Textile Legacies of India, Nepal & Sri Lanka
When spiritual existence, consciousness, and the relationship of the present to the past are woven into textures and impressions, the shining narratives of textiles of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka resonate with everyone.
Amongst the world’s oldest and finest hereditary legacies of indigenous textile traditions out of Asia, they capture centuries of authentic artisanal pursuits, treasured as ancient wisdom. These living traditions are protected with passion and pride in villages and urban spaces. The rich heritage and cultural diversity of their designs and techniques–and the hereditary skills have, and will continue to delight and inspire streams of visitors passing through these countries.
The age-old traditions have an identity of their own, but over time they have also soaked up influences from the waves of travellers who either stayed on, or were there to just trade. Beautifully curated programmes can offer a truly immersive understanding of the depth and expansive composition of this grand canvas of amazing traditions. Venture out on these experiential journeys with experts who are well-versed in the continuity of these traditions and individual talents. These two factors are intrinsic to one of the most exciting aspects of crafting pursuits that have endured the test of time generation after generation in these countries.
India has long been a legend for its dazzling textile traditions, both decorative and utilitarian. It has the richest hand-crafted textile repertoire in the world. Drawn from its vast regional diversity, India’s sustainable textile world is a paradise of plenty for the culture buff.
Villages have long been the heart of handwoven textiles in India. But artisanal families here still struggle to keep alive ancestral heritage skills hand-worked textiles which had faded away in India’s machine-driven colonial period.
An amazing story unfolded in the 60s when textile and ethical fashion diva, Ritu Kumar, started reviving indigenous textile traditions such as hand block printing technique fading into oblivion in villages around Kolkata. Showcased in her swanky boutiques, those hand-blocked/ embroidered silk sarees, which were a wonderful fusion of classical tradition and contemporary expression, had to be part of a picky bride’s trousseau. In the 70s, the textile revival movement gathered greater momentum with craft crusaders like Pupul Jayakar, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Martand Singh reintroducing its own textile traditions to India. SEWA, an NGO, played a similar role by reviving the dying exquisite craft of chikankari of Lucknow.
India’s fashion industry has embraced the authentic artisanal textile traditions of weaving, spinning, dyeing, printing and embroidery from the villages–and sent them off on global runways.
From the exquisite brocades and cottons of Varanasi …to the gorgeous silks of Kancheepuram. From the printed, woven, and embroidered home furnishings from Rajasthan to Gujarat–the wealth of India’s textiles will remain a precious living cultural heritage that is admired and inspirational the world over.
The Nepalese tradition of dhaka weaving goes back over millennia. It is indigenous to eastern Nepal’s Limbu community. This hand spun textile, with intricate weaves of multi-coloured cotton threads, both in cotton and silk; however, it’s also popular all over the country.
Handwoven to this day, dhaka fabric is available in vibrant colours and intricate patterns. Kathmandu is a big hub for Dhaka fabric weaving–a painstaking ancient tradition using wooden and bamboo looms.
Some other hand-skilled textiles traditions you’ll get to see are Patan Patto, Komal and Chitwan.
Daura suruwal, is the national dress of both women and men; it comprises a pair of trousers and a knee length over shirt. The ubiquitous dhaka topi worn by men across the country is a typical Nepalese headgear.
For more glamorous occasions rich hand worked zardozi-style embroidery and velvet fabric are also used.
Two weaving traditions have been driving Sri Lanka’s textile world–Thalgune and Migrants.
Thalgune textiles reflect rich inspirations from nature; you can ask the shop vendor to see examples of Katuru-mala, Botapata, and Mal Petta motifs. You will also find a lot of geometrical patterns depicted in Thalgune fabrics, which use natural dyes were sourced from flowers, leaves, leaves, bark and roots.
The Migrant weaving community comprises master artisans from India who settled here on the island. They are known for the fabulous gold embroidered textiles, used by the royals and the affluent.
Handmade woven looms and batik design are richly depicted in everyday attire like sarees (worn Indian or Kandyan style), Malaya-style sarongs, Lama Sariya, a half saree, worn by young women.
An unmissable Sri Lankan textile tradition is lace-making, which was introduced first by the Portuguese and later on strengthened by the Dutch. The other mirrors hazy links with Mexican mat weaving pursuits, as we find in the works of Sri Lanka’s Hana weavers; the Kinnara community, settled around Kandy in the small villages of Kalasirigama (earlier Henavala), and Alokagama, has been custodians for over 300 years of this unique tradition of Dumbara mats, and later wall hangings, tapestries and cushion covers, using the fibres from the leaves of the agavae cantala plant, which originated in Mexico later grown in Southern Asia.
That textiles will continue to hold great cultural significance for India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, is one of the best takeaways for visitors looking to return and delve deeper into this fabulous legacy again and again.
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