches like the satin, stem, chain, darning,running and herringbone which have been used in a multitude of


ways with varying inspirations to give each subject embroidered a characteritc beauty all its own .

Phulkaree ( The above illustration) embroidery of Punjab is traditional, gendered heritage textile art that is done on hand spun coarse cotton fabric. This utilises simple darn stitch in varied ways with untwisted silk thread in geometric patterns of flowers. The embroidery ranges from striking geometric medallions in reds, tonal shades of orange, brown and maroons through almost monochromatic golden tapestry-like fabric.


Rumal from Chamba(Himachal Pradesh)became famous for its adaptions of delicate miniature paintings.depicting scenes from Krishna legends with satin, running and stem stitches

Rumal from Chamba (Himachal Pradesh) became famous for its adaptions of delicate miniature paintings (Pahari School) with the stylised techniques of these paintings depicting scenes from Krishna legends with satin stitch, running and stems stitch. So perfect is the workmanship that both sides of the fabric are identical and are aptly called ‘painting on cloth with silken thread’ Rumals were used in ceremonial presentations as and kept as family heirlooms.The chikankari(shadow work) of Uttar Pradesh utilising satin stitch in the main and on wrong side delicately outlined with small running stitches traditionally done on fine muslin cloth. White embroidery on white fabric, with predominantly floral designs executed on fine white cotton with untwisted threads of white cotton. True chikan has the unique property of being limited to a fixed repertoire of six basic stitches like Tepchi,bak Running stitch),Bakhiya(double back stitch),hool (Eyelet)’Zanzeera (chain stitch), Rahet (stem stitch) and Banarsi. Sheila Paine feels that the floral designs of chikan embroidery share the same heritage of the Persian fondness for floral patterns greatly influenced the Mughal rulers.


Each ‘sujani’ tells a tale with unique narrative elements of day to day life

Moving to Bihar where religious concepts and way of life have deeply influenced the art and craft. As an age-old practice among women in almost all parts of the country, the style of sujani (the above image) has evolved over time by incorporating unique narrative elements in its embroidery. Women today stitch their experience, their sorrows and their realities on the sujani, transforming a mundane quilt into a testimony of their lives. Each sujani tells a tale – the trauma of being a woman in a man's world, domestic violence, female infanticide, effects of alcoholism and gambling on a family and similar issues. Social concerns like evils of dowry, education of girls, lessons in health-care and AIDS are also depicted. The embroidery art of Sujani is the stitching tradition of Bihar (also known as Kantha in Bengal, Gudadi in Rajasthan) is also a woman's tradition. The traditional homes of appliqué and patch work are Kutch , Saurashtra ,Orissa , Bengal, Bihar, Uttar-Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.Motifs are cut out from coloured fabric and applied to a plain ground , normally white to create arrange of patterned spreads and quilts. It is believed that appliqué work made its way into western India either from Europe or Arabia in the Middle East through trade contacts. Widely prevalent in the western states especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan and in the eastern coast of Orissa. In Orissa, appliqué work is an inseparable part of the temple tradition, and its main centre of production is in and around Pippli, a small town near Bhubaneswar. Traditionally the appliqué work of Orissa is used as canopies during the annual Chariot Festival at Puri


Textiles of North East when viewed against the vast, diverse and multiple cultural backgrounds and heritages visually assert cultural distinctiveness. In the folk and tribal weaves and ornamentation done in Manipur, Tripura and Nagaland, we find a fine flair of color combination, abstract and stylized design with heavy textures. Spinning, like dyeing and weaving is performed by women and every Naga woman is supposed to weave the cloths of her family. It is known that every home has its own handloom and it is closely bound up with social set up and way of life. Women specialise in this craft and it is said that every bride is expected to weave her own wedding garments. The craft of Ikat (sari Illustration at the top ) in India is reputedly of very ancient origin, though examples survive only from the nineteenth century. The silk patolas of Gujarat woven as traditional marriage saris for some communities are extremely skilled work. The elaborate patterns are tie dyed in both the warp and the weft (double ikat) and much care is needed when setting the warp threads on the loom. The earliest designs are pan hat(leaf pattern) possibly originally a fertility symbol, but by the end of the nineteenth century, the motifs included other auspicious symbols such as popat(parrot), kunjar(an elephant) and nari(a doll or woman).Ikat silks and cottons including patola were among the textiles exported from South East Asia. Weaving by Ikat technique is practiced elsewhere in India notably Orissa, Eastern India, where the dyeing may be on silk or cotton sometimes. Ikat textiles are also found in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Each region differ from community style. Ikat fabrics are amongst the most expensive


