International markets are full of a number of traditional, ethnic Indian products, ranging from art work to shoes and clothing and it isn’t always difficult to identify something as ‘Indian’. When you think about it, however, almost each one of these products comes from a different part of India: a different state, a different region, or a different community.
So where really do most of these popular “Indian” commodities come from, and what’s the story behind them? This list takes a look at a few such stories.
Bandhani worked fabrics : Bandhani, which literally means ‘to tie up’, is the name given to the colourful tie-dye fabrics made in parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Producing Bandhani is considered not just an art, but a complex process that demands very high skills. Like most traditional Indian industries, Bandhani production often involves employing a large number of people from one particular area, mostly because it is a skill handed down generations.In Gujarat for instance, around 75% of the people in one town – Wadhwan – are involved in Bandhani production and trade. The Bandhani fabrics produced in Gujarat and Rajasthan are known to differ from each other slightly, either in the colours used, or the patterns of the tie-dye.
The tying of tiny knots into the fabric, to create different designs, is a process called “bandhej”, and usually involves the employment of women. This is followed by the process of dyeing, after which the fabric has to be dried – which could take anywhere between 4-7 hours in summer, and could extend to 2 days in winter.
The finished tie-dye fabric is used to make a variety of traditional clothes, from sarees, to shawls, and shalwar kameez outfits.
Banarasi silk saree : This is among the finest of Indian sarees, famous for its intricate gold and silver embroidery, or ‘zari’. The famous banarasi (benaras) silk saree is not considered a thing of beauty for a lot of extra beads or mirror work as is common in many other fancy Indian clothes and textiles; where these sarees are concerned, the magic is in the fabric itself. Simply hold a saree in your hand and you will understand, when you feel its richness, and notice the intricately woven patterns on it; it is no surprise that the ‘Banarasi’ silk saree is one of the most sought after of Indian products. Made in the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the river Ganga, the Banarasi silk saree tradition dates back to the 19th century. These sarees do not come cheap, and are worn by Indian women on very special occasions.
Sambalpuri saree : This saree is made of a hand woven material, which also goes through a tie-dye process before weaving. It does not resemble bandhani, and is in fact native to the state of Odisha (Orissa), and often takes on a geometrical or floral pattern. Sambalpuri fabrics come in forms other than the saree, too.
Chikan embroidery : Chikan embroidery, or chikankari, is a traditional form of embroidery in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It is unsure when exactly this method of embroidery was invented, but it did originate in Lucknow, and many believe it was born of Mughal or Persian influence. The embroidery is often done on stiff cotton material, and consists of tiny, intricate stitches on the fabric. Originally, chikankari took the form of a white-on-white design, but soon other light colours also came into use. The whole process includes several stages, and the stitching is often done by hand.Over time, methods and designs have evolved, and modern chikankari also involves the use of beads and sometimes net-work. The patterns and designs often depend on several factors, including the stiffness of the material and the thickness of the thread. Chikan kurtas are a very popular item of clothing; the embroidery is also used for producing table and cushion covers.
Jutti : The jutti, a traditional Punjabi form of footwear, was originally worn by the wealthy and the elite. Juttis are made for both men and women, and come in different styles, although they were traditionally made of leather, and sometimes worked on with embroidery and beads. The grander, more intricately worked juttis are meant for special occasions such as festivals and weddings. Today, the jutti has become very much a fashion accessory too, and while was once worn only with traditional clothing, is now also worn with modern outfits, like jeans.
Madhubani art : Madhubani painting, or Mithila painting, is believed to have a close connection to the Ramayana. Although no one knows exactly when this form of art came into being, it is known to have been a part of the Mithila culture in Bihar for centuries. Madhubani art has around five different styles, and traditionally adorned the walls of houses. Today, it is produced as a piece of art in itself, or even recreated on fabric – such as wall hangings and cushion covers – and also on pots and vases.