The following sample essay on Revival of Chikankari. Lucknow is a lovely old city, a city of old gardens and palaces, fine architectural conceits mosques, temples, and aging monuments, a city so favoured by European travelers once upon a time, that it was popularly called ‘the Constantinople of the East. It has a great deal of historicity. It is synonymous with architectural elegance, cultural finesse, social warmth and enduring love for gracious living.
Lucknow also has the distinction of being today, the cusp of a very beautiful, very aesthetic form of white floral embroidery, unique to this geographical location.
Chikankari, that has been practiced in Lucknow for almost more than two hundred years. Chikancraft is rooted in antiquity. The history of chikankari is richly anecdotal Some historians opine, that Chikan is a Persian craft as the word ‘Chikan’ is probably a derivative from the Persian word ‘Chikin’ or Chakeen which means a kind of embroidered fabric.
Although the origins of Chikancraft, remain shrouded in the mists of time,but we can say with some justification that it gained a meaningful presence in Lucknow and its surrounding areas sometime during the late18th and early 19th century when it was brought to the Lakhnawi courts of the nawabs.
It was patronized by the self-indulgent, pleasure-loving nawabs, favoured by local rajahs, sultans and zamindars and became a very intrinsic part of Lakhnawi grace and culture.
Abdul Halim Sharar, in his book, Lucknow; The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture gives a very graphic description of male attire and specifically mentions the presence of chikan.
According to him the people of Lucknow, ‘covered their heads with chau goshia, topi’s of chikan work, their bodies with angarkhas, their legs with wide pyjamas, and over their shoulders they draped scarves or cummerbands (sashes). For the ladies, chikankari was used to adorn Lehengas and odhnis (long skirts and veils), kurtas and angarkhas (Tunics), prayer cloths and scarves of light muslin or tulle.
Ensembles of the most incredible beauty were created with this subtle white on white embroidery, translating its very simplicity into an exotic fashion statement. . This was the accepted fashion of the upper classes and elegant people in Lucknow. Chikancraft did not limit itself to garments alone. Chikan was basically a way of life. It permeated the court and entered the homes and domestic life of the people. It could satisfy the fashionable as well as the domestic instinct .
It shifted from garments to the domestic line seamlessly. The Lakhnawis used chikan to grace their homes in the form of bedspreads, pillowcovers, palanquin, curtains, tablecovers, drapes, runners, mats, napkins, tray and tea-cozy covers. Chikan craft has a few characteristics – Fabric – fine muslin, semi-translucent, very fine white cotton or alike. Threads – fine untwisted cotton or tussah silk and today rayon. Embroidery – pulled work, shadow work: exquisite delicacy of detail. Designs – flowing scrolls with creepers, flowers and leaves and never geometric. Stitches – each has its own chikan name, with strict definitions of use. Similar to back stitch, satin, stem, chain, eyelet, pulled fabric stitches. Earlier Chikankari used the finest of white cotton fabric called muslin or mulmul. , as the base material for the production of good chikan embroidery. There were two/three categories of fine, white fabric that are used for chikancraft, namely Addhi, Tanzeb and Girant.
Out went the voiles and mulmuls and the pastel shades and came voile, organza, polyester, chiffon, viscose, georgette, polyester georgette, cotton crepe tussars and silk that exhibit the Chikan Work in symphony with the traditional and western designs and styles. It’s not just chikan work on fabrics like cotton, but experimentation, the order of the day, has enhanced basic chikan with more detailing- with zardozi, crystals and so on. Today, there a handful of craftsmen and women who practice the true chikankari, but they are almost a vanishing breed. After independence, the U. P.
Government tried to revive Chikancraft by setting up government schemes and government centers where chikan is taught, free material made available, infrastructural facilities provided free of cost and finally the product marketed by the government agencies so that the chikanworker would benefit economically and chikan itself would improve qualitativelyThe central and state government is now making valiant efforts to sustain their craft by opening workshops where chikankars are trained to produce quality work, if not exactly reproduce the earlier aesthetic glory of chikancraft. Several branding exercises are being done for the famous chikan fabric of Lucknow to make it more appealing and to promote it in the national & international market. A special chikan website, ramp shows, online chikan trade fairs, buyer-seller meet, use of information technology to create virtual sample and shop-in-shop at leading retail chains are the tools that would be included in this branding exercise. State government organizations like the U. P. Export Corporation and the U. P.
Handicraft Board are trying to ensure fair wages to the chikan workers, and prevent the exploitation of the chikankar but their efforts do not cover the entire gamut of the chikan workforce. There are other agencies, like SEWA, the Self Employed Women’s Association,who have played a major role in reorganizing chikancraft and giving it a new life force and direction In the last twentyfive years the central and state government has made a conscious effort to revive chikancraft. It has done tremendous work to organize the chikan work force, ensure good wages and encourage praoper marketing and ultimately produce a good quality chikan.
Chikancraft now has a global presence, albeit a very slender one. It requires a great deal of economic interest and economic thrust to metamorphose it from a small but significant cottage industry into a commercially viable international enterprise. Chikankari stages a revival in a contemporary designer avatar as whites and pastels make way for fruity hues and bold motifs on garments ranging from pants to kimonos and corsets to sherwanis chikan work is drawing a wider clientele. Now chikan is no more a casual wear but is also found in a wide variety of formal wears.
Be it any kind of gathering amongst the ‘young’ & ‘restless’ and chikan is the most selective style, as many top designers are involved in reviving chikankari. They have managed to give chikan global recognition and acceptance; Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Rina Dhaka and Vivek Narang have all contributed to the transformation of ordinary chikan into a fashion statement. Now that chikan has a designer stamp and has lit up the lamp, it is been increasingly seen on college campuses and in offices too. Bright ruity color with white embroidery over singlets are very popular with collegians. It is also making an appearance on high-end garments in stores like Harrods and Selfridges where it is labelled “Indian lace”.
Says designer Tarun Tahiliani Chikancraft has a global presence, albeit a very slender one. The art of using chikan is no longer restricted to Indian fashion, “The past two years have seen a surge in demand in both the domestic and overseas market,” says Vijay Kumar Kapoor, vice-president, Lucknow Chikan Handicraft Association. The contemporary usage of chikan has also done away with traditional shades and several such designs are being supplied to all parts of India, Germany, the US and the Gulf where it is positioned in high-end stores as kaftans. It requires a great deal of economic interest and economic thrust to metamorphose it from a small but significant cottage industry into a commercially viable international enterprise,