Indian subcontinent

Indian subcontinent

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses a beautifully embroidered coat that dates back to the early seventeenth century and originates from Mughal India (acc. no. IS 18-1947).

The Lal Dera ('Red Tent') or the Shahi Lal Dera ('Royal Red Tent) is housed at the fort of Mehrangarh, in Rajasthan, India. It is believed to have been used by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666), who is known for commissioning the construction of the Taj Mahal mausoleum at Agra, or by his successor, Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707). The origin of the tent, however, is still disputed, and it may have been produced locally.

An embroidered Mughal wall hanging or curtain (or prayer mat?), measuring 117 x 81.25 cm, now housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum (acc. no. IS 168-1950), is a beautiful example of Mughal period art from India.

Nakshi kantha is a form of kantha work, promoted among others by Surayia RahmanKantha quilts are traditionally made from layers of cloth salvaged from old saris and dhotis, although by the end of the twentieth century new cloth was also being used. Nakshi kanthas are often not quilted, but used as decorative wall hangings.

A namdha is a felt floor covering made of wool (or a mixture with another material, such as cotton, to produce a white background), primarily produced in Kashmir, in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. The name was originally applied to felt mats with incorporated designs, but the term is now also used for coverings with chain stitched embroidery, worked with the ari hook.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses a scarf made of cotton net with silk thread embroidery. The scarf originates in the Madras area and dates to c. 1855. It fomed part of the collection of the India Museum in London, before it was transferred to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in 1879. The embroidery shows two large buteh motifs at each end. The shawl measures 126 x 54 cm.

Pakko work is carried out by women of the Sodha, Rajput and Meghwal communities in the Kutch area of Gujarat, Northwest India. The motifs are generally geometric and floral, sometimes with stylized figures of peacocks or scorpions. The motifs are traditionally first drawn with mud, and then worked in maroon or red, dark green, white, or yellow, often with buttonhole stitch. Outlining is done in black, white or yellow, using a chain stitch.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art houses a palampore from late seventeenth or early eighteenth century India, embroidered with a motif of a flowering tree (as with all traditional palampores). It measures 328 x 264 cm. It is made of cotton with silk thread embroidery worked with a chain stitch.

The Parsis of western India traditionally practise a form of Zoroastrianism, the teachings of the Iranian prophet Zarathustra, who is known in the West as Zoroaster. He regarded Ahura Mazda as the supreme being and who sharply distinguished between Good and Evil. It was the state religion of Persia prior to the Muslim conquest of the country from the seventh century AD.

Phulkari is a counted thread embroidery technique from the Punjab and neighbouring districts in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. The word literally means ‘flower working’. This work is normally carried out by women, sometimes for family members and on other occasions for commercial purposes. The work is carried out in a floss silk thread (pat) on a cotton ground (khaddar) using a darning stitch on the reverse side of the cloth.

The Textile Research Centre in Leiden, The Netherlands, houses a remarkable set of a printing block and two embroidery samples. The printing block and the samples (one of which is a sari band) and the other a test piece) originate from India and they date to the early 21st century. The printing block, illustrated here, measures about 4 x 3 cm.

In April 2015, Bonhams in London auctioned a collection of armoury originally taken from the fortress of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna), the last refuge of Tipu Sultan of Mysore, after the British-Indian army had taken the site in AD 1799.

In April 2015, Bonhams in London auctioned a collection of armoury originally taken from the fortress of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna), the last refuge of Tipu Sultan of Mysore, after the British-Indian army had taken the site in AD 1799.

The Rabari (Rebari) are a nomadic group living mainly in the semi-desert Kutch parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan, Northwest India. Traditionally, the men followed their cattle, camels and sheep, while the Rabari women lived in permanent villages. Rabari women are famous for their embroidery skills, which are passed from mother to daughter, with the latter often spending several years embroidering clothes for their dowry.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses a boy’s jacket that has a densely embroidered bodice and sleeves. The lower white, frilled skirt is decorated with a red band along the lower edge. The jacket is of the type worn by Rabari boys in Kutch, in the state of Gujarat in western India (see Rabari embroidery). The garment is 46 cm long, and has a width (including outstretched sleeves) of 117 cm. It is made from white cotton.

A ralli is an appliqué quilt traditionally made in southern Pakistan and beyond. They were originally made of pieces of material cut to the size and pieced and sewn together by hand. The resulting cloth is decorated with dense stitching, appliqué and cotton tufts. The word is derive dfrom the local ralanna, which means 'to mix' or 'to connect'.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York houses a chamba rumal (Hindi for handkerchief or covering; Chamba is the historical name for part of the province of Himachal Pradesh) in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. It is made of cotton with silk, tinsel and metal thread embroidery. It measures 66 x 63.5 cm and has been dated to the eighteenth century.

A sari is a woman’s garment made out of a long length of cloth. It is particularly associated with Hindu women living in the Indian subcontinent and among the Indian diaspora. A sari can vary in length from 4 – 9 metres and may be between 60-120 cm wide. This variation is due to regional differences in form, as well as differing methods in how it is worn (depending on the social group of the wearer, daily or ceremonial occasions, dance, etc).

The Textile Research Centre in Leiden, The Netherlands, houses a remarkable set of a printing block and two embroidery samples. The printing block and the two samples, including the sari band, illustrated here, originate from India and they date to the early 21st century. The other sample, or test piece, was worked with the help of the printing block.

Satgaon quilts are named after the settlement with the same name, modern Saptagram, in northeastern India, just north of Calcutta/Kolkota. In historical times it was a major port, but lost its position following the silting up of the Saraswati river. Its abandonment contributed to the growth of nearby Hooghly/Hugli and, later, Calcutta. Satgaon was an important trading centre for the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. It was known to them as Porto Pequeno ('Little Harbour'). 

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