A Legacy Of Needle And Thread: Unravelling The Origins Of Chikankari Embroidery

Chikankari, an ancient embroidered technique in Lucknow, India, epitomises a blend of masterful artistry and cultural heritage.
Chikankari, an ancient embroidered technique in Lucknow, India, epitomises a blend of masterful artistry and cultural heritage.L: ET Travel World R: Noorkari Lucknow

Today, within the extensive landscape of embroidery techniques, it's almost a given that every desi woman's closet has at least one Chikankari Kurti. Renowned as one of India's most celebrated fabrics, it holds a special place in the hearts and wardrobes of many. So, let's delve into the rich history of Chikankari in India.

Chikankari, an ancient embroidered technique in Lucknow, India, epitomises a blend of masterful artistry and cultural heritage. Delicate white threads intricately dance on the canvas of fine muslin; weaving tales that echo through generations.

Legend whispers that Chikan originated from the opulent Mughal era in the 16th century. It was believed that Noor Jahan, the wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, introduced this delicate craft to the shores of Lucknow. Under the protection of Mughal royalty, Chikankari bloomed, capturing hearts and imaginations alike. Inspired by nature's bounty — the fleeting beauty of flowers, leaves gently swaying on trees, birds flying gracefully above them — early artisans painstakingly engraved designs onto pure muslin cloth for hours. Intricate tapestry woven over time blended Persian elements with Turkish influences and Mughal architecture, thus adding more value to Chikankari's artistry.

During the heydays under generous Nawabs of Awadh between the 18th and 19th centuries, there was no doubt that Chikan had become a household name. The regional rulers recognised the appeal of Chikankari and nurtured its growth, draping court and nobility in garments infused with exceptional artistry. During British colonisation, however, machine-made garments threatened to eclipse its handcrafted charm. The dawn of the 20th century heralded its magnificent revival as various custodians of culture came together as one voice; ensuring perpetuity in all aspects exemplified by this cherished legacy being handed down from one generation to another while representing an unyielding spirit of Chikankari.

Chikankari has transcended its traditional boundaries and emerged as a global force in modern fashion. Today, brands like Noorkari and Dhaaga & Co are not only preserving this ancient practice but also enriching the cultural mosaic of the country.

From the graceful drapes of sarees to the refined elegance of salwar kameez to delicate Kurtis to even intricately embroidered home decor items; Chikankari is characterised by its universal appeal and recognition. It transcends mere craftsmanship; embodying a living legacy that is a testament to humanity's unchanging spirit of creativity and a source of livelihood and pride for artisans.

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