Parsi Embroidery is an aesthetic composition of pictorial traditions and an emblem of elegance. Combining the beauty inherent in four cultural traditions – Persian, Chinese, Indian and European – this exquisite textile form is truly an intercultural craft.
The Parsi community, followers of Prophet Zarathushtra, left Iran for India, and settled along the western coast in Gujarat. By the early 19th century, Parsi traders had begun travelling to the Far East, trading in China and Hong Kong. They returned with several beautiful Chinese artefacts and the most coveted among these were embroidered textiles.
Having begun to appreciate Chinese embroidery, these traders bought embroidered silks for their families that were stitched together to create saris. ‘Gara’, the Gujarati word for sari, began to be associated with the Chinese embroidered sari and this form of embroidery has since been referred to as Gara embroidery.
Drawing on the rich repertoire of traditional Chinese textile motifs, Gara embroidery depicts ‘trade patterns’ on textiles exported from China and India to Europe. The peacock with a trailing tail is an Indian motif adopted by Chinese embroiderers for gara-embroidery. Nature also finds expression through bamboos, birds, butterflies and blossoms that often fill in spaces on textiles. Some saris are so intricately embroidered that the motifs are often concealed in the meandering flower patterns and are only revealed upon a closer view. Embroidering a gara took several months, based on the intricacy, elaborateness and fineness of the design. Owning a piece was likened to buying a piece of jewellery, which was often handed down through the generations.
Community accounts of Parsi elders recall how Chinese men carrying bundles of embroidered silk cloth on their bicycles would often leave these cloths on the verandahs of Parsi homes, while they made their rounds selling their silk ware. When they returned in the afternoons, Parsi women, also free from their house hold chores would sit on the verandahs with them observing them working on their small embroidery frames, thus learning their special embroidery stitches including their use of curved needles. With this newly acquired skill Parsi women created their own Garas, Jabhlas and Kors. The creations by Parsi women exhibited their preference for certain motifs such as the rooster and fish, which have significance in Zoroastrian tradition as against dragons and snakes popular in Chinese tradition.
As with other traditional crafts in India, the legacy of Parsi embroidery has suffered as a result of competition arising from cheaper materials and industrial production. This unique craft has additionally borne the brunt of the dwindling Parsi population that is facing an alarming decline with every passing Census. Recognising the need to preserve Parsi heritage, the Parzor Foundation, supported by UNESCO, began to work towards the revival of Parsi crafts and its cultural roots.
The Foundation trains craft persons in the unique form of Parsi embroidery to create contemporary adaptations of original designs. Since its establishment in 1999, the Foundation has been conducting workshops targeted at skilled and semi-skilled craftpersons such as men from West Bengal or women engaged in embroidery in Kutch.
Their concerted efforts will ensure the survival of Parsi Zoroastrian embroidery and its celebration alongside the varied traditional crafts of India.
– Text by Manika Dhama
Image Courtesy: The Parzor Foundation, The Hindu, www.craftrevival.org
Shop for a collection of exquisite stoles and clutches with Parsi embroidery on www.jaypore.com