has patronized the sari as its national dress from time immemorial.
From the period of Lord Krishna, the gopis have been known to be
wearing sarees during raaslila. However, during 1000-1500 A.D when
India was facing an array of invasions from all directions it became
important for the Indian women to cover themselves more than what the
one piece sari did. A fuller skirt called lehnga, a piece of
cloth to cover her head called orhini, and cloth tied on her
bosom called choli, became a more appropriate costume to cover
the Indian beauty.
Initially the lehnga was
merely a piece of cloth tied around the waist in a pleated fashion
with the ends of the cloth left loose. The cloth was held at the
waist with a metal girdle. But soon with the increase in its
popularity, the garment went through fruitful transitions to suit the
convenience of the women. The ends of the waist cloth were stitched.
To make it more comfortable, its narrow width was increased by
introducing more pleats on the waist, so as to facilitate easy
walking for the women. The metal girdle was replaced by stitching a
peace of cloth to the waist of the lehnga called nepha and a
piece of tape running through it called nara.
The lehnga reached its
peak of development under the Mughal kings. It was the best answer
the Indian queens could give to the rich Muslim pehsvaz dress
of the Mughal royal women. The interaction between the two
communities was further increased by the bazaars organized by the
Mughal kings where both the sellers and the buyers were women. The
dupatta (the Hindustani name given to the orhni by the Indian
Muslim women) became almost a mark of respect for the women. It was
mostly two and a half yards in length and one and a half yards in
breadth. It was used as a headdress and also to increase the beauty
of the lehnga. Mostly the dupatta was made of a flimsy material and
to give some more weight to the cloth, golden lace or tassels were
attached to the ends. The choli was also developed the cover the
arms but the length, however, usually remained above the navel,
revealing the slim waist of the women.
Through history, the
lehnga has undergone very little change. In fact even today leading
manufacturers do not fail to steal traditional patterns form the
golden Mughal era. The ensemble still comprises a traditional long
skirt, the choli and the dupatta. The fabrics used to make the
lehnga are in fact the same as those used under the great Mughal
King, Akbar i.e. silks and brocades. The dupatta is now made of
silk, linen of chiffon which is a new development.
The popularity of lehngas
has creased proportionately with the times. In fact, in northern
India it has very successfully replaced the traditional sari as a
wedding dress. Now Indian brides prefer to wear lehngas which
enhance their beauty and charm. The dress is mostly made in red
which represents excitement and passion; orange which is a blend of
yellow and red colours so contrary in character
produces mystical effects on the mind; pink possesses all the powers
and vividness of red without its frenzied impetuosity and violence.
The beauty of this royal
dress however lies in the fine embroidery or zari handwork done on
it. This zari handwork done on the lehnga is of a very special
quality and is done mostly by Muslims staying in the 100 odd villages
of Farokabad in Uttar Pradesh and Lucknow.
The hunar or the
art of this embroidery is mostly passed on from father to son where
certain skills are taught with utmost secrecy. The fabric for the
lehnga is first mounted on a wooden frame called adda, which
bears a close resemblance to the Indian charpai. The chhapai
or tracing of the design to be embroidered is then transferred on the
fabric with neel or chalk powder. Then the embroidered
starts. We can broadly categories the zari handwork in four
categories (a) Dapka (b) Salma or nakshi (c) Arri and (d) Gota.
Dapka is a very detailed
type of needle work which is done after the fabric has been put on
the adda and chhapai is completed. For a heavy lehnga at least three
to four karigars work at the same time on the same piece. If
the lehnga is wanted urgently, then upto eight men sit on the adda
and work together. First a thick cotton cord is stitched on the
pattern to be embroidered. Then on this cord prefabricated zari
thread is looped on with an ordinary stitching needle. The patterns
mostly made are of flowers, leaves, or the national bird of India
Salma or nakshi is
cheaper than dapka and considered slightly less exquisite than dapka
by some. But a wedding lehnga cannot be complete without nakshi as
it shines much more than dapka. As is rightly said nakshi puts life
in the lehnga. This form of embroidery is also done by using
prefabricated golden thread on the chhapai.
Arri work is a more
delicate form of embroidery. It is done with both coloured and
golden thread. The thread is put on the tip of a pen-like needle
which is passed through the cloth giving chain-stitch-like
Gota work is done by
using gold or silver ribbons of different widths giving rise to
different patterns. These ribbons can be cut into small pieces and
folded in the shape of leaves. They are also twisted and stitched on
the cloth in the form of continuous triangles on the border. This
work is mostly done is Jaipur in remote villages by khandani
karigars. In Gota work however contrasting colours like pink and
green or pink and red are mostly in the shape of behls with patch
work to highlight the work.
The lehnga is hence a
masterpiece of all these forms of embroideries in various
combinations. To decorate this bridal dress, kundan stone, katori,
golden cords and pearls can also be used. Hence we can say the
lehnga is one part of history which still lives on in India.