Volume 65 Number 4, June 2014
Sacred Textiles of India
|Specifications:||108 pages, 108 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||305 x 241 mm|
Fabrics play a vital role in the ceremonies that mark every stage of religious, cultural and social life in India. Traditionally, the creation of a textile is considered an act of worship, and the wearing of sacred cloths is an important rite of passage.
The book begins with an overview of the ritual importance of textiles through the major religions of India and an exploration of ikat, the “magical” textile common to many cultures of the world. Subsequent articles present pioneering research on the Islamic and Buddhist textiles of Ladakh; the ritual garments of the Parsi Zoroastrians; the representation of sacred trees in the kanthas of Bengal; the Hindu, Islamic and Christian traditions of Goa; and the significance of the torans of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The final chapter studies the fabrics imported from India which are indispensable in the ceremonies of the Kalabari of Nigeria.
This range of unusual themes presented by textile experts and designers is a first step in presenting some of the unique sacred textile traditions of India, while recognizing that innumerable others await study and documentation.
Jasleen Dhamija is internationally renowned in the field of textiles. She has done pioneering research in the handicraft and handloom industry and has worked with the UN, and as consultant to the World Bank. She has curated exhibitions, organized seminars and authored/edited books and articles for various publications including Marg.
Ritual Textiles and the Cult of Ikat
Duguma’s Legacy: Sacred Textiles in Ladakh
Sacred Armour: Ritual Garments of the Parsi Zoroastrians
Shernaz Cama and Ashdeen Z. Lilaowala
The Depiction of Sacred Trees on the Kanthas of Bengal
Touched by Gods and Saints: Goa’s Sacred Textiles and Vestments
The Torans of Gujarat and Rajasthan: Meanings and Origins
Victoria Z. Rivers
The Sacred Use of Indian Textiles by the Kalabari of Nigeria
Joanne B. Eicher
In the history of man’s technical and creative evolution, textile technology is among the most ancient. Fabrics continue to play an important role in the rituals and ceremonies that mark every stage of religious, cultural and social life. Textiles are a form of non-verbal language which express Indian philosophical and socio-religious concepts, and cultural history of a people from the earliest times. This article throws light on the subsequent articles in this volume – the pioneering research on the Islamic and Buddhist textiles of Ladakh; the ritual garments of the Parsi Zoroastrians; the representation of sacred trees in the kanthas of Bengal; the Hindu, Islamic and Christian traditions of Goa; and the significance of the torans in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The final chapter studies the fabrics imported from India which are indispensable in the ceremonies of the Kalabari of Nigeria.
The technique of ikat, known as patola or bandha, involves the binding of threads with dye-resistant material and then dyeing them. As a powerful textile technique, ikat wove its way into rituals and several cultures and became a cult in Southeast and Central Asia, Japan, Philippines and countries in Central and South America. The ikat fabric was considered imbued with the ability to cure, to heal, to purify and to protect. It protected the child in its mother’s womb, guided its steps from birth to puberty rites and marriage, and finally helped the spirit on its last journey to rest with the ancestors. The dyer community became a recognized guild of ranga-razan, rang meaning colour and razan those who know the secrets (raz) of dyeing. Today, in cultures where weaving is done for the household, women are the dyers. In areas where ikat is a commercial production it has become the work of men.
This essay discusses Islamic and Buddhist textiles that have been researched and compared as markers of ceremonial and sacred space in Ladakh. The woven fabric has always been held in high regard in Ladakh. For instance, rinpoches and high lamas blessed the woollen fabric before it was cut and stitched into robes for men and women. Textiles are among the possessions permitted to a monk, which include rugs to sit on, two white towels, robes and wraps or shawls along with a pair of shoes among other material components. Textiles also play an important part in the religious life of the lay people – various fabrics are used in monasteries and mosques, and shrine rooms in houses. Flags or small squares of cotton fabric are tied outside mosques or to trees nearby in anticipation of wishes being granted.
The kusti (girdle) and sudreh (inner vest) are regarded as sacred armour and a part of the living Zoroastrian heritage. Sudreh stands for “good path”, and kusti is the “direction finder”. They tell a Zoroastrian how to proceed on the path of life and death. This chapter provides an understanding of the place and significance these garments occupy in Zoroastrian life. It goes on to provide details of the weaving process, the looms and tools used during weaving, their evolution and ongoing developments. This in-depth research would interest not only members of the Parsi community but also culture specialists and the weaving and textile fraternity.
Nature and religion are the two most important and recurrent themes in the symbolism of the kantha embroidery of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Each kantha with its own colour, style and character is a celebration of the life on earth. While men weave the cloth, women recycle worn-out textiles and preserve them by quilting them. This chapter focuses on the representation of sacred trees, particularly the Tree of Life on Bengali kanthas. Considered to be the most important pattern embroidered on the quilts created by women, its stunning textural effects and motifs shaped by meticulous stitches define a protected space for the ever-recurring cycle of life, sheltering the denizens of nature. The rippling effect is like the wavelike effect of the breeze passing through a field of freshly transplanted paddy.
Across sites sacred to different religions in Goa, cloth plays a significant part in the worship, adoration, procession and celebration of gods and saints. Sacred cloths are found all over the state: some publicly venerated in holy places, others hidden in the famed sacred groves of Goa worshipped with offerings on auspicious days. The land of Goa has thus been a repository of many people, myriad faiths and numerous sacred cloths from prehistoric times to the present. Several Hindu cultural traditions have persisted among the Catholic communities of Goa, practised under the eyes of the zealous proselytizing Portuguese for centuries. This chapter covers Hindu, Islamic and Christian traditions – the latter includes the use of carved ivory combined with embroidery.
This chapter examines the ritual roles torans play among various cultures in this region of India, and the influences which shaped the cloth torans. Doorway hangings known as torans frequently seen in northwest India are not just decorative pieces but symbols that embody important ritual and historic meanings. They signify devotion, fertility, regeneration and prosperity. The colourful cloth versions of torans, with their leaf-like pointed pendants hung from horizontal elements, are frequently embroidered and heavily mirror-embellished. It is believed that torans when placed at the threshold, neutralize harmful effects of the outside penetrating the inside of the home or compound. Torans also convey auspicious blessings and with their light-reflective surfaces assist in diverting the evil eye. Once an essential component of northwest Indian brides’ dowries, torans have evolved as a generic sign of welcome.
The sacred aspect of Kalabari life, connected to their textiles and dress made from imported Indian cloths, is interwoven with their view of the world, the islands on which they live, surrounded by water, boats and their history of trade with the outside world, and belief in the water spirits responsible for bringing them prosperity. They dress in these specific cloths for sacred events relating to Kalabari birth, death, leadership, ancestor veneration and associated rituals. Prominent Indian textiles include the Red Madras Handkerchief (hand-woven cotton plaid), gom and loko bite (striped silks) and India (embroidered velvets) and are used for specific rituals. Men and women wear these cloths differently with specific accessories. Today, the Kalabari people wear westernized clothes, but for special life-course events, they remain true to their roots and don these traditional Indian cloths.