The Art of Indian Textiles
In continuation with our previous column “The Art of Indian Textiles,” this article will focus on two specific Indian fabric prints: natural dyes and motifs. Both are of key importance to the design and creation of Indian textiles, as well as to the history surrounding the craft.
Natural dyes of ancient Indian textiles
In the earlier days of textile creation, the colors and designs were exclusively handmade by artisans and rare in the general market. This was expensive, meaning only royals or rich people wore them during festivals and occasions. South Asian materials were dyed from colors extracted from plants, minerals and even from insects. The dyes in the clothes were fresh as the materials lasted. Red and blue colored fabrics were primarily produced in India.
Listerine or red was extracted from the madder, a kind of root. An exceptionally vibrant blue color was extracted from the green leaves of the Indigo shrub. From as early as the Indus Valley civilization, Indian dyers used mordant to fix colors firmly to the textiles. Fundamental designs were symmetry, motifs and repeated patterns in Indian textiles. These were spread all over the textile or only in the borders of the textiles.
A motif is an elaborate grouping representing a design, story or any creative ideas or works. A pattern is created and is then repeated. These can range from simple decorated fruit such as a mango, a flower such as a lotus, or an animal such as elephants, or can illustrate a more elaborate depiction, such as the epic “Ramayana.”
Two examples of common motifs found in Indian fabrics are paisley and jaali. Paisley patterns depict what many describe as an elongated mango or teardrop pattern, ornamented with intricate details. This motif is widespread across the subcontinent and even spread to Europe by the 18th century. This is where the name paisley derives from; a small Scottish town with the same name was one of its largest manufacturers in the United Kingdom. Paisley has numerous regional names, examples Kairi in Gujarat, and Kalka in Bengal.
Jaali is another geometric motif, this time inspired by lattice patterns in Islamic architecture. This style is largely characterized by its use of floral patterns. Figure 1 features a mix of paisley and jaali motifs. A geometric pattern of contrasting motifs is complemented by the vibrant alternating orange and pink hues. The design is then shrunk in the bottom half of the weave, where a rich green dye takes central focus.
Figure 2 illustrates the story of the Indian epic “Ramayana.” This recurring motif is similar to the Shikargah motif of Central and South Asia. While the Shikargah pattern depicts hunting scenes, the brocade utilizes repeating figures and ornaments to illustrate a narrative of Ramayana. An opulent gold hue is laid atop a red background, resulting in a striking contrast which further elevates the retelling of this Indian epic.
Brinda Pamulapati, owner/managing director, of Venvi Art Gallery in Tallahassee, can be reached at (850) 322-0965 or visit www.VenviArtGallery.com