Guest Post by Priyanka Dutta
Lucknow, the city of Nawabs has a charm of its own; it creates an odd amalgamation of the traditional and the modern. Here the modern city life seamlessly blends with the aristocracy and artistry of