In Search of Zari Zardozi in the Streets of Old Delhi

Explore the streets of old Delhi, home to charming haveli's and the craft of zari zardozi

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Zari Zardozi: Zari work (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Zari zardozi is a style of metallic thread embroidery believed to have come to India from central Asia in the 12th century. Originally done with real gold and silver wires on rich fabrics, it was at its peak in the 17th century imperial Mughal court. Recent times have seen a revival of the craft, especially in the fashion and marriage markets. The search for zari zardozi artisans takes one to Old Delhi, to descendants of the craftsmen who worked for the Mughal courts.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A walk through history in India's capital city 

Delhi, India’s capital city, is a vast and ever-growing metropolis, a melting pot of the various sub-cultures of its diverse citizens. However, the old quarters of the city still retain their basic character, and are popularly considered the symbolic heart of the city. 

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Lal Quila, or Red Fort, is an important landmark of Old Delhi. Constructed in the mid-17th century, as the residence of the Mughal emperors, it has witnessed landmark events in the city’s history. It is from here that the Indian Prime Minister makes his annual Independence Day address to the nation.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Jama Masjid, a mosque built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, is located in the heart of Old Delhi. Even today, it continues to be the principal mosque of Delhi.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A view of the courtyard of the Jama Masjid from one of its minarets. The courtyard can accommodate 25,000 people. The city bustles outside the calm environs of the mosque.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The architecture carries within it stories of its multi-layered history.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A street in Old Delhi showing a blend of Indian and European architectural styles.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The narrow and crowded lanes of Old Delhi open up a unique world. The havelis, old houses built in traditional style, are a window to a gracious lifestyle of times gone by.

There are family homes of Delhi’s old artists, writers and poets – names associated with the city’s culture and history.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The red sandstone engraving announces the house of Mirza Ghalib, an iconic Urdu and Persian-language poet of the 19th century.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Ghalib’s house has been converted into a memorial to honour his work and contributions.

Zari Zardozi: Zari Work (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Ghalib Memorial has on display the wedding clothes of the poet’s wife. Shown here is the delicate gold zari zardozi work on the veil.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Around the corner is tucked away a little tea stall, selling sweet milk tea. In Old Delhi, even the tea shops and eateries claim a long lineage.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Another street opens out to a market, with shops and vendors selling groceries and fresh vegetables.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A vendor sells kulfi, a local version of ice cream. The kulfi of Old Delhi is a sought-after delicacy, especially as a dessert at weddings.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Walking through the streets of Old Delhi reveals a surprise at every corner. Shown here is the entrance to an old haveli, a traditional home, which is still occupied by its original owners.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

An unassuming doorway marks the entrance to Chunna Mal ki Haveli, a traditional home occupied by the fourth generation of its owners.

From the outside, many such old dwellings give little hint of what they are like inside.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Inside Chunna Mal ki Haveli; the airy rooms with their high ceilings and extended verandas are built around a large central courtyard.

Zari Zardozi: Historic buildings (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The palatial, old world air of this house has made it the choice location for several period films made on Delhi.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Centuries old, specialised markets 

The markets of Old Delhi are specialised, with specific areas catering to particular needs and specific industries. 

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

One famous street is Paranthe Wali Gali. People come from afar to partake of the special paranthas (a kind of stuffed bread) served here. The street features in many a heritage walk of this part of the city.

Zari Zardozi: Shops and showrooms (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Dariba Kalan market is known for its traditional silver and gold jewellery. Shri Ram Hari Ram, a shop that was established 100 years ago, is famous for its traditional wedding jewellery.

Zari Zardozi: Zari work (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Ballimaran area of the Old City is the largest footwear market of the country. Shown here are hand crafted sandals for men, favoured for festivals and occasions like marriages.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Haseen-ud-Din, at his large open kitchen, making his famous chicken biryani (spiced rice cooked with chicken).

Eateries like this are known for their traditional cuisine, and cater to orders for large events and parties.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Nek Ram and Hari Singh preparing Nagori Halwa at their shop in Sita Ram Bazar. Considered a royal delicacy, this preparation is served mostly at weddings.

For special occasions and functions, people from different parts of the city place orders at shops like this in Old Delhi.

Zari Zardozi: Zari work (2018-04-12)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The zari zardozi market of Old Delhi

The zari artisans have their own niche, working from homes and small workshops. Their finished products are an important part of Old Delhi’s wedding market. Glittering zari zardozi garments can be seen in the many shops selling bridal wear. Today, the wedding is an occasion that gives the modern Indian a chance to live out a dream in the style and grandeur of the royal courts of old. 

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The search for zari zardozi ends at Kinari Bazar, another specialised market. This area particularly caters to weddings.

Zari Zardozi: Zari work (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The market takes its name from 'kinari', meaning border or edging. Seen in the picture are some of the different kinds of ornamental borders available here.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Niarion, another locality of Old Delhi, has a cluster of zardozi workshops. Mohammed Sadik peeps out from the embroidery workshop where he works along with four other craftsmen.

Small workshops like this one are scattered around the neighbourhood.

Much of the zardozi work done in Old Delhi is for sale in the shops within the old city itself.

Zari Zardozi: Shops and showrooms (2018-04-11)Dastkari Haat Samiti

This is also the market for bridal wear. There are several shops displaying traditional garments heavily embroidered with zari zardozi.

People come here from afar to put together their wedding trousseaus.

Zari Zardozi: Life in Old Delhi (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Pawan Kumar Jain, 78, sits at his shop in Kinari Bazar. Wearing a wedding turban, he looks no less than a groom.

With a history of 100 years, the shop is known for its wide offering of wares related to weddings: ornamented turbans and garlands, gift items, trousseau packing and ritual objects.

Zari Zardozi: Shops and showrooms (2018-04-10)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Credits: Story

Text: Rashmi Sacher, Charu Verma
Photography: Sunil Kumar, Charu Verma
Artisans: Reshma Rehman Ansari, Shaheen, Saira, Chand, Naseen Bano, Gulafsha, Tabasum, Farahnaaz, Mohammed Arif, Mohammed Asif
Ground Facilitator: Charu Verma, Rashmi Sacher
Documentary Video: Sunil Kumar, Charu Verma
Curation: Ruchira Verma

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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