Zardozi: An imperial craft

Zardozi: An imperial craft


Zardozi finds its place as one of the most famous embroidery arts of the world. Zar in Persian means gold, while dozi means embroidery.

The word zardozi can thus be interpreted as sewing with gold strings. In the 12th century, this art was brought to India by Delhi’s first Turkish-Afghan sultans. This imperial craft, in fact, is known to have been present in India since the time of the Rig Veda (zari embroidery has been mentioned as adornment on attires of gods and goddesses), and was developed during the reign of Akbar, the Mughal emperor. During the rule of Aurangzeb, due to an increase in the price of zardozi-making material, this art declined.

This led to artisans leaving Delhi and moving to Rajasthan and Punjab to look for work.

With industrialisation, this craft slumped further. Fortunately, after Independence, government promoted zari work and zardozi began to occupy an exclusive place in the bracket of royal embroideries once again.

Craftspeople, who set precious stones, beads and gems with metal wire, were known as zardoz workers. Archetypal zardozi embroidery made use of pure silver wires coated in real gold, or pure gold leaves. Modern zardozi usage, in marked variation, consists of synthetic threads, as they are lightweight and durable. Zardozi art, at present, may be likened to synthetic embroidery. This gold and silver multicoloured thread hand-embroidery technique embellishes textiles and garments and gives them an aristocratic façade. Zardozi is very expensive, owing to the use of expensive materials, and also because embroiderers take hourly wages for constructing raised-motifs in gold and silver zari, and doing other detailed work. One small motif can take a lot of time to make, depending on the intricacy of work involved.

Across the country

Ironically, compared to the other parts of the world, labour in India, employed in this craft, are less expensive, making zardozi even more popular here. Zardozi embroidery is practiced mostly in Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Agra, Kashmir, Mumbai, Ajmer, Varanasi, Surat, Jaipur and Chennai. This kind of embroidery is carried out even in Iran and Pakistan.

Zardozi embroidery was earlier practised only on organza, but designers now use a variety of different fabrics and colours to create elaborate motifs and designs. While the original zardozi designs were very Mughal, at present, they are more geometric, and follow simpler patterns reminiscent of flowers, petals and leaves.

A process involving meticulous precision and fine detailing is what gives rise to zardozi embroidery. The fabric to be embroidered is initially stretched on a wooden frame, known as adda. Adda mainly enables clear vision and faster movement, as the fabric does not move. Designs that have been traced onto a tracing sheet are poked with needle, outlining the entire pattern or motif. This tracing sheet or pattern is placed on the base fabric (heavy silk, satin or velvet, etc.). A cloth is dipped in a solution of robin blue and kerosene and is spread on the tracing sheet, for the motif to be marked on the base. Following this, embroidery is done with a needle.

Materials used

Myriad are the materials used in zardozi embroidery; they are as beautifully similar or as inventively dissimilar as zardozi itself. Stretching from salmaa (gold wires) and sitara (metal stars), wooden beads, pearl beads, glass beads, plastic coloured beads, sequins of various shapes, sizes and colours, shells, metallic wires, saadi, metallic bead stones, plastic stones, gold and silver metal threads, to precious and semi-precious stones; they all enhance the arty denouement, which is magnificent zardozi. Zardozi embroiderers sometimes even use silk threads in addition to copper wires polished with gold or silver.

Heavily ornamenting textiles and garments, this glittering thread work is also at times combined with dabka work. Metal wires made by pressing melted metal ingots through perforated steel sheets, and hammered to requisite fineness, are used primarily in this style. The plain wire used in this style is called badla, and when twined around a thread, it is called kasab, or kasav. Embroidery is completed before the garments are stitched.

Zardozi garments look grand and may weigh a lot. Zardozi work generally takes up to 10 days, and each piece is charged according to the design and material used.

Presenting effervescent images in gold and silver, and colourful hues, this picturesque embroidery is a beautiful artefact of the co-mingling of cultures, which make it even more magical, and seem to lure one into a panorama of art spread across fabric surfaces.

Zardozi’s class act can be attributed to its enigmatic elegance, elaborate intricacy, inherent beauty, regal appeal and breathtaking designs, which emerge from the hearts of the creators of zardozi.

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