Zari Zardozi is the most luxurious form of embroidery in India. Zardozi is a word that is derived from two Persian words which means ‘Zar’ is gold and ‘Dozi’ stands for embroidery. From ancient times country is known for the use of golden embroidery on a various objects like sunshades, equestrian decorations and furnishings but specially the court costumes and the accessories like shoes were immensely aesthetically evolved with Zardozi embroideries. The craftspeople who worked on this elaborate version of gold and silver wire work setting them along with seed pearls and precious stones on silk, brocade and velvet fabric were called as zardozi workers. Nowadays zardozi embroidery is done with coiled metal wire or a wire of plastic core that is colored golden outside that are more pocket friendly and lighter to wear.
History states that the magnificent craft of zardozi embroidery is brought to India in 12th century by Delhi’s first sultanate of Turko-Afghan. In later days it became equally popular among wealthy Hindus, Muslims and European elite. But due to its high cost and lack of precious metals the art declined by the end of Mughal era. Then in later days by twentieth century the art was again revived. Today like every other stuff zari zardozi work is also limited to be made out of copper and brass wires that lasts longer and are sold at much cheaper cost in the market. So now there are several families in Varanasi that have revived this old craft and are supplying the exquisite zari embroidery bridal outfits, salwar kameezes to boutiques and Sherwanis to famous shops all around the country. Zardozi embroidery is also collectively combined with Dabka work which is a spring type of thread that is originally said to be from Lucknow. Zari works also uses katori, tikena and sequins to create most fascinating designs.
There are two types of embroideries. One is the lighter work and the other is the heavier work. Zardozi is the heavier type whereas the Kamdani is the lighter type. In zardozi embroidery the stitches are very close to each other and are very elaborately made and they are prepared with the use of budla which are the thin strips of metal. And Kamdani is the lighter type of embroidery which is used on the finer fabrics and which is less elaborate and simple kind. There are also many types of zari threads. The thicker one is called Kalabatune that is braided with gold thread and used to stitch in the borders whereas the thinner variety is used at the thinner edges for batwas, tassels, necklace strings.
As a tradition initially it was only men who did the zardozi work but in later days women were nearly 10-15 percent out of thousands of the zari zardozi workers in the country. When the Persian invaders introduced this craft to India, the motifs and colors were completely of Persian flair. This kind of zardozi work were of three types.
1. The fabric stitched to produce novel patterns and colors, such as Baloch’s Souzan-douzi, Rasht’s Qollab-douzi and Kerman’s Pate-douzi.
2. Basic fabric stitched with less dense work in which the craftsmen crossed the strings throughout the yarns that are crosswise woven for the fabric and stitched them to one another to form a patterned frame/lattice like sekke-douzi or gollabdouzi.
3. Various patterns were stitched on the basic fabric with gold and silver strings to make it an intricate zardozi patterns.
4. The main preliminary designs that were used for zardozi works are influenced by nature motifs consisting of leaf designs and elaborate floral patterns. Peacock motifs were immensely used and considered as auspicious. But over the years the local craftspeople filled in their own receptivity and prepared new designs which were the fusion of Persian, Mughal and Indian styles. Since then the patterns have evolved from traditional Persian motifs to geometrical forms/motifs which are the primary focus of zardozi work today, along with the flower, petals, leaf designs are also still appreciated for its traditional appeal.
These days before tracing the design on fabric, the motifs are selected considering the level of intricacy desired and weight of the final garment required as the zari along with the sequins and beads makes the fabric extremely heavy. The other way of keeping the zardozi work in garments is to keep the attire simple but with heavy embroidered border in floral motifs. As zardozi work is majorly used on the wedding attire the colors used are bright red, maroon, turquoise, mauve, royal blue, pink and bottle green for more magnificent look for marriage ceremony.
Some of the places in which zari zardozi embroidery is the main work in India are Lucknow, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Mumbai, Ajmer, Varanasi, Farrukhabad and Chennai. But on the whole the opulent Mughal influence differs instantly from all the present day influences of the region on the zari zardozi work. Lucknow zardozi work are more ornate and has a three dimensional motifs which is similar to Delhi motifs. Whereas Agra and Hyderabad are limited to their minimalistic simple patterns with large motifs and Chennai is the influence of regional Tamil zardozi motifs.