Zardozi is form of embroidery that came to I ndia from Persia. Its literal translation, “zar” meaning gold and “dozi” meaning embroidery, refers to the process of using metallic-bound threads to sew embellishment on to various fabrics. This heavy and intricate style of design is said to have been brought to India with the Mughal conquerors. It found a base with thousands of artisans who have passed on this trade among their families and local communities. While the Indian city of Lucknow became a major centre for this art form, its exact origin is unknown. However, there are many romanticised stories that surround its origin. Till date there are numerous micro enterprises that specialise in Lucknow Zardozi.
Origin & History
Zardozi is a style of embroidery that has its earliest mentions in Vedic literatures, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. The original process, known as “Kalabatun”, used silk threads wrapped in real gold and silver wires to decorate satin and velvet fabrics. Along with the threads, other opulent embellishments such as sequins, beads, precious and semi-precious stones and pearls were also sewn on.At its peak, it was used in the Mughal Era by the royalty to adorn tent walls in the form of tapestries and wall hangings, as well as on accessories for elephants and horses. Lucknow became a central hub for this embroidery technique during Aurangzeb’s reign in the 12th Century, when this imperial art form was encouraged under ruling Mughal beneficiaries. Their patronage encouraged Zardosi artists to spread throughout India. However, Lucknow remained the main centre of production due to the high demand from the city of Nawabs. However, overtime, with the rise of gold and silver prices, the use of such expensive materials became difficult and artisans resolved to use synthetic threads or copper wires polished in gold and silver. In doing so, Zardozi was commercialised as a technique, though some of the glory of the traditional heritage of this craft was lost. The Geographical Indication Registry has accorded all Zardosi textiles manufactured in Lucknow and its surrounding districts with the GI tag. Cities like Hyderabad, Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kolkata, Varanasi and Farrukkbadare are also known as Zardozi specialty regions. This has differentiated the craft from imitation products for shareholders and has also helped to retain one of the nest and oldest art forms of Lucknow.
Sources of Inspiration
Lucknow Zardozi has more ornate and heavy designs, with a 3D quality to their motifs. This is a similar style to the Delhi Zardozi work, whereas Hyderabad and Agra tend to keep patterns minimalistic, with a focus on simple but large motifs. The inspiration for all motifs has always been nature. From owners, leaves and trees to animals and birds, the national ecology of India seeps in to all Zardozi embroidery.
A crochet-like needle that is xed to a wooden stick called “Ari” is used to carry out the embroidery. As opposed to a regular needle and thread, the Ari greatly speeds up the work as the artisans can pass the threads both above and below the fabric. Depending on the intricacy of design and number of artisans working on a piece, this phase can take anywhere from a day to 10 days. So the ultimate tool is a steady hand and nimble fingers.In Lucknow, the raw material to make original Zardozi threads is an alloy of gold and silver. This delicate alloy wire is made by melting ingots that are pressed through perforated steel sheets. They are further aened by hammering and then converted into wires. Once out of the furnace, these wires are twisted around silk threads to form the thicker, spring-like Zardozi thread. This springy quality of thread called “Dabka” is credited as a Lucknow specialty. It is often combined with sequins, glass and plastic beads.Lucknow Zardozi in itself is a variety of Zardozi that differs from the other forms of embroidery that bear the same name, done in other cities. Its opulent Mughal influences, for instance, differ from the Tamil influences of Zardozi done in Chennai.