In India there are many popular embroidery groups such as Chikankari of Lucknow, Katha of Bengal, Fulkari of Punjab, Kutchi Embroidery of Gujarat & Kashidakari of Kashmir. Each style of embroidery is different from the other and has its own beauty and significant value.
The city of Lucknow has a prominent place in the history of India particularly for its art, historical monuments and rich cultural heritage. Besides being famous for its hot summers and a glorious past, Lucknow is also known the world over for its many fine Handicrafts. Some of the most popular names in this list are Chikankari, Hand Block Textile Printing, Zari Zardozi, Ivory or Bone Carving, Terracotta and many others that are practiced by various artisans of Lucknow. Chikankari is considered to be the most popular amongst these and is recognized worldwide.
Chikankari is a fine art of embroidery made with white untwisted yarn with the help of a needle on a fine cloth. It is done on viol, silk, cambric, georgette, terry cotton etc. At first, designs are printed on the cloth with washable colours while different stitches or embroidery work is done on cloth. This is a home based industrial activity which is mainly performed by women artisans and workers.
History and Tradition
The historical records of 17th century of East India Company reveal that Dhaka produced the fine embroidery called ‘Chikan’. Chikankari craft is said to be brought to Lucknow in 18th century from East Bengal by the Nawabs of Awadh. It is said that Noorjahan, wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir introduced it in Lucknow. At that time it was designed and practiced by her and other begams (wives) of Mughal Emperors. It was popular among the Nawabs and Rulers of Awadh. Chikankari flourished under the patronage of the rulers of Awadh. Later on, the craftsmen with love and devotion worked on topi-palla or angarkha, for their masters, creating designs that were unmatched in beauty. The craft passed on to the womenfolk of the community, as a source of subsidiary earning for the family. Gradually, it became the main source of earning for the family.
However, the emergence of British Raj gave the big shock to the chikankari craft. The import of super fine low priced mill textile from England caused the decline of the trade of chikan craft. Thus, the many of the fine stitchers remained confined to the homes of artisans and those who were fond of the craft. This also resulted exploitation of helpless chikan workers. Efforts to revive this industry were launched after the Independence. The chikan embroidery scheme was launched in 1947.
The Uniqueness of Chikankari Art
Due to the variety of stitching-styles involved in Chikankari, it is claimed to be one of its kind hand embroidery that is impossible to imitate in any other part of the world. Chikan embroiders claim of about thirty-two stitches, to which they give delightfully fanciful names. Some of the names in their local language are; Sidhual, Makra, Mandarzi, Bulbulchashm, Tajmahal, Phooljali, Phanda, Dhoom, Gol murri, Janjeera, Keel, Kangan, Bakhia, Dhania Patti, lambi Murri, Kapkapi, Karan Phool, Bijli, Ghaspatti, Rozan, Meharki, Kaj, Chameli, Chane ki Patti, Balda, Jora, Pachni, Tapchim Kauri, Hathkati & Daraj of various types. Closer analysis reveals that many of these are different combinations of the same few basic stitches.
work in progress
basic Chikankari motifs
Chikankari Embroidery Sector Map
The crafts sector alone provides employment to 23 million people in India. The crafts have been integral part of cultural life, though traditional craft skills need sensitive adaptation, proper quality cannot suitable pricing and improved designs to meet customer demand and their satisfaction. However, many artisans face the problems of finance, technology and skill up gradation, production and marketing of goods. The chikan industry has enjoyed the patronaged of Nawabs and rulers of Awadh. With the change of time the policies for its promotion and development were evolved by government. However, the socio-economic status of chikan workers has remained pathetic. Even, they are exploited by the private sector since there are no organized efforts to develop and promote chikan industry at present.