A pantheon of craftsmen and their art are on display at Kaivalam, under way in Chennai. Rashmi R.D. introduces us to some Living Legends of Indian crafts. Meet Mohammad Bilal
Zardozi or Zar-douzi is an elaborate style of hand embroidery popular in Iran, India and Pakistan.
Mohammad Bilal, is a zardozi master craftsman based in Agra. He learned this form of embroidery from his father who is a Padmashree recipient.
According to Mohammad, zardozi in India received its fame and popularity through Mughal patronage.
The zardozi garments worn by the royal begums of the court were as priceless as they were exquisite.
Pure gold was beaten into fine metal taar (thread) that was used to embroider motifs on silk, satin and velvet. This would be further enhanced with the addition of precious gems such as diamonds, emeralds, and pearls, which would be sewn into the fabric as part of the embroidery.
“Zardozi is a very ancient craft and one of the oldest forms of hand embroidery. Today, zardozi is part of high fashion; you see this form of embroidery in European fashion shows. It’s exported to many places.
Zardozi has also found its way into accessories like bangles, headpieces, even shoes. There are also zardozi cushion covers and draperies.”
But there is also a flip side.
“You have a lot of people trying to pass off machine done embroidery as handmade zardozi. I have seen that happening a lot, even in big show rooms and boutiques. I find that trend quite disturbing.”
Agra, Jaipur, Lucknow, Delhi, Benares and Bareilly are the hubs for original handmade zardozi. When asked which place he considers is the best, Mohammad says “They are all good! I would say each place has its own style and use of techniques. In Bareilly the work is clean and basic, in Delhi and Jaipur the zardozi work tends to be more grand and heavy. Agra mein alag se technique istamaal karte hain (In Agra different techniques are used).”
Mohammad put together a zardozi collection for a fashion show held at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi this year. He calls it ‘The Mughal Collection’.
“I revived a lot of classic, signature Mughal styles of clothing with this collection. Right from the choice of colours and to the way the garments were cut I wanted it to be classic without any modern dilution. People were stunned when the collection was showcased. They told me they had not seen work like this.”
Mohammad talks earnestly about another one of his collections, which he made in conjunction with a group of NGO’s around the theme of ‘Global Warming’.
“The fact that I could use my skill to make zardozi embroidery translate into a purposeful message was both challenging and gratifying. I embroidered emblems pertinent to the theme on the neck line of garments and even embroidered an umbrella with motifs that spoke of the theme.”
Mohammad started out at the age of sixteen. Today he has his own zardozi workshop where he has a crew of 45 embroiderers who work with him. He also has a number of artisans who work on a freelance basis from their homes. He is enthusiastic and upbeat when he talks about training neophytes in the craft.
“I want to carry on in my father’s footsteps. I learned from him and now I have trained many men and women in this craft. When I see a widow able to support her family through her zardozi work, or when I see a young man who wasn’t able to find employment despite having a BA degree get a job in a boutique after I have trained him, I feel a sense of fulfilment.”