Friday, February 5, 2010
All Banjara embroideries are designed for a nomadic life. These are multipurpose clothing and dowry pieces, not large wall decorations like those made and used by settled village people in most Indian regions.
Amongst all Banjaras, the single most important ceremonial textile is an embroidery called Kothala, or Kotli, that measures approximately 50 cm square. It has many uses including water pot cover. It can also be folded in a number of ways to make up many different kinds of elaborate bags, shaped like a large envelope used to hold all the smaller dowry pieces. This bag is almost embroidered all over with Bakia, a kind of back stitch. The corners have cowries, the shell and phoonda, a pom-pom made of coloured threads or goat’s wool and lac in the older pieces.
Other embroidered pieces include :
Chandiya: this beautiful embroidered piece is used for decorating the face of a cow gifted as a dowry to the groom at the wedding.
Dhavalo, or ceremonial square: it is the most important type of ceremonial textile made and used by the Banjaras. It is sometimes called a Dhavalo with reference to Dhavalo songs, prayers of mourning traditionally undertaken by the new Banjara bride. It is folded into different sorts of bags. Typically it is decorated with kodi, the cowry shells, and utilizes a combination of flat and crossed stitches. It measures about 50 cms square. The centre panel clearly illustrates embroidery that fully covers the back ground cloth, using primarily flat stitches. This work best known of Banjara embroidery styles is commonly found in North Maharashtra, Northeast Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Man’s wedding bag: A traditional small square four-pocketed wedding bag.
The Banjaras have been moving throughout the subcontinent. In the process they have established symbiotic relationships with local settled peoples. This is why at times they adopt both regional and pan-Indian adornment elements. Like their village counterparts, Banjara women do carry water from wells on their head too but the cloth that decorates these pots is distinctly Banjara in design.
In their nomadic wandering, Banjaras have been influenced in their textile work by the culture of the region they would mostly reside in, creating distinctive sub-regional Banjara styles. It is difficult however to demonstrate a particular textiles’ provenance. One reason is that marketing practices have taken the textiles away from their source area. Secondly, Banjaras themselves staunchly retain their cultural identity by tending to confuse interrogators. It is therefore through sheer perseverance, detailed cross checking and time that research on Banjara embroidery can reveal the sub-regional styles.
worked herring bone stitch. Designs are either geometric or angularly zoomorphic. Further south, Banjaras work some of the most intricate embroidery, using woollen or cotton thread and a great repertoire of stitches, making bags, purses, waist bands and gala-phulia or pot holder.
All elements of the traditional Banjara festival dress have a special significance in announcing the position of a woman in the community: her marital status, number of children, and the degree to which she ascribes to Banjara ways.
Banjara women wear their finest clothes and jewellery at all times, even when doing hard manual labour on building sites or breaking stones for public roads.
The threads come from either the rangara or dyer and block printer or Banjara traders who buy waste yarn from weavers and sell them to the tanda, or Banjara colony.
The embroidery method is to stitch from the bottom of a piece, gradually working up to the top, as if working from the earth to the sky, and so representing the whole universe in their embroidery.
Most of their embroidered pieces are adorned with cowry shells which are loaded with symbolism of wealth, if seen as an ancient coinage and/or fertility, if seen as a vulva. Banjaras are said to have spread the use of such shells in the whole of India through their nomadic wanderings, which probably explains why they are used in abundance by tribal peoples as far as the Nagas in the East and the Todas in the South.
They have also been instrumental in spreading Northern Indian stitching techniques such as the counted thread used in the Phulkari embroidery of Punjab to Central and Southern India. They have also imbibed different stitching techniques used in the different regions they have crossed, which makes Banjara embroidery technically and aesthetically very rich.
Nowadays, a drop in the quality of embroidery is noticeable. The base fabric has changed from coarsely woven fabric to mill made ones and embroidery yarns are now the same for all objects. Block printing has become old-fashioned. The coarse goat’s wool are gone and shiny woollen threads are used in their place. Wool is used in embroidery. The colours used are fluorescent pink, yellow and green, as compared to the muted tones of the past.
Fortunately, all pieces on display in Adikala gallery are not new pieces. They have been worn and used for the traditional purpose that they have been made for.