Handlooms of Madhya Pradesh
The Exquisite Handlooms of Madhya Pradesh – Weaving Magic for Centuries …
With the handloom history dating back to the 5th century, textile and craft clusters sprinkled across Madhya Pradesh have practiced a variety of weaving, printing and dyeing techniques over centuries and across generations. Even as machine produced garments gained popularity, the fabrics and products of the state have continually found patrons in those who appreciate the charm, intricacies and authenticity of handmade textiles.
A Madhya Pradesh handloom dupatta with bird motifs.
Indian fabrics and handlooms have always been known for their finest and impeccable craftsmanship. They have been traded across the world for millennia and, over the last century, have made their way into the international fashion fraternity, where they are highly regarded for their artistic quality and detailing. While every state and region of the country offers its own range of fine silks and cottons, Madhya Pradesh’s Handlooms stands out for its sheer variety of fabrics and design. Whether it is block printing or weaving feathery saris, the states handicrafts are an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage.
Perhaps the most popular amongst all handlooms of its many textiles of Madhya Pradesh is the Chanderi. The gossamer fabric gets it name after the heritage rich town of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh. The residents of Chanderi are known to have been weavers throughout history, and to this day continue to contribute to the development of handlooms. Woven in cotton or silk, the fabric receives it’s feather-light, sheer texture from a unique weaving quality which involves the use of a single flature yarn. Raw, unglued yarn is woven to create a glossy, transparent quality in the fabric that makes the Chanderi singular in its appeal. Chanderi saris are recognized by their finery, dedicate motifs and subtle gold zari work on the borders. Many well-known Indian designers have incorporated the fabric to create high end and symbols for the runways and made it a favorite among celebrities.
The weavers of Chanderi have worked at their craft for generations, and their skills have been ingrained in local legends. It is said that Emperor Akbar himself ordered a piece of fabric from Chanderi, and it was delivered to him folded inside a bamboo shoot. When the fabric was unfolded, it was however as big enough to have covered an elephant.
Yet another fabric that enjoys widespread appeal in the country is Maheshwari, the traditional handloom of Madhya Pradesh, largely produced in the town of Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh. Though its roots are found among the historical craft clusters of Gujarat and Rajasthan, it is Madhya Pradesh that the Maheshwari sari has come to be associated with. It is believed that in the 18th century, when Queen Ahilyabai Holkar reigned over the princely state of Indore, she recruited karigars from the Surat and Malwa region to create special Maheshwari sarees for the ladies of the court and royal guests. Over many years, the saris became an integral part of the states textiles, trickling down from the royal trunks to the masses. The designs are often inspired by the architectural splendor of Maheshwar’s castles and palaces. Another distinctive feature of the sari is its Pallav – five steps of three colourful hues alternated by white.
While time and recent trends in fashion have led to the introduction of modern technology and chemical ingredients in the handlooms of Madhya Pradesh, the state’s textile workers continue to use vegetable dyes. Using natural ingredients such as indigo, turmeric, black, iron, leaves and bark of trees and fruits, the karigars create a bevy of natural dyes in vibrant colours, using them to add prints and patterns. Indigo is of particular significance as it is considered an auspicious you and used by the craft communities of Umedhpur and Tarapur, among others.
Weaving is not a one person’s job. The entire community is involved in the art in one way or another. Whether it is dying the yarn, preparing the silk warp and cotton bobbins for the weft, or setting the patterns on the loom, almost everybody in the locality contributes to each piece of the woven fabric.
Hand block printing remains among the most popular techniques of designing traditional textiles. It is practiced in regions across the western fringes of Madhya Pradesh, particularly in Malwa and Nimar, where methods of manual printing are drawn from time honored traditions, and organic dyes are used to transfer intricate motives on cotton. The town of Bhairogarh near Ujjain is home to a prolific community of painters, whose ancestors are believed to have been patronized by Emperor Akbar. Although traditionally specialized in the printing of quilts and viels known as oudhnis, the craftsmen have now begun to extend their expertise to saris, dress materials and upholstery too.
As the demand increases, the weavers are forced to modernize their approach to handloom whether it is the processing of raw materials or the conception of design. However, the weaver’s dedication to their craft remains unwavered. The value of an authentic Madhya Pradesh’s handloom sari will never diminish, simply because of the weaver’s commitment and passion to their art.
Drawing from the indigenous techniques of the Bhil community, Nandna prints , another famous handloom product of Madhya Pradesh, adopt a painstaking process – the fabric and colour solutions require weeks of intense labour to bring forth the vibrant colours and motifs. Craftsmen in the town of Kawad are specialized in this technique.
In the town of Bagh in the Dhar district, a dedicated community of printers known as Chheepas extract colours from the roots of the Aal plants and transform them into intricate patterns on fabric in Bagh printing style. Characterised by the use of black and red colours on a white background, a Bagh sari can typically take up to 3 or 4 weeks for production, as their three-dimensional tone is an affect achieved only by hand. The extremely attractive Bagh bedspreads are also very popular giveaways.
The art of Bandhej, or tie-and-dye, is often credited to the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, but Madhya Pradesh, too, has significantly contributed to the evolution of this technique, in which the fabric is drenched in colours by traditional methods of resist patterning and knotted up carefully before being dipped in dyes such that different portions soak in different colours. Mandsaur, Indore and Ujjain specialize in the tie-and -dye printing.
Saree weaving is an intricate process, and each sari can take days to complete. The work is detailed and physically challenging too. Looms are extremely heavy and complex and take tremendous amount of skill and strength to maneuver it
Realising the widespread appeal of the state textiles, the government of Madhya Pradesh has initiated a number of schemes and policies to encourage the younger generation of Karigar community to promote their traditional handloom practices.
Bagh printing, a bold and vibrant hand block printing technique, has its origins in Bagh village in Dhar district.
The states use of Batik prints bear resonance with the handloom and painting practices in Bengal. Paint is applied on the fabric with molten wax, before being dyed in cold colours. Believed to have been practised in Japan, China and many African nations for close to two millennia, Batik is said to have been made its way to the town of Bhairogarh near Ujjain during the Mughal rule.
The textiles and Handlooms of Madhya Pradesh are a combination of the traditional and modern. Redefining the global notion of luxury by laying emphasis on handmade products, the state offers a wealth of textiles painstakingly crafted in methods that stay true to their history while embracing the contemporary.