Sheeshedar: Mirror Work Of Gujarat

 

 

It has been truly remarked, "For the peasant women of Gujarat, a needle is her pen with which she gives expression to her creativity and reiterates her relationship with religion and nature."

The Ancient Times

From ancient times, Gujarat has been open to influence from other countries owing to its long coastline. In fact, the culture of Gujarat can be linked to the ancient civilizations of Sumer, Babylon and Egypt. The influence of various cultures had its effect on crafts of the state as well.

Of all the crafts, embroidery or kasheedakari was greatly influenced. Movement of pastoral nomads and their settlement in different parts, gave wide variation to the embroidery styles. It is believed that the textiles from Gujarat graced the court of the legendary King Solomon.

Sheeshedar (Mirror Work)

One of the well- known crafts associated with embroidery is Sheeshedar or mirror work, It is a highly intricate form of sewing mirror discs onto the fabric The art supposed to have originated in Persia, dates back to the early 13th

century. But not much is known about it. Marco Polo, who came to India in the same century, commented that the gold and silver embroidery in this region was more skillfully done than anywhere else in the world.

The art of putting mirrors into the garments is usually combined with other forms of embroidery. The communities who were already familiar with art of embroidery incorporated this craft so as to add more effects to their designs.

Embroidery By Jats

The finest embroidery was brought to northern Kutch by the Jats of the Banni who had immigrated from Baluchistan generations ago. Their work still retains the Baluchi techniques and the same preference for small, intricate patterns, which are fundamentally geometric in conception. Mirror discs are cut in the shape of petals and leaves, and blended in designs of shimmering delicacy.

Bhuj, the capital of a small prosperous kingdom in the central provinces of Kutch, was inhabited by mochis-cobblers or leather workers, by trade. It is not known when they began practicing silk embroidery, but their work shows a maturity of style and technique, indicating a well-established craft.

Their designs comprised the traditional floral motifs and were executed in two alternating patterns on the hem of the ghaghrapat (skirt-cloth). Though the craft centered primarily around Bhuj, some mochis moved to Kathiawar (Saurashtra), in the 14th century and were employed by the Kathis, a land owning class.

Kathi Embroidery

Kathi embroidery, however, shows an entirely separate style from that of Bhuj. While the floral patterns remained, the fillings were often in herringbone stitch (being quicker than the chain stitch). The designs were figures and animal motifs adopted from kathi art. Dominant motifs of flowers or peacocks were used and the intervening spaces were filled with leaves and buds. Mirrors were used for emphasizing the center of flowers, eyes of birds and animals.

Other Styles

The commercial communities, of the southern and western districts of Kathiawar, known as Mahajans, also produced a unique style of austere geometric embroidery. It was worked in a monochrome of red or violet, in long darning stitches, which covered the entire cloth. The sheen of silk was enhanced by mirrors at the intersection of the motifs and on the main borders. White and cream threads emphasized the velvet-like surface that created a double-tone effect. Because of the reflection of light by the mirrors, the effect was enriching.

Bright yellow and orange decoration of the Kanbi community is another well-known style. The difference lay in the size of mirrors. They used large mirrors, almost one inch in diameter, framed in metal, for a bold effect.

The work of Ahirs, though not so popular, is finer and more elaborate. The motifs are edged with running stitch-tanka in white thread. This not only highlights the motif, but also gives it a sense of movement. The flowers surrounded in a circular fashion, by mirrors, are reminiscent of many styles in Kutch.

Incredibly miniscule mirror embroidery was done on heavily encrusted yoke with white thread, mingled with red, orange, blue and green, by the Garari Jat community.

The Tharparkar district was renowned for its bold style. The entire pattern was worked in open chain stitch and richly encrusted with discs of mirror glass, on coarse cotton. It was also worked on printed and tie-dye cloth, forming patterned field.

Mirror work, however, was not just confined to Gujarat but also seeped into the neighboring state of Rajasthan. In Rajasthan, the Harijans, originally weavers, use a combination of cross stitch, satin stitch and buttonhole stitch, along with mirrors. The cut and placing of embroidery and mirrors in a kanjri (a backless upper garment), significantly identifies the wearer as married, betrothed or widowed. It is not only popular in the local market, but also forms a bulk of the export to European countries.
An interesting school of belief maintains that earlier mica was used instead of mirrors. Later ornamental mirror shapes were cut out of an urn, blown out by a mouth pipe. With the advent of modern machines, this ancient technique was soon replaced by the manufacture of mirror sheets, which facilitated the craft to a great extent. Most of the workers have now resorted to machine embroidery. Though hand work is still done, it is increasingly difficult to produce commodities at prices compatible with work done in modern conditions.