Chikankari is a fine and intricate shadow-work type of embroidery done by white yarn on colorless muslins called tanzeb (tan meaning body and zeb meaning decoration). The word 'chikan' according to one school of thought appears to have had its origin in Persia, being derivative of chakin or chakeen. It may also be a distorted form of the work chikeen or siquin, a coin valued at Rs. 4 for which the embroidery was sold. Another explanation ascribes its origin to East Bengal where the word chikan meant 'fine'.
The earliest reference in literature to chikan dates back to the 3rd century B.C. In his records Megasthenes, a Greek traveler, had mentioned the use of flowered muslins by the Indians.
Folklore attributes the origin of chikankari to various sources. It is believed by many craftsmen that a traveler while passing through a village near Lucknow asked for water from a poor peasant. Pleased with his hospitality, the traveler taught him the art of chikankari that would never allow him to go hungry. The craftsmen believe that the traveller was a prophet. Another story imputes its origin to Queen Noor Jehan, who inspired by Turkish embroidery, introduced this needlework. The origin of this craft is also ascribed to the harem's of Avadh's Nawab where a seamstress from Murshidabad embroidered a cap for the Nawab to please him. Jealous of the attention she received from the king, other inmates of the harem followed her and thus the art of chikankari was evolved.
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