Indian art has various forms. When one thinks of art, we often confine our imagination to painting, sculpting, dance or music. However, embroidery is an expression on fabric and a unique art form too. The skill involves the usage of threads and other accessories to weave and stitch together a piece of artistic articulation that also can have multiple practical uses and applications. There are various forms of embroideries that are popular both in India and the world. However, a culturally connected embroidery art that must be understood and appreciated is the Banjara Embroidery.
Suggested Read – Embroideries of India – Showcasing the Skills of Regional Artisans
Who are the Banjaras?
The Banjaras, as the name suggests, are gypsy people who wander from place to place. Their history and origins can be traced back to more than 500 years old. Originating from Rajasthan the Banjara tribe is believed to have moved from place-to-place transporting military supplies for the Mughals, as well as, other household and general supplies and commodities. Thus, the Banjaras are not so much a caste, as much as a profession. However, when the British came to India, the role of the Banjaras of transporting commodities was replaced by other modes of transportation, such as the railways and vehicles. This led to the tribe settling down in many parts of the country, including in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan.
The Banjaras are also known by different names, such as Lambanis, Lambadis, Gormati, Vanjara etc.
What is Banjara Embroidery?
Banjara Embroidery is a specific type of embroidery that is not only done by the Banjara tribe, but also worn by them. The Banjaras, especially the women, are dressed in a distinct colorful attire that is both attractive and beautiful. With vivid vibrant colors, beadwork, mirror work and using different assortments, such as bells, shells, tassels etc. the Banjara Embroidery work stands out for its riot of colors and breath of freshness.
However, the embroidery itself, requires fascinating creative skills, that the women of the community employ to create masterpieces. Unlike many other art forms, such as painting or sculpting where the painting or sculpture has a much longer shelf life and is used to adorn walls or homes, embroidery is quite different. It is applied on garments or accessories that are used or worn. And hence this art form is more like a recurring piece of work, where new patterns and fabrics are used in the course of time.
Banjaras in Maharashtra
In Maharashtra specifically, the Banjaras predominantly reside in the Vidarbha, Khandesh, Solapur and Marathwada regions. Most of the tribe is involved in rearing animals, farming or working as laborers. However, the women of the household continue to create the Banjara embroidery for both household use, as well as for commercial trade. Though their popularity has not grown as significantly as some of the other local or regional traditional arts, various government efforts and NGOs are trying to bring their work to the forefront.
Banjara Embroidery, Method and Technique
Banjara Embroidery looks resplendent but requires hard work to create. The embroidery is essentially needling work done on small pieces of cloth that are then later joined to create the finished product. The embroidery involves stitching, patterning, mirror work, quilting, cross stitch, patchwork, applique work and more. Fourteen types of stitches are used in Banjara embroidery. Some of the stitches are Vele, Maki, Kilian, Kans, Saudi, Tera Dora, Gadri, Nakra, Smock Stitch and more. The stitches work across different shapes and designs, be it square, circular, diagonal lines, rectangles or other geometric shapes.
Also, the stitches are apt to include beads, mirror, cowrie shells, metal buttons, ghungroos, bells, coins and more on to the fabric and into the design. Another distinguishing characteristic of these embroidered products are the triangular borders. The applique work involves creating small triangles with another piece of cloth and stitching them over the fabric along the edges as a border. Besides, the base cloth usually is red, though other bright colors are used on it, such as red, yellow, blue, green, black, off-white and more.
Banjara Embroidery Step by Step Guide
For ease of understanding here is a step-by-step guide on how a Banjara embroidered product is prepared.
- Through the method of layering the base fabric is prepared.
- The embroidery design is drawn on the base cloth using chalk. The design is done freehand by the women and hence the wavy lines instead of straight structured lines are seen on the embroidered products. The design is usually very basic and geometric in nature.
- The women now start embroidering over the chalked-out design.
- After the basic embroidery, the embellishments are added. For instance, the process of adding the mirror work is called Kaanch Tunna. Similarly, other additions to the embroidery are made at this stage.
Products Made from Banjara Embroidery
The Banjara embroidery made products include clothing, accessories, footwear and more. The dresses worn by the ladies of the community, such as the lehenga, dupatta, choli etc. are all created using the Banjara embroidery.
Traditionally and culturally, the embroidery has been used on the following:
Phetia – Phetia is a skirt made of blue or red color. The phetia forms the lower skirt of the ladies of the Banjara community and offers a wide scope of showcasing the embroidery designs due to the length and breadth of the material.
Kanchali – Kanchali is the upper garment fitting blouse. It is usually decorated with beads, shells, tassels etc.
Chatiya – Chatiya is a veil that covers the upper parts of the body. An end of the chaitya is tucked into the phetia. The section of the chaitya that covers the head is where the maximum embroidery is done.
Zolana – Zolana is a bag that has a long strap and is hung on the shoulder. The bag is decorated with embroidery using different materials like mirrors, shells, bells and more.
Ghalna – This is the headgear that has a ring and an embroidered panel. An end of the panel hangs down at the back of the neck and is adorned with embroidery.
Chunchi – A small bag the Chunchi has 3 to 4 pockets that is used specifically to keep betel leaves.
Darani– This is a piece of cloth that is used for household chores, such as covering the chapati or fruits etc.
Gadano – This is also a piece of cloth but is used to cover drinking water pots and dishes. Like the Darani the Gadano is also embroidered.
Pat – Pat is any game made from fabric where patchwork and applique work are used. This includes chess and many other local games where the game layout is embroidered.
Kothali and Kothalo – Both of these are cloth bags used to keep money and shopping items. They are carried by the Banjaras when they are out shopping.
Chandiya – This triangular cloth is put on the heads of the bulls and cows as decorative costumes during festive occasions.
In modern times, Banjara embroidery is used in different applications. Besides being used on lehengas and dupattas, other modern products where the embroidery is used includes sarees, blouses, skirts, tops, footwear, bags, bedsheets, cushion covers, wall hangings and more. Most of these products are made for commercial purposes and sold in markets.
Banjara Embroidery – The Scenario Today
The Banjara community in Karnataka is working with various NGOs, such as the Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra (SKKK) to uplift the tribal community and spread awareness about Banjara embroidery. In Maharashtra, there are a few NGOs and government initiatives that materialize in the form of exhibitions etc. However, more effort is certainly required to give the Banjaras due credit and resources for furthering their heritage and art.
This skill, like all other traditional arts, is passed from one generation to another. However, the younger generation of the Banjara community is not too comfortable wearing the traditional clothing and many of them are moving into other professional fields. Thus, the future of Banjara embroidery needs to be secured right away through proper initiatives and marketing.
The Banjara embroidery is a colorful artform that is akin to a Rangoli on the floor. Also, the Banjaras dress code is aligned to their various cultural beliefs. For instance, the bright colors are believed to ward off evil. Hence, this artform is an intrinsic part of the heritage of the tribal community and has been carried out by the women of the household. Yet, this art form is perhaps not getting its deserved due. And it is time that we collectively make efforts to sustain this wonderfully bright art form.