Image: Aisha Rao
The glorious art of zardozi has been passed down for generations in the Indian subcontinent — in the form of silk, organza, satin and velvet saris, anarkalis, dupattas, and ghararas. Derived from the words ‘zar’ and ‘dozi’, which translate to gold sewing, zardozi embroidery is historically Persian but innately Indian. The masterful embroidery holds a revered position in Indian design and boasts a rich history too.
The origin of zardozi work
Image: Manish Malhotra
Originally, zardozi was created using real gold and silver threads, to sew on seed pearls and precious gems on fabric. With its roots going back to Rig Vedic India, the heavy embellishment got special patronage from Mughal rulers in the 16th century which amplified its popularity. The precious method was used to adorn the walls of royal tents, scabbards, wall hangings and paraphernalia on regal elephants and horses. Today, the art of zardozi refers to the process of using copper or silver threads to sew embellishments, both precious and non-precious, onto a variety of fabrics.
How it works Image: Mynah’s Reynu Taandon
Zardozi motifs borrow from nature most often, with floral and avian embroidery on luxe fabrics. Ornate lattice-inspired designs, too, are sewn using the elaborate embroidery technique. The first step in the creation involves tracing out the design on the fabric, by poking it with a needle and forming an outline. The fabric is draped and attached to a wooden frame, post which artisans work over it for several hours, over the course of many days, with needles, curved hooks, wires, threads, sequins, gems and beads — all painstakingly embroidered by hand.
Then to now: Zardozi today
Images: Tarun Tahiliani
Today, it is unimaginable to own Indian wear without zardozi detailing, but the craft suffered decline after the Mughal rule and before Independence. After 1947, there was a revival, and ever since, there has been no looking back. In modern day India, zardozi is as revered as it used to be, extensively used on present-day potlis, clutches, sherwanis, and contemporary gowns. Be it seasoned stalwarts like Tarun Tahiliani or new-age designers like Masaba Gupta, you will find hints of zardozi in all their collections. Anita Dongre creates her classic Benarasi saris with heavily bejewelled zardozi embroidery whereas Manish Malhotra‘s vintage-inspired ‘Ruhaniyaat’ collection is partial to zardozi work too.
Shop zardozi pieces on Aashni + Co here.