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Volume 46 Number 3, March 1995

Volume 46 Number 3

Woven Splendours: Indian Silks

Introduction: Woven Silks of India
Jasleen Dhamija

A Group of Early Silks: The Tree Motif
Steven Cohen

Vaishnavite Silks: The Figured Textiles of Assam
Rosemary Crill

Mughal Silks: The Metropolitan Museum Collection
Daniel Walker

Paithani Weaves: An Ancient Tapestry Art
Jasleen Dhamija

Kanchivani: The Saris of Kanchipuram
Rathi Vinay Jha

Gallery Review

Book Reviews

Introduction: Woven Silks of India
Dhamija, Jasleen
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 1-18 [Also in The Woven Silks of India edited by Jasleen Dhamija; Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995; ISBN: 81-85026-28-9, pp. 1-18]

The introductory essay explains how this book covers the important technique of silk weaving as well as new research undertaken in the area. Though reeled mulberry silk reached India after China and Central Asia, the art of silk weaving was always highly developed here. Literary evidence for the use of silk exists as far back as the time of the Buddha, if not earlier. Today, nowhere in the world can as wide a range of handwoven silk be found as in India, with distinctive styles from Kashmir, Punjab, Varanasi, Gujarat, Orissa, Kanchipuram, and the Deccan. References to the export of woven silks from large karkhanas may be found even in Sultanate-period records. Indian silks continue to take pride of place in sophisticated international boutiques.

A Group of Early Silks: The Tree Motif
Cohen, Steven
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 19-36 [Also in The Woven Silks of India edited by Jasleen Dhamija; Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995; ISBN: 81-85026-28-9, pp. 19-36]

The author reveals the importance of the woven silks of Gujarat, with emphasis on a special small group of early Mughal-period textiles. Displayed in the Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad, these were produced in the Tibetan lampas weaving technique (characterized by at least two sets of wraps and two sets of wefts, each with different functions). The common design features linking the textiles found in Tibet with those known to have been used in India form the main subject of this essay. On the Calico pieces two tree trunks rise from a single rocky mound. A large loom-width cut from a Tibetan lampas is observed to be strikingly similar to the Ahmadabad specimens. Details of petalled blossoms and voluted leaves indicate the possible evolution of the highly stylized "tree" design in India. This motif was then popularized in painting, carving on panels and screens, and stonework embellishing mosques.

Vaishnavite Silks: The Figured Textiles of Assam
Crill, Rosemary
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 37-48 [Also in The Woven Silks of India edited by Jasleen Dhamija; Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995; ISBN: 81-85026-28-9, pp. 37-48]

Simple geometric designs typify most woven silks from Assam. The group of textiles described here, however, refers to the relatively complex lampas technique practised in northeast India for nearly 300 years. Its designs closer to manuscript painting than textile decoration, Vrindavani vastra, named after the childhood home of Krishna, performed a role in Vaishnavite worship. The vastra, originally comprising registers arranged in varying order showing avataras of Vishnu, was wrapped around a manuscript or draped over the altar in a prayer house. Almost all these traditional pieces bear woven inscriptions in Assamese. In terms of design, there was a deterioration from finely complex figures in the earliest of these cloths to crude later examples.

Mughal Silks: The Metropolitan Museum Collection
Walker, Daniel
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 49-60 [Also in The Woven Silks of India edited by Jasleen Dhamija; Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995; ISBN: 81-85026-28-9, pp. 49-60]

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a fine selection of Mughal-period silks. Having existed for centuries, the weaving industry in India received further attention from such Mughal rulers as Akbar and his successors. Official regnal histories portray royals and nobles dressed in splendid garments occupying interior spaces replete with opulent textiles and carpets. The Metropolitan Museum contains examples of textiles from different imperial workshops, including satin and twill lampas hangings, velvet floorspreads, flowered fabric lengths, and chain-stitch embroidered sashes.

Paithani Weaves: An Ancient Tapestry Art
Dhamija, Jasleen
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 61-74 [Also in The Woven Silks of India edited by Jasleen Dhamija; Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995; ISBN: 81-85026-28-9, pp. 77-90]

Paithani is an ancient technique of weaving intricate and stylized patterns with fine gold and brilliant coloured silk threads on the borders and pallus of saris, shalus, turbans, sashes, and scrolls. The origin of this complex art form can be traced to the woven woollen "gelims" of Central Asia, from where it travelled to India and flourished in the city of Paithan in the Deccan and Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh under royal patronage. This technique also developed in other parts of the world and was known as osseu in China and echeke in Burma. In India, exquisite motifs were woven in the jamdani technique. After independence, stylized variations of this weave were revived by the government and by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in 1958 and Suriya Hasan in the 1990s.

Kanchivani: The Saris of Kanchipuram
Jha, Rathi Vinay
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 75-88 [Also in The Woven Silks of India edited by Jasleen Dhamija; Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995; ISBN: 81-85026-28-9, pp. 91-104]

By the turn of the century Kanchipuram emerged as the undisputed centre for silk weaving in south India. The tradition of handwoven silk saris has been extensively chronicled in literary texts, history, stone, art and architecture, and trade records. The woven patterns of the Kanchipuram sari are influenced by traditional symbols and imagery from nature and religion. The body surface of this sari is woven either plain or with simple lines or checks in silk yarn or gold thread. Kalakshetra, the renowned centre of art and learning set up in Madras in 1936, introduced a weaving section for the revival of these classic designs under Rukmini Devi Arundale.

Gallery Review
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 89-91

A review of the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South and South-East Asia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York by Stephen Markel.

Book Reviews
Vol. 46 No. 3, March 1995, pp. 92-94

Indian Costumes in the Collection of the Calico Museum of Textiles, by B. N. Goswamy, in association with Kalyan Krishna reviewed by Deborah Swallow; Pleasure Gardens of the Mind: Indian Paintings from the Jane Greenough Green Collection, by Pratapaditya Pal, Stephen Markel, and Janice Leoshko reviewed by Asok Kumar Das; Amaravati - Buddhist Sculpture from the Great Stupa, by Robert Knox reviewed by B.V. Shetti.