Welcome to my city Lucknow, where Chicken is not only eaten with great delight, but also worn (Chikan) with equal charms. Lucknawi Chikan is the major craft work of Lucknow. The art or technique is known as Chikankari. The word ‘Chikan’ literally means “embroidery” and is derived from the Persian word ‘chikaan’ meaning drapery. The art is unique in itself because it incorporates ion itself approximately 36 different stitching techniques. Chikankari can be synonymous with ‘white on white’ because mostly chikankaari is done using white thread on white fabric. But nowadays, due to changing and evolving fashion trends, it is being done on various coloured cloths.
History of Chikankaari
Chikan work is almost 400 years old art. Some historians believe it’s origin is from 3rd century AD, during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya, as indicated by Megasthenes’ account. Another commonly believed theory is about the contribution of Mughal king Jehangir’s wife Noor Jahan to the craft. In that era, Chikankaari was limited only to white muslin cloth, owing to the warm, humid climate of India. After the fall of Mughal empire, the credit of restoring Chikankaari to its former glory goes to the then Governor of Oudh- Burhan-Ul-Malik, which is why Lucknow is the centre of Chikankaari.
Why is Chikankaari essentially in floral designs?
The Mughals were Persian descendants, so Persian influence over Chikankaari is obvious. This is why, Chikankaari is mostly found in floral designs. The styles of the flowers may vary, and sometimes, stems, leaves, etc are also there to increase the continuity of the pattern.
How is it made?
The making procedure can be roughly broken into 3 stages. Firstly the design is block printed on the cloth of choice. The cloth is stitched into the garment it will form- a suit, kurta, frock, etc. block printing is done using multiple wooden blocks of wanted designs and washable blue ink on the fabric. Next is embroidery in which the blue inked patterns are traced by needle work. The most special feature of this embroidery is that as many as 36 types of stitches are used in this phase. Depending on the pattern intricacy and size of the piece, the embroidery process alone can take up to 10 days to complete. Next, the fabric is soaked in water to wash away the blue ink outlines and then it is starched to obtain the right stiffness depending upon the fabric.
Types of stitches:
- Taj Mahal
- Dhania patti
- Keel kangan
Type of cloth used:
The fabrics used must be soft as the entire embroidery is hand stitched. Silk, chiffon, georgette, net, voile, kota, doriya, cotton, organza, muslin and faux fabrics are, therefore, best suited.
Type of garments made:
Chikan garments are made for both sexes and for all age groups. They include everything from long and short kurtas, tunics, sarees, Anarkalis palazzos, t-shirts, capri pants and even accessories such as shoes, bags, belts, lamp shades, table cloths, cusion covers, etc.
Undoubtedly, the sheer variety of Lucknow Chikan work today is more bountiful than ever before. It is in great demand in generally urban masses and celebrities in Bollywood and Hollywood alike. Who can forget the famous scene in the song “Rangrez” in the movie “Tanu weds Manu” featuring Kangana Ranaut. The charms of Chikankaari have been beautifully potrayed on the 70 mm screen many a times. The Geographical Indication Registry accorded Lucknow Chikan the GI status in December 2008.
Sweat of the artisans!
It won’t be righteous to talk about Lucknow and Chikankaari, in such details and not about the artisans who shed their sweat making it. Chikankaari is a highly skilled work and is quite time consuming, because it is hand stitched. So, it requires genius of a skilled artist, for which training alone can take up to 20 years. Two of the most renowned Chikan artists are Ustad Faiyaaz Khan and Hasan Mirza Saheb.
Image source: Google