Roses, tulips, chrysanthemums and peonies; acanthus and Irises… the grammar of ornamentation on textiles, jewelry, furniture and architecture has always included flowers. Whether they were carved onto wood, sculpted in stone or block printed on fabric, the human world has had an unceasing fascination with floral motifs. Flowers were perhaps one of the first things in our environment that translated into motifs adorning the first rudimentary clothing, post the tree bark and animal skin stage, of course, and are now ubiquitous.
Every significant culture has had some definitive floral motifs adorning the special and every day use objects, textiles and buildings. And quite often these motifs travelled from one place to the other with traveling artisans, perhaps looking for better opportunities elsewhere or with traders. India has been well known for its rich design heritage and especially her dazzling floral motifs. Ornate, elaborate and intricate floral motifs made Indian textiles some of the most sought after in Europe and have travelled across the world to become prized possessions in other cultures too over the centuries. One such motif is the Sarsa which travelled from the ports of Gujrat in India to Europe and then on to Japan where it became one of the most prized fabric motifs during the Edo Period.
Another example is the famous ‘paisley’ which originated in the Sassanid dynasty and was later brought to India. The Paisley or ‘Kairi’ motif became immensely popular in Europe thanks to industrious traders, so much so that the Scottish town of Paisley became one of the largest centres of prized Paisley shawls and even lent its name to this charming teardrop shaped motif. However, the floral design that is perhaps the most recognizable even today and has come from India is the Chintz. Originally from Calicut, the Chintz started life as glazed Calico fabric with dazzling and colourful floral motifs and was produced between 1600 and 1800 in India. Brought to Europe by Dutch and Portuguese traders, the Chintz was first used for home textiles and later for clothing.
Flowering plants and flowers have always been dominant theme in the Indian design language and reached a pinnacle during the reign of the 17th century Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan when many artisans from places like Persia migrated to India and brought with them not only new techniques but also floral motifs like the Lotus and the Peony flowers which were actually brought by Mongols to Iran and then to India by migrating artisans. These along with other typically Chinese floral motifs like the Chrysanthemum became central themes in Indian fabrics like the Parsi Gara. The intricate Sanganeri hand block prints and Kalamkari are other examples of floral motifs on textiles that are typically Indian.
The endless opportunities for exploring the huge range of design possibilities presented by the natural variety in plant life has resulted in floral motifs being used in new and innovative ways in the contemporary design scenario. So where on one hand Pashmina Shawls with paisley motifs and Namdas and gabbas with other floral motifs from Kashmir are still prized, motifs like digitally printed stylized Mughal flowers can be seen on tea chests, trays and coasters as well as Kashmiri decoupage work that relies largely on floral motifs for decoration. The lotus along with a myriad other floral motifs appear incessantly in jewelry design and the delicate and lyrical Fleur-di-lis that became part of Indian design during the last century can now be seen on home textiles like Damask Cushion covers.
As our fascination with floral motifs continues, it would be interesting to see how else young designers chose to translate this beautiful theme.
Image Credits: www.jaypore.com & Ashdeen.
This article was first published in POOL Magazine.