Sujani Embroidery – The Beautiful Fabric Art of Bihar!

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Image – Itokri.com

When one thinks of Bihar, a few of the myriad things that may come to their mind would be the amazing biodiversity, temples, the city of Patna, its culture, and rich history but do you know about another masterpiece given to us by this state is the beautiful Sujani Embroidery? The art has expanded and is now practised throughout the country, especially in the state of Rajasthan, but all this started in the small, quaint town of Basara in Bihar in the eighteenth century. An interesting fact related to the same is that this village is a mere hundred kilometres from the town where the Mithila Paintings found their origins, affirming the glorious art forms of Bihar.

Origin of Sujani Embroidery

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Image – Shef Vaidya

The origin of this embroidery was like all great inventions, born out of necessity. Sarees as well as other pieces of clothing that were quite old were folded twice or even thrice in some cases and then joined together by some simple stitches. The cloth became a canvas for artistic expression in the form of designs and motifs. The clothes, after being revamped and patched together, were embroidered to make cosy and beautiful quilts. This was a popular method of quilting back then. The Sujani embroidery was woven by women manually in their own houses but the tragedy remains that most of these were either damaged or lost. 

Such humble beginnings have now gained such recognition due to the efforts of numerous organizations that are hoping to bring awareness to this style of embroidery, which has to an extent, been shadowed due to the esteem of other art forms such as Madhubani from Bihar. The patterns indigenous to this style of embroidery can be found on dupattas, sarees, and other articles of clothing.

Uses and Depiction of Sujani Embroidery

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Image – Sujani Jayaprakash

The original primary resolution of the Sujani Embroidery is portrayed through its very name. The word Sujani is derived from ‘Su’ which means simplifying and ‘Jani’ which refers to birth. The quilts made, ornamented with gorgeous designs, were used to wrap a newborn baby. The reason behind this was that, due to the infant mortality rates of the time, it was considered to be unholy to dress a child in newly bought attire. These quilts were quite vibrant especially since the motifs were made using coloured threads, especially in a darker shade. Every colour used had a purpose and depicted something, like red symbolized blood and yellow for the sun. 

These motifs depict various pictures for men and women, dressed in traditional attire and scenes from joyous events, such as festivals and celebrations. Other common depictions include those of deities, animals, birds such as peacocks, plants, and flowers as well as the Sun, Moon, and other powerful forces such as characters from mythology. This embroidery used to embellish quilts can now be seen on various apparel of Indian ethnic wear and remains a favorite among designers for its unique charm. Apart from that, with the commercialization of the embroidery designs, it was then even added onto pillow covers, curtains, bread spreads, and many more. 

A remarkable detail about a common depiction is the expression of the pain and dread of the women who sew these quilts. On two sides of the quilt, we get to see two different sides of the story, one being a man who gives the appearance of being drunk treating a woman as inferior just because he is the breadwinner of the family and on the other, we see the woman’s aspirations and desires to be free of societal constraints and to be able to work and earn a living for herself and not being dependent on anyone for survival. The coverlet and this embroidery are her way of conveying her true self and the struggles of a woman in such a world.

Process, Technique, and Style of Sujani Embroidery

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Image – Soma Roy

The stunning results of the Sujani Embroidery can be achieved at home, with the prerequisites being certain old clothes used as the raw material as well as knowledge of stitches that are used in this type of embroidery. 

Patches can be cut up from all these clothes and then put together by using a simple running stitch and therefore forming your base for this embroidery. To sew the variety of motifs, as aforementioned, a chain stitch, among others is mainly used. A chain stitch is said to have found its origin in ancient China. It is in the form of loops and is very helpful to make smooth curved lines, thereby allowing for countless alluring designs to be shaped. 

The materials that form the base generally vary. However, on a marketable scale, it is made from cotton. A variety called Salita is used to get a higher quality but it is a bit on the expensive side. Some other prevalent materials include silk and casement cloth.

The Sujani Embroidery may just seem to be an elegant style of embroidery, that it is, but it is also so much more. It is empowering and enables women to convey their message and story to the world through art in the most beautiful way. When words fail, it is such depictions that speak. Women in earlier times, as aforementioned, used to convey their wish to be self-sufficient and through this embroidery, were able to do that. They inspired themselves and countless others. Their motifs always have a deeper meaning and they reflect a part of the artist herself whether it be a scene of a woman earning for herself, being able to judge on her own, or the Sun and other mystical elements. 

This is such a magnificently executed art that it should be encouraged. Various organizations use these motifs as a basis to tackle the issues of our society today and therefore, this article ends with a call for action. A call to raise our voices and motivate such amazing designs and the message they aim to convey.

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