Zardosi is one of the most exquisite forms of embroidery from India. This traditional craft was brought to India from Persia, many centuries ago. With the arrival of the Mughals and the establishment of their dynasty, many of their traditional techniques began to mingle with the weaving and design techniques already prevalent in India.
The resultant hybrid fabrics and embroidery styles were extremely beautiful, opulent and rich, as demanded by courtly fashions of those days. Zardosi is one such style. Though its origins are lost in the mysteries of time, many believe that the embroidery as we recognize it today originated in Persia but was evolved and perfected in the Nawabi city of Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh.
Truly Traditional Zardosi
‘Zardozi’ is a Persian word which literally means ‘gold embroidery’. In this form of embroidery, gold (and sometimes copper or silver) threads are used to work rich designs onto sumptuous fabrics. Typically, highly intricate motifs and designs are created, which show a mix of Persian and Ancient Indian influences. Thus one can see abstract, stylized floral motifs and artistic designs (like the Persians preferred) as well depictions of birds, animals and trees (as the traditional Indian weavers preferred.)
Nowadays, this technique has also been adapted by modern designers who love using it to create unusual, modern designs. They often employ traditional artisans from the villages of Lucknow and Banaras to craft inspired designs for opulent, designer garments. Thus, this art form is today enjoying a new renaissance. The government of India recently awarded it a Geographical Indicator, or G.I., which means only the zardosi embroidery produced in select cities and towns would be allowed to bear the label of ‘zardosi’.
This has helped the traditional zardosi craftsmen revive the authentic craft and fight off competition from cheap knock offs. Designers are exploring its potential to the limit and a part of that is to use it to decorate contemporary clothing as well as traditional garments. For instance, zardozi embroidered tunics are now a very trendy party-wear garment, especially amongst women from the younger generation. Kurtis are essentially the Indian version of the tunic. Long, loose and comfortable, they are typically worn for casual occasions.
Undoubtedly, the idea of a Zardosi work kurti would seem unusual to many because of the contrast between the embroidery and the garment. While zardosi is ornate, exquisite and opulent, kurtis and tunics are conventionally thought of as casual wear garments. However, the combination is actually quite exciting. It is an excellent formal or party wear option for those who love wearing fusion fashion. While the silhouette and cut of the kurti ensures the comfort and versatility of the outfit, the use of zardosi embroidery as a decoration imbues the garment with a certain amount of traditional opulence, glamour and beauty.
Zardozi work tunics can be of many types, depending on the base fabric, the type of embroidery and motifs, the extent to which the garment is decorated and the type of cuts used. The most traditional looking one would be the full sleeve, high neck zardozi hand embroidered tunic. These are usually made of luxurious, heavy materials like woven silk, the luster of which matches well with the zardozi designs. On the other hand, designers are also experimenting with unusual designs such as sleeveless, cut back, halter neck and spaghetti strap patterns.
The zardosi patterns can be concentrated near the border areas and the bodice or they can be scattered throughout the garment. It would all depend on the aesthetic vision of the designer or the embroiderer. Typically zardosi tunics with hand work are only made of fine silk fabrics, though nowadays georgette and other such elegant, modern materials are also making their presence felt.
Women can also opt for the much more cost-effective zardosi readymade kurtis in which the designs are attached to a small portion of the garment rather than being done on the fabric itself. Whichever variety they buy, women should be careful to only purchase the authentic, high quality versions. This way, they can be sure of getting a beautiful product; they would also be able to show their support for the village artisans who have kept this heritage of India alive for so many centuries.
Zardosi work tunics are not casual wear garments and would be considered appropriate only for a party or special occasion. For a truly elegant evening get-together, women can pair an embroidered kurti with sheer leggings and a stylish Pashmina shawl or chiffon dupatta. A pair of pearl earrings set in gold or a gold necklace will perfectly complete this sophisticated, ethnic ensemble. For a more colorful and ornate look, women can pair a brightly colored zardosi work tunic with a Meenakari or Kundan set, embroidered mojaris and metallic toned salwars.