Fashion Value Chain talked with Mr. Kheemraj Nandlal Rathi, Zari artisan.
Can you tell us what inspired your deep connection to native crafts and textiles?
My journey into native crafts and textiles began in my early years. I was born in Sindh, Pakistan, and grew up amidst rich cultural diversity. In 1971, during the Indo-Pak war, my entire family relocated to the South West of Rajasthan. This move exposed me to a whole new world of textiles, particularly zari work.
Could you share more about how you became involved in zari textile work and your family’s role in it?
Zari textile work became a significant part of my life. While my mother was deeply involved in designing zari patterns, my father was responsible for selling our creations in domestic markets. As I grew older, I became increasingly drawn to this craft and began learning the art of zari work myself. My desire was to preserve the traditional local art and support unknown artists, all while engaging with both local communities and the wider world.
Can you tell us more about your journey in promoting and keeping the native craft alive through your business?
I embarked on extensive travels across India, where I encountered various textile traditions in different regions. Sadly, many of these traditions were fading away as people no longer wanted to work in the old ways. This compelled me to act. I wanted to ensure that these traditions and native crafts thrived, and this became a central part of my business. Today, I design, and my co-workers bring these designs to life. Most notably, I collaborate with local women artisans from many villages in the Barmer region of Rajasthan.
Zari work is deeply rooted in Rajasthan’s culture. Could you provide more insight into the different styles of zari work and their significance?
Zari work holds a significant place in the cultural fabric of Rajasthan. There are several distinct styles, including Mukka work, Golden Zari, Silver Zari, and Black Zari. Mukka work, in particular, is often referred to as the “Ornaments of Rajasthan Textiles.” It involves the use of golden metallic thread, silver polish metallic thread, and black metallic thread on thicker fabrics.
Could you delve into the intricate details of Mukka work, explaining how it’s executed and its significance in the Thar Belt of Rajasthan?
Mukka work, also known as Mukke-ka-kam, is a stunning embroidery technique characterized by the couching of gold and silver metallic threads. Mukka, which is the local name for metallic thread, is wound around a cotton fabric core. Both golden and silver mukka threads are employed in this embroidery. This work is primarily done in the Thar Belt of Rajasthan, particularly among the Sindhi Muslim and Meghwal communities.
The technique involves doubling the metal thread, placing it on the fabric, and then securing it with stitches using another thread. The couching is executed with precision to maximize the surface area of the metallic yarn. Other stitches like buttonhole and outline stitches are also used to fill in the design. The artisan sketches the design on the cloth, employs a black thread for the outline, and attaches a mirror in the center, surrounded by mukka work.
The final result is a vibrant and rich piece of embroidery, often featuring geometric designs, zigzag patterns, and stars. The motifs and designs draw inspiration from everyday objects and are named accordingly, such as “FUNI” (a sweet), “PATASHA” (a white sugar disc), “CHAUKRI” (courtyard), and “DABBO” (a box). This beautiful work is commonly found on ladies’ tops, wall hangings, and hand purses.
Given the current preference for fast and cheap products, how do you work to create new, unique designs while preserving traditional techniques?
In a world that demands speed and affordability, I strive to stay true to traditional techniques. Collaborating with fellow artists, I work on creating fresh and distinctive designs. It’s vital to keep local crafts alive by using age-old methods and ensuring that our creations are not mass-produced replicas. Our goal is to provide unique, handcrafted pieces that celebrate our native craft.
What do you believe the future holds for zari markets, and how can the next generation contribute to its preservation?
The future of zari markets is heavily reliant on the next generation. It’s crucial to teach, guide, and expose them to our native art forms. We need to instill an appreciation for traditional crafts in younger minds. This can be achieved through better and more artistic education across various fields.
What kind of support and initiatives from the government or society would help further encourage artists and the art of zari work?
Personal efforts can only go so far. We need more support from the government and society at large. Initiatives that promote and protect traditional art forms, along with financial support for artisans, can make a significant difference. By recognizing the value of these crafts, we can ensure their continuity.
Finally, how do you envision the broader application of zari art, possibly in unisex clothing or home furnishing products?
Zari art holds immense potential for expansion. While it has traditionally been associated with women’s clothing and accessories, there’s an opportunity to explore its use in unisex clothing and home furnishing products. With creativity and innovation, zari can find its place in diverse areas of design and fashion.