From the hand-spun khadi that became a symbol of protest during the Indian independence struggle to the colorful chintz of Hyderabad that brought fame to Europe with the arrival of Vasco da Gama, India’s history is closely intertwined with textiles. Tracing their journey through a 5,000-year-long trade in textiles is the focus of an upcoming exhibition, When Indian Flowers Bloom in Distant Lands: Masterworks of Trading Textiles 1250-1850, which opens at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). February 3rd. It is being organized in collaboration with Prafulla and Shilpa Shah, collectors who have devoted most of their lives to building the TAPI (Textiles and Art of the People of India) collection, a repository of historical textiles and art in Surat. Private collection. ,
The blockbuster show celebrates the role and importance of dyeing, printing, weaving and embroidery techniques that originated across the country from Gujarat and the Coromandel Coast to Bengal and Kashmir. Since many of these fabrics were intended for export, very few specimens survive in India. Some were commissioned by merchants and dignitaries, others were produced by local entrepreneurs to cater to markets in Europe, America, Indonesia, Japan, the Middle East, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Deepika Shah, Show Curator
Organized into two main sections, textiles traded to the East and West, the exhibition includes “58 Trade Fabrics”, symbolizing India’s forgotten heritage of valuable cargoes that traveled by sea routes, leading to customs- Customs, techniques were exchanged. and fashion with far-flung cultures. Hybridity, a modern buzzword in the world of design and art, then seems as old as the sea.
“he [India] was supplying a thriving export market. Indian textiles were an essential commodity in the economy of maritime trade, and were exchanged for rights to acquire spices, sandalwood and forest produce. It would not be wrong to say that at one point of time, India was dressing the world,” explains Deepika Shah, curator of the exhibition, “I would like to think that the layout [of the exhibition] Mimics waterways, and you, as a viewer, feel like these are whistle-stops, moving from port to port. The show which has taken eight months to stitch together does not intend to mislead the visitor with its scholarly tone. All it seeks to do is inspire awe and wonder.
Expect to find heirloom chintz palampores made on the Coromandel Coast; double-ikat silk patola from Gujarat; Rare fragments found in excavations at Fustat (near present-day Cairo); and the iconic Sarsa relics of pouches and wrappers used in tea ceremonies by the daimyōs or feudal lords of Japan. Patola, highly prized in India, were also treasured in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia where they were considered family heirlooms, sacred garments, and gifts for making political and matrimonial alliances. Sometimes, they were also said to have magical powers. The show ends with a small selection of Kashmir shawls which were an object of desire among the European elite of the 18th century. Josephine (1763–1814), the first wife of French Major-General Napoleon Bonaparte, is believed to have owned at least 60 properties. “Josephine was a fashion influencer of her time. If she wore a cashmere shawl in the courts of Paris, every woman belonging to high society would want to own it.
These fabrics date back to the 13th to 16th centuries, before European trading companies arrived at the view that it was Indian cloth – not bullion – that was the secret currency needed to purchase much sought-after spices. “It was the desire to trade in exotic spices and textiles that fueled later imperial ambitions. Without it, who knows whether India would have been colonised?” Shah wonders.
The popularity and growing demand for Indian textiles in the West had profound consequences, as by the 19th century, mills in Europe and Britain had found ways to imitate Indian patterned cloth, eventually leading to the mechanization of cloth production. “In doing so, our textiles helped sow the seeds of the Industrial Revolution, which is ironic, but true.”
The variety in techniques is astonishing as is the variety of motifs, and the type of influence the artisans had at the time leads us to many stories of what has been lost, and what was salvaged. There is something for everyone here; Design students, anthropologists, textile revivalists, influencers and even men and women of commerce.
our favorite six
Thai soldier’s tunic (sua senakut)
Meticulously crafted and resist-dyed, Indian textiles designed for export to Thailand represent a high point in the journey of the chintz artists of the Coromandel Coast in southeast India and Chola Mandalam, named after Chola Mandalam Is placed. Indian textiles, held in the highest esteem in Thailand, were specially commissioned for the military tunic of the royal guard called Su’ua Senakut. The distinctive design of this tunic with the menacing face of the demon art exemplifies the precision hand-crafted by agents of the Thai court for all royal commissions of dye-painted textiles.
An example of the cross-cultural exchange that resulted from the vast yet integrated network of trade in Indian textiles, this 18th-century chintz Palampore (derived from the word palang-posh) was produced on the Coromandel Coast and imported either to England or was traded in France. The piece remarkably displays skill and cultural cross-germination, seen in the depiction of an Indo-Persian tree with twisted trunk and curling branches in scroll floral patterns emerging from rocks rendered in Chinese-style and infuses a distinctly European flavor. The term ‘chintz’ was used by English merchants to describe cotton dress materials and furnishing fabrics for the western market, which were dyed and printed in India using mordant and resist dyeing. These garments were favored among Europeans of the 17th and 18th centuries, and their appeal can be attributed to two key elements of the fabric: cotton and dye. The Indians, whose dye technology was far superior to that of the Europeans, were able to produce cotton cloth in bright colors that did not tarnish or fade when washed. This is due to the all-important skill of mordanting – a process of adding a fixing agent that helps the dye to produce the color of the fabric – a skill that is virtually unknown to Europeans and unique in the world.
Patolu ceremonial robes of decorated elephants depict a royal hunt
With its pair of elephants, this ceremonial patolu depicts a royal hunt, a subject reserved for royal tastes. Such silk patolas were destined to be sent to regional courts and influential families in Southeast Asia. An aesthetically and technically rich fabric, it uses the double-ikat weaving technique, where the design is created by interlacing and dyeing the warp and weft threads according to a predetermined pattern before being set on the loom . The process is laborious, requiring great skill and time to produce each piece, making them expensive and symbols of class and nobility.
The exquisitely embroidered Palampore, which originated in Gujarat, was most likely exported to the Dutch Republic. Embroidery was a small but important item of trade for Palampore Europe and is a highly skilled handicraft of artisans belonging to the Mochi community, whose mastery of embroidery is unsurpassed.
european market shawl
This beautiful example of a Kashmir shawl can actually be traced by the original tag accompanying the piece to its likely owner, French Princess Marie-Christine of Orléans, granddaughter of King Louis-Philippe (1830–1848). This shawl features intricate designs showcasing the technical mastery of Kashmiri weavers.
Women’s Heritage Clothing With Parrot
This striking hand-pulled, colorful and color-resistant heritage fabric was made in Gujarat and found in Sulawesi, Indonesia, where it was locally called ma by the Toraja people. Radiocarbon dated (the laboratory-testing method for determining the probable age of the fabric) to between 1430–1530 CE, the piece depicts an entertainment scene filled with dancers and musicians. Rendered in incredible detail, it depicts 12 women in various costumes and adornments. The presence of parrots eating mangoes suggests that the women are possibly courtesans, as parrots have erotic connotations in Indian literary and visual arts.
A portrait of Josephine Bonaparte in Ruil-Malmaison by Pierre Paul Proudhon, Musée National du Château de Malmaison. Photo/Getty Images