Divine fashion in Vrindavan

Divine fashion in Vrindavan

Twenty-eight-year-old Muttan is bent over a frame that has a bright green expanse of silk stretched over it. He deftly works his way with gold zardozi and coloured silk thread over the intricate design etched on the fabric. Soon an exquisitely embroidered peacock proudly spreads its wings over the green silk.

There are other equally beautiful pieces of silk that Muttan has embroidered, which any woman would pay the proverbial king’s ransom to possess. Except that these pieces of silk are not meant for mortals. They will be made into outfits, better known as poshak, for Radha and Krishna deities.

Loi Bazaar is a bustling, monkey-infested market situated in Vrindavan, one of the holiest places of India, in Uttar Pradesh. It is a labyrinthine maze of little lanes called kunj galiyaan, that can barely accommodate cycle rickshaws in a single file. The bazaar is a chaotic mélange of old, quaint temples, sweet shops that sell freshly made pedas, malai lassi, gol gappas, flavoured milk and other mouth watering delicacies, and shops that sell laddu, Gopal idols, incense, prayer beads, condiments, spices and silks.

Generations of artisans

Somewhere in the midst of this chaotic maze, four worn wooden steps lead to the glass door of a nondescript store called Manhar Bipin Mukutwala. This little store is actually Vrindavan’s best known poshak store, and caters to the requirements of almost all Radha and Krishna temples in India and across the world, including the US, Germany, Latin America and Africa. While the owner declines to divulge his turnover, the stacks of beautifully crafted dresses, waiting to be dispatched, tell tales of their own.

Muttan works on daily wage basis exclusively for Manhar Bipin Mukutwala. He is one of over 2,500 traditional craftsmen in Vrindavan, who hail from families engaged in this trade for generations. They work for around 10 hours and earn around Rs 300 per day. A more intricate work can fetch them up to 650 per day. Barring a few Hindus, a majority of these craftsmen are Muslims.

Holding up an intricately worked skirt, which will adorn a 12” idol of Radha, Mohit Agarwal, the owner of the store explains, “The base material for this is pure silk, which we get in bulk from Bangalore. For clients who don’t want silk, we also make poshak in polysilk. We, however, prefer to work with silk, as we believe that Radha and Krishna must not wear anything that is synthetic.” He continues, “When a client approaches us, my craftsmen and I ask to see the actual idol for which we are making clothes; and if that is not possible, we have to look at a picture.”

Agarwal passionately explains that the eyes of the idol convey emotions that translate into the motifs on the poshak and that each outfit has a mood of its own. The motifs, once etched on the fabric, are embroidered with zardosi or ari work — the two most popular styles of embroidery used in Vrindavan. Clothes for the idols are specially made, depending on the occasion. Agarwal says there are special colours that they use for Gaur Poornima (Holi), Janmashtami, Radhashtami and Diwali.

Expensive affair

Agarwal reels off names of India’s foremost business families, who have visited Vrindavan at one time or another to have poshaks made for the idols placed in their home temples. He reveals that while the poshak can be made for as little as Rs 3,500, there is no upper limit to how much it can cost. He quotes an instance when an outfit had cost Rs 35 lakh, as it had real Swarowski crystals worked into it. It also took 45 people 45 days to make it.

While there are 100-150 shops selling poshaks in Vrindavan, and the total daily turnover could be around Rs 30-40 lakh, Agarwal says that his family, which has been in the business for four generations, is the only one that makes exclusive clothes. He also rues the fact that a ‘motorcycle’ mentality is slowly setting into the craftsmen — this essentially means that they are losing the dedication and patience required for fine work of this sort, and are moving away in search of easier work. He worries about what can happen 20 years from now.

Muttan has no such fears. With a satisfied look on his face, he says, “I get a sense of fulfillment when I see my workmanship adorning the idols of Vrindavan. I love this work and will give it my best always. My happiest moments are when I see the designs coming alive under my fingers.”

And come alive, they do. On idols that dazzle and sparkle with the beautifully-crafted poshak and specially-designed jewellery that can make a woman envious!

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