Case studies of 3 unique Indian weaving traditions: Baluchari, Patola and Brocades
Scholarship on textiles has historically focused on the aesthetics, history, technique and trade. While this is of key importance, contemporary research also recognises a need for expanding critical perspectives to include social histories—issues of class, gender or local/national patriotisms—as reflected in textiles. In other words, visually constructing the social through textiles, and mapping it to explore lesser known histories.
Similarly the pallus of Baluchari saris were characteristically woven with motifs offering a charming glimpse into a society undergoing radical political, economic and social transformation. Popular motifs included hookah smoking nawabs and courtesans playing musical instruments to Eurpoeans with canons or on horseback – and fascinating new technological advancements of the time, such as steamboats and trains (as seen here and in the fragment presented next).
Balucharis are the only major sari tradition of late medieval South Asia to feature human figures as key motifs and so prominently. As Rahul Jain explains, human figures were otherwise consigned mostly to textiles produced for religious purposes such as narrative vishnav silks woven for assamese sattras, pichvais or the temple kalamkaris of South India. When appearing in other forms, it was only incidental and never a key motif.
Tobacco was introduced to India in the closing years of the 16th century, through European traders in the west coast. Quickly spreading among the aristocracy, it became an integral part of everyday life. A wide array of devices designed for tobacco smoking, from simple earthen huqqas to lavishly designed metal and glass versions.
Numerous portraits from the 18th century onwards showcase Indian princes and nobles or English officials taking puffs from the huqqa, and the display of a huqqa on a stand was de rigueur in courtscapes. The imagery of the huqqa in the context of Bengal in the 18th and 19th centuries was a dominant motif, and may be seen everywhere—from kanthas (as seen here) to terracotta temples.
Unknown traditional weavers of India, sitting in remote corners of the country toiling away on their looms, wove fabrics that reflected their urge to be a part of the freedom movement. This skirt, for instance, features a band woven with the repeated motif of the Indian flag (seen in detail here), at its lower end.
Google Exhibit | Curation & Content: Shilpa Vijayakrishnan
References & Further Reading:
Multiple authors. "Baluchari: Bengal & Beyond", Accompanying publication from the seminar and exhibition of the same name, Weavers Studio Resource Centre, 2016.
John Guy. "Woven Cargoes: Indian Textiles in the East", Thames & Hudson, 1998.