origin of the art of weaving in India is shrouded in the mists
Fragments of woven
cotton and bone needles have been discovered at Mohen-jo-daro
and Harappa, the ancient seats of the Indus Valley Civilization.
Even the Rigveda and the epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana
dwell upon the craft of weaving at length. These weavers of the
past were true masters of their craft. Such was their capability
that legend even refers to the fabulous semi-transparent saree
(a great technical feat) worn by Amrapali, the famous courtesan.
Indian cottons and silks were exported in huge quantities, causing
concern among the Romans because their wives could not have enough
of these beautiful fabrics! Fragments of cotton fabric were also
found in the Egyptian tombs at Fostat, China too was another big
importer of Indian fabrics in ancient times.
Moving ahead, silks were exported to Indonesia in the 13th century,
India also exported a lot of cotton and chintz to Europe and the
Far East before the advent of the British East India Company.
were basically three types of weaving traditions in India :-
a) The Rural
Representing the familiar, unchanging images of rural life. These
full of joy and life, with figures of plants, animals and humans.
b) The Classical
Revolving around royalty and court life. Here the forms and symbols
varied according to the patronage of the ruler. Symbols and myths
were rendered graphically, with elegance and style.
c) The Tribal
These were usually bold geometric patterns and weaves in strong
primary colours usually woven on simple bamboo looms.
The Islamic invasion
caused a clash of weaving cultures and traditions.
Where the Hindu weaving had an abundance of life and spontaneity,
animals, plants and human figures, the Islamic tradition was more
discreet. Representation of living creatures was stylized to the
point of abstraction
since Islam did not believe in graphic representation of living
to legend, Hazrat Adim Ali Salam was the first man to walk the
It was his son Hazrat Shish Paigamber Ali Salam
who is credited with the discovery of weaving. In 1288-1298 AD,
Hazrat Khwaja Bahaudin Nakshaband Bhokhari Rahamtulla Alia was
born, who later became the creator of the Nakshaband (design template
for weaving) which completely revolutionized the art of weaving.
The Nakshaband technique or weaving according to premade design
templates probably came to India with Mohammed Bin Tughlaq. It
ensured the continuity of a design through the years whereas earlier
weavers had created non-repetitive designs.
did not believe in wearing pure silk or wool especially
This lead to the creation of fabrics with mixed silk and cotton
or wool in the
warp and weft. One such fabric was Mushru (meaning legal) since
was silk and the weft was cotton. Himru was another such blended
only more expensive since it was much finer.
had been the focal point of weaving in the past.
However the great fire which took place in 1300 A.D. caused most
of the weavers
to flee and settle around the country in places like Delhi, Ajmer,
and Madras. The silk weavers of Murshidabad and the Saurashtros
of South India
both trace their lineage to Gujarat.
courts of the Muslim kings were resplendent in expensive garments
embellished with heavy 'zari' work and intense 'meenakari.
of flowers and fruits like the pomegranate, the Iris tulip had
become part of the Indian design scene. The vibrant reds, yellows
and oranges of the Hindu tradition combined with the dusky pinks,
emerald greens and turquoise blues of Persia to form a new colour
vocabulary. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was said to be so fond
of the 'Jamdani', that one had to seek royal permission before
daring to wear the precious fabric. It soon came to be called
'Aurangzebi' on account of the Emperor's overwhelming passion
for the fabric.
With the coming of the British,
the fabrics being woven, lost much of their
intricacy and beauty.
motifs were dropped in favour of large wallpaper like designs
including absurd images of helicopters, aeroplanes, gardens, houseboats
and palm trees etc. Pastel shades were incorporated which lacked
the brilliance of Indian colours. The Indian 'zari' industry too,
went downhill when 'zari' began to be imported from Belgium. The
traditional silk and cotton too, was largely replaced by synthetic
It was to resolve these issues of design, colour, texture and
quality that Tantuvi was born.
holds pride of place among the ancient weaving centres in the
Its legendary cotton
muslin was said to be so fine that even oil could not penetrate
its finely woven texture. This muslin was rightly called King's
Muslin and legend has it that Buddha's body was wrapped in it
when he died. Benaras was known for the Jamdani inlay technique
where fine patterns were woven all over the body of the fabric
along with the weft, in the same count, a technique indigenous
to India. Ancient records speak about five tones of white being
used - ivory white, jasmine white, white of the August moon, white
of rain-spent August clouds and conch white.
During the Mughal era, Benarasi silk sarees became very popular
- Persian motifs and Indian designs studded with gold and silver
became the darling of Mughal society. Today they enjoy the same
public adulation and are exported across the globe.