fabrics in the world, renowned for brilliant colors and complex weaving patterns. They have been woven in India from the sixth century.

Bandhna (the above image) of Gujarat and Rajasthan is the finest expression of regional crafts. In this form of tie-dye work the finished white cloth, whether cotton or silk is tied in tiny bunches to resist the dye, leaving the pattern in white dots on coloured ground. In Rajasthan turban cloths with bandhana patterns were traditionally worn by men at festivals and red chunari (spotted head veil) often features in visual art of the period. The embroiderers, weavers, chitrakars painters, and dyers were established in art with religious traditions too in Indian textiles. The masterpieces of this tradition were the manjitha and the indigo painted and dyed cloths, some using gold pigment with episodes from the epics and the puranas painted in textile panels to unfold the story. At kalahatsi, palakollu and masulipatam in Andhra, at mayavaram in Tamil nadu, nathadwara in Rajasthan, in Jain ateliers and Nath Jogi Maths, painted cloths of Gods and Goddesses appeared in temple shrines as important textiles .


Pata-chitra is tribal art on textile that has reference of Lord Jagannath, an honoured God of India

Special mention should be made of the painted chintzes where delicate effects of shading of the floral patterns were achieved through a masterly use of mordant and dye. The trade in chintz textiles had been exported from Coromandol coasts for centuries even before the arrival of the Europeans. The trade in painted dyed cottons to South East Asia is documented as far back as far as 5th Century AD. The liveliness of chintz motif was a result of design motifs of Indian, Persian, and Chinese British tastes pulled gradually together to demands of fashion trends of Europe in seventeenth century. The chintz word is derived from Hindi term ‘chint’ which means variegated ThePalampore, floor spread, hangings qanta(tent), coverlet, dastarkhan(dining mat), table mat, jai namz (prayer mat used by the muslims) were exported from Golconda were inspired by chintz. Delhi continued to be a major centre of chintz manufacture and its printed cloth. Agra, Bairelly, Farukhabd, Lucknow and Patna were added to the list for major manufacturing town. Eighteenth century saw the rise of European success, industrialization and import substitution. The relocation from India to Europe, the Industrialization of cotton textile manufacturing had lasting effects on the


world as a whole. With the discovery of synthetic indigo and madder and the introduction into India of power driven machines to produce cheap textile cloth, the great crafts of weaver, dyer and embroiderer started to decline by the end of nineteenth century. The movement of textile trade went a traumatic change with textiles from England and Japan flooding the markets of India in the twentieth century. The introduction of new materials, machine spun yarn for handloom cotton and synthetic dyes for vegetable and mineral dyes threatened those artisans who had no access to training centres where the skills in the use of the new technologies could be acquired. With the government support, craftsmen were introduced to the new milieu with new techniques, technology introduction, research on documentation and conserving the traditions. The Indian textile sustained its traditions with the vision of the craftsmen of past and the present in view of the demands by economic, cultural and technological upsurgence. With the economic liberalization of Indian economy in 1991 the much-needed thrust to the Indian textile industry has now successfully become one of the largest in the world. The fibre and yarn produced in India is comparable to the best in the world. Indian fabrics are known for their excellent workmanship, colours and durability. Due to heavy investments in worldclass manufacturing plants, continuous innovation, new product mix, and strategic market expansion, Indian man-made fibres take the centre stage in the global arena.

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFRENCES Woven cargoes-Indian textiles in the East’-by John Guy Lemire, Beverly Domesticating the Exotic: Floral Culture and the East India Calico Trade with England, c. 1600-1800 S. P. Sen The Role of Indian Textiles in Southeast Asian Trade in the Seventeenth Century* ‘Traditional Indonesian Textiles’ (Thames and Hudson, 1992). Nicholas Barnard ‘Living with Kilims’ (with Alastair Hull, 1988), ‘Living with Decorative Textiles’ (1989) ‘Living with Folk Art’ (1991)Thames and Hudson. Hamida kahtoon Naqvi Agricultural , Industrial and Urban dynamism under the Sultans of Delhi 1206-1535(New-Delhi, 1986) Georgio Riello and Tirtankar Roy How India clothed the world-The world of south Asian textiles Georgio Riello &Prasannan Parthasarthy The spinning wheel –the global history of cotton textiles 1200-1850 Sakis Gekas The Organization of Indian Textile Technology before and after the European Arrival Sheila Paine,Chikan Embroidery The Floral White work of India, Shire Publications, Aylesbury,U.K. 1989 Yves Mikaeloff ,The great carpets of the world Sankar .k Roy Textile traditions of NorthEast India


Rose Mary Crill Chintz Indian textiles for the west Alok Kumar Kanungo Naga ornaments and the Indian

About : Shelly Jyoti is a New Delhi based visual artist, fashion designer, poet and an independent curator whose research centres on design and textiles of 20 Century within the cultural context of Indian history. She is trained as a fashion designer from National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, and she earned her MA in English Literature from Punjab University, Chandigarh. Her select shows include: Indigo Narratives (two woman show)Chicago cultural Centre Chicago 2013, Diana Lowenstein Gallery Miami 2011, ArtXchange Gallery Seattle 2011 , Nehru centre Mumbai 2010, Palm court Gallery India Habitat Centre 2009 New Delhi, RedEarth Gallery Baroda 2009; Beyond Mithila: Exploring the Decorative (solo show)India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, 2009;Woman Made Gallery, Chicago, 2008; Jamaat Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2008; Lyrical Abstraction:A room of/for muses(solo show)India Habitat Centre, New Delhi 2007. ‘Ajrakh Initiative’ is her ongoing project to preserve the Ajrakh resist dyeing & printing technique with Bhuj (Gujarat) craftsmen by documenting the technique through visual representations in the galleries and museums. Her ajrakh textile works are in collection of TAPI collection (Textiles & Art of the People of India) in Surat, India and the MGC ASEAN Textile Museum in Cambodia. Jyoti has been a juror, given talks, conducted workshops in art and fashion schools in India and abroad. Her works have appeared in several Indian and international art journals and magazines including Art India , Art etc, The Quilters Uk, Sahitya Akademi(Indian English literature), Business Standard, Financial Times, Indian Express, India Today, The Hindustan Times, and Times of India(New Delhi, Ahemdabad, Baroda and Mumbai edition) She is an advisory board member of Disha,Gujarat based non-profit dedicated to helping children with autism, Socleen,a non-profit environmental organization and Baroda Citizens Council BCC, a non-profit engaged in macro level city and urban developmental issues. She has been awarded grants from ICCR and Gujarat Lalit kala Academy for different art and curatorial projects. Her artworks are in corporate and private collection in India and abroad www.shellyjyoti.com

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SPLENDID INDIAN TEXTILES : Cotton | Cloth | Culture BY SHELLY JYOTI  

Curatorial Project by Indian Council of Cultural Relations 2012 curator: SHELLY JYOTI ‘Vastram : The Splendid world of Indian Textiles’ Cur...

SPLENDID INDIAN TEXTILES : Cotton | Cloth | Culture BY SHELLY JYOTI  

Curatorial Project by Indian Council of Cultural Relations 2012 curator: SHELLY JYOTI ‘Vastram : The Splendid world of Indian Textiles’ Cur...

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