Lucknow’s floral embroidery – Chikankari
It might be most satisfactory to define Chikan as: “Items embroidered with cotton that come from Lucknow.” Chikan is believed to have derived from the Persian word chikin or chikeen, which literally means any kind of embroidered fabric.
In the mists of time, this needlework’s origins remain elusive. Floating white muslin garments with fine “white” embroidery are depicted in the fine Mughal miniature paintings. Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay explains that since King Harsha (590-647 CE) favored plain white embroidered garments, without color, ornament, or anything else, perhaps chikan can be traced back to that period of time. Indians used “flowered muslin” in the courts of Chandragupta Maurya according to Megasthanes in the 3rd century B.C.
In the past, kings and commoners alike were enchanted by this white floral embroidery. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Mughal court artists revived this art form. In the court of the nawab, elaborate designs were embroidered upon the topi. Among the historians believes that chikan was invented by Empress Nur Jahan, a consort of Jahangir with Persian roots. She set a new trend for Mughal courts through her interest in the craft. Several written accounts lead to the conclusion that chikan embroidery originated in Bengal before it was spread to cities like Lucknow and Awadh to please the patronage of the Nawabs.
Women and men adorned their garments with Chikankari embroidery. In addition to the flowy angarkhas, chogas (tunics), and achkans, and kurtas of men’s garments, it also accentuated lehengas and odhnis of women. Simple white outfits were transformed into exotic ensembles by subtle white embroidery. The application of Chikankari embroidery increased significantly during the Colonial Period, embellishing everything from muslin dresses, collars, tablecloths, and runners to mats, napkins, and tea covers.
As British imperial goods began to be exported, Chikanwork embroidery increased heavily and was embellished on everything from muslin dresses to collars to table covers, runners, mats, and napkins.The vintage patterns of chikan embroidery showcase the artistic skills that were possible through nimble fingers, which were strongly influenced by Persian and Mughal architecture. The jaalis of the Taj Mahal and the walls of the famous Imambara mosque in Lucknow have inspired the many motifs of Chikankari embroidery.
The needlework of Chikan has about 32 different stitches which are used separately or in a combination. The 6 basic stitches which make it unique are the Tepchi (back running stitch), Bakhiya (double backstitch), Hool (eyelet), Zanzeera (chain stitch), Rahket (stem stitch), and Banarasi. The Chikankari stitches fall mainly into two main categories – one having a flat surface using a single thread, and the other making an embossed effect using as many as 12 threads. Phanda, or pearly stitches, are used in the Tepchi stitching technique to create an embroidery appearance that appears like a weave on the fabric.
About 2.5 lakh artisans from the Chikankari embroidery cluster are certified by a Geographical Indication to protect the identity of the handicraft. The cluster is one of the biggest in India. Hand embroidery is used to design the embroidery. There are no frames used in the process. A wooden block is first used to transfer the embroidery design to the fabric, and then it is stitched. To remove the printing ink marks and also impart brightness to the fabric, soap, soda, bleach, and neel are used.
‘Chikankari’ is another artwork that exemplifies India’s legendary master artisans!