The famous golden embroidery of royals--zardozi--has travelled in time through various eras and upgraded itself time and again. This embroidery art has found its place in various parts of India, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, Central Asia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Various designers and famous brands are familiar with its beauty and have used it in their garments.

The name zardozi/zarf-does/zardozi comes from two Persian words: “zar” or “zarin”, which means gold and “dozi” meaning “sewing”. It is an intricate art of weaving thin threads from pure gold or silver. The Zari threads are woven into fabrics comprising silk to create complex and fine patterns. The dull zari thread is called kora, and the shinier one is called China. The pattern and design made in zari work are so unique and beautiful that apart from the pecuniary value of these threads, the overall fabric also gets a rich and royal look. Typically, zardozi embroidered attires were worn only by high ranked people like priests and royalties in the past. The zari threads also came to adorn the walls of royal tents, scabbards, wall hangings and paraphernalia of regal elephants and horses.

In the beginning, the embroidery was made with pure silver wires and real gold leaves. But in recent times, craftsmen use copper wire polished with gold or silver, along with silk thread. The zari threads are formed by heavy and elaborate metal fibres in different colours of gold, silver, bronze, gunmetal, etc. Also, this embroidery is done on different types of fabrics like silk, satin, velvet etc. It uses materials like beads, sequence, stones etc and has a wide range of implementations that include clothes, households, textiles and animal trappings.

History of zardozi

Zardozi finds its origin in ancient Mughal tradition. Researchers say that the sacred clothes of gold or Hiranya mentioned in Rigveda, are similar to the current brocades or garments woven with zari. But the original birthplace of this embroidery is still uncertain. Some references cite that it came from some part of China or the Egyptian civilisation.

Written and sculptural sources of this embroidery show its presence on the scarves, veils, shawls and leathers from the time of the Kushana dynasty in the 1st century and the Gupta's of the 4th and 6th century. We can see the existence of this art in paintings adorning the walls of the Ajanta caves.

Evidence is also found in Acaranga Sutra of 6th century--the great literature of the Jains, which mentions that gold embroidered material should be shunned by the monks.

In the books of Harshcharitmanas and Kadmbari, famous writer Banabhatta, who was the biographer of king Harshvardhana of Kannauj in 590-647 CE, wrote in detail about clothes and footwear which were embellished with precious stones and golden threads. Similar references are also found in the 8th century sanskrit classic--Kuttanimatam by Damodargupta.

Due to its high demand outside India, this art spread far and wide and its trade increased.

The famous merchant of ancient time--Marco Polo of Venice, wrote about the riches of the ancient kingdom of Tamil Pandya in the 13th century, and carried with him cushions and mat embroidered with gold and silver wire.

Demand for zardozi embroideries increased as traders began trading gold across the Silk Road, and the rise of Islam only boosted it. The Islam faith spread from Arabia to Central Asia and touched the subcontinent of India in 712 CE.

Gold embroideries have numerous stories in Arab literature and its beauty fuelled the imagination of weavers and Indian embroiderers.

After the establishment of the Mughal empire in India, embroidery of gold and silver found their new avatar. This embroidery was used in brocades, velvets, coats, trapping, harnesses, canopies, tent fabrics, wall hangings, floor spreads, and shoes. A mention of this happens to be in Shihab al Umairi (1300-1349), a biographer of Muhammad Bin Tuqhlaq’s court of Delhi, and various other historians of the Sultanate era.

The Sultanate era further gave impetuous to this craft. Robes embroidered in gold and silver were gifted to visitors or guests as a token of remembrance. In the memoirs of Firoz Shah Tughlaq known as Futahat-I-Firozsahi, we find references of new clothes that were worn for the first time in that era. Tughlaq coined the word and popularised it among the masses. It is in his time that the zardozi embroidered clothes started getting developed in workshops or karkhanas.

Simultaneously, the art started to flourish in other parts of India such as Gujarat, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh.

In the 15th century, the Europeans fascinated by these special clothes, started to import them in their own countries and even tried to make some of their own!

Story of the shimmer

Zardozi is the most generic term used for this kind of embroidery. But it is known by other names as well: zardozi in Bhopal, Delhi, Hyderanad and Uttar Pradesh; “kamdani” or “badla” in Lucknow, “danka” and “gotta-patti” in Rajasthan, “tilla” work in Jammu & Kashmir and parts of western India and so on.

While the names may change, the process of zari making remains the same--zardozi turns a variety of gold and silver alloy into a flattened wire known as badla, which is usually wrapped around silk or cotton thread. The composite thread is available in different thicknesses but in two main colours - golden and silver. Some of the processes of thread making became mechanised post industrialisation but the embroidery is still done entirely by hand.

Zardozi designs mostly consists of natural elements like flowers, leaves fruits, birds and animals. Another commonly used motif on sari pallus is the keri or mango. Persian inspired abstract, geometrical patterns are also common.

Ways to differentiate pure zari from fake

There are few things that differentiate pure zari from fake. Pure zari always feels softer and smoother, while fake zari feels coarse and stiff; pure zari is heavier than imitation zari. And last but not the least, pure zari is always heavier on the pockets. Now that you know what it takes to look like a royal, be ready to loosen your pocket!

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