[seyv thuh weev]
Rajasthan, in part, owes much of its exuberance to its melange of crafts, of which gota embroidery is well worth a mention and perfectly characterizes the land’s incandescent spirit.
Ever since its inception, gota embroidery traversed many a terrain—including Gujarat—before it finally found its home in Rajasthan. Today, a plethora of cities and towns in the state—namely Ajmer, Jaipur, Naila, Khandela, Bikaner, Udaipur and Kota—play host to gota embroidery and its many forms. In fact, Naila alone boasts of 50,000 artisans involved in the craft.
Gota, in its true essence, implies the use of gold, silver and other metallic strips (zari) woven onto a wide array of fabrics such as silks, satins, georgettes, crepes, chiffons and bandhani (Indian tie-and-dye), among others. Colloquially known as ‘lappe ka kaam’, (appliqué work), it comprises a series of motifs running through the fabric; this is further accentuated by the use of kinari, which means border decoration.
The lace used for gota embroidery is believed to have its roots in Lucknow. It is also said that the craft was earlier practised by the Bisayati denomination of the Muslim community, subsequently spreading to other communities.
The process of working gota embroidery is laborious but one that yields worthwhile, mesmerising results. The base of the cloth is first tied to four sides of a khaat, a wooden bed-like frame. This is later followed by chhapaayi or the printing of the envisaged pattern onto the cloth—the process involves the use of tracing paper and a paste prepared from chalk powder and kerosene, to bring the designs to life. If zari threads are to be incorporated, they are first tied around a fatelah, a wooden instrument that looks like an enlarged stick. Following this, a gota ribbon (which is traditionally woven from the likes of resham yarns) is cut into myriad motifs and stitched onto the fabric with a variety of threads. Then, the fabric—and the embroidery therein—is expertly beaten with a peetan, a wooden hammer, to set the overall piece in place. While earlier artisans used the running stitch to fasten the motifs to the cloth, today, adhesive glue is used wisely to expedite the process.
The most predominant of all designs is one that comprises of leaves as motifs, known popularly as ‘gota patti’. In addition to leaves, some other designs used are pahad (mountains), kalash (a metal pot that holds a coconut – considered auspicious in India), leher (waves), taj (inspired by Taj Mahal) and many more. To enhance the appeal of the embroidery, threads of varying textures, colours and widths are used, which are then used to stitch the motifs onto the cloth. These designs are enlivened by the addition of elements such as stones, beads, pearls, kundan, etc., which offer the fabric a resplendent look and feel. The appeal of the embroidery is instantly elevated by the colour of the base fabric, which is often along the lines of bright reds, yellows, greens and pinks, thus embodying the vibrant spirit of the state.
Contemporary renditions of gota see themselves fused with several other embroidering techniques, to lend the fabric or garment more dynamicity. Today, the craft not only adorns dupattas and saris but also extends itself to clutches, quilts, bags and a coterie of lifestyle products. Not only this, apparel ornamented with gota work have also found a market overseas, what with India increasingly exporting them to Canada, the US, among many other countries.
Gota embroidery is characterised by the usage of authentic zari and resham threads. However, today, only a handful of artisans have stuck to the original ethos of the craft, with more than most straying towards the more cost-effective synthetic or polyester threads. What’s more, the present generation of gota-practising communities is forking out to look for job opportunities rather than practising this craft as working on gota poses a considerable threat to the eye-sight (it requires keen attention and finely observing the minutest of details for prolonged periods of time), all at a price which is dishearteningly low for the kind of effort that goes into its creation.
When human hands and heart work in tandem, that is grace in the making. Handwoven cloth has beauty and grace that is significant.