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Splendour of textiles

An illustrated talk by Padma Shri Jagdish Mittal on `The Romance of Indian textiles' helped in providing glimpses of the rich textile tradition of the country.

INTERESTING TALK: Padma Shri Jagdish Mittal interspersed his talk with slides.

IT GOES without saying that the myriad textile tradition spanning millennia has brought name and fame to our country. Echoes of this rich heritage still reverberate through the length and breadth of the country. The calicos, muslins, silks, brocades... spun exotic tales of the land of their birth. This plethora of hand-spun, hand-crafted textiles attracted people from far and near and one could not stop beholding them in awe or romancing them. This `Romance of Indian Textiles' was highlighted in a talk illustrated with some beautiful slides of rare specimens by Padma Shri Jagdish Mittal.

The textile tradition can be traced back to the Harappan civilisation although only in later historical periods yield information through literary, archaeological, sculptural and other sources. Foreign accounts of travellers also constitute valuable data. It is only from the early and late medieval periods that we get specimens of textiles. Sadly though, most of the exquisite pieces are housed in museums abroad or are in private collections.


The dexterity of the weaver or craftsmen was well known. The British rule sounded the death knell of Indian handlooms and handicrafts. After independence many forms of weaving and other crafts have been given a fillip by individuals and organisations and are being revitalised.

About 60 slides of woven, printed (block and hand-painted) and embroidery (between 15th and 19th Century) shown by Jagdish Mittal demonstrated the richness, diversity and uniqueness of Indian textiles. Some of these textiles, which are now abroad may have travelled across the seas either through trade and gifts. Slides of some of the best textiles shown displayed the grandeur.

Mittal pointed out that there are no textiles earlier than 16th Century. But he added that there is only one 15th Century piece of a type of kalamkari (hand-painted, mordant dyed exported to Indonesia) from Hyderabad now in the Tapi collection, Garden Mills Museum at Surat. Patronage by the royalty and aristocracy and temples helped in the production of exquisite pieces.

FLORAL MOTIFS: Designers can draw on these.

The slides gave an idea of the kalamkari traditions of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, the Paithani weaves, Kashmiri shawls, pictorial shawls (decorated with landscapes, flora and fauna) jamdani weaves, brocades, patolas of Gujarat, telia rumals and ikkats of Andhra, pichwai, phulkari of Punjab, kantha of Bengal and Chambal rumals. Be it weaves, prints or embroidery the motifs, colour combinations and textures are so intricate that each piece looks like a tapestry. The richness of motifs is amazing - from geometric, abstract to the figurative - flora, fauna and others - each was depicted in minute detail. More such illustrated talks will be useful in understanding the richness of our country.

This textile tradition can be a learning exercise for all wannabe designers, weavers and others. For, the wealth of designs and motifs can be drawn upon and adapted to contemporary use. Some attempts in this direction has already made by some designers particularly Ritu Kumar. It is never too late to start, learn and appreciate the ancient wealth of the country. The glory of Indian textiles can be sung forever.


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