Known as the Banjaras or the Lambadis, these tribal folk have contributed beauty to Indian craft through their distinct embroidery.
Not very long ago, women wearing colourful, vibrant clothes with ivory and metal jewellery and tattoos were a common sight in Hyderabad and many other parts of Andhra Pradesh. Called Banjaras or lambadis they lived a nomadic life in the deserts of Rajasthan long before the arrival of the Mughals and the British.
They travelled, moving around in animal drawn carts, with everything that they owned. The Mughal rulers and later the British needed help to move around the subcontinent and transport things from place to place and the Banjara gypsies willingly, assisted them. In the 17th Century, the Banjaras helped cart goods for Emperor Aurangzeb to the Deccan. This is believed to be the first time that they moved towards the south. The advent of rail and roadways made transportation of goods easier, depriving the Banjaras of their primary livelihood. Finally, they were forced to settle down in various parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Today the Banjaras are known for the artwork that is sought after for its motifs and hues. Banjara embroidery is essentially done on cotton cloth. Chain stitch, cross stitch, stem stitch, herringbone stitch, couching, appliqué work, mirror work, kashida and quilting are some of the stitches and techniques used. Often two or three techniques are used in one single piece of hand work. The work is decorated with cowry shells, cotton and woollen tassels, coins, buttons, beads and mirrors.
For many years now, the demand for Banjara embroidery products has kept this art alive. Presently, the older women of the community are able to sustain the market needs. While most of the younger ladies are educated and work in various professional fields.
“Earlier these hand embroidered garments were made by the women themselves for their own personal use. The locals found this work interesting and they began placing requests for garments and other small items. This gave rise to the Banjara embroidery industry,” says Mrs Sualibai, a Banjara embroidery artist, who is also a State award winner.
“We first got into making skirts and blouses for people. Soon the Government and various other agencies got interested in our work and they gave us demands for bags, purses and wall hangings. Today, apart from garments and other small items we embroider bedsheet sets, diwan sets and table cloths which cater to the national and international markets,” adds the award winning artist, who resides in Bapunagar Basti, Hyderabad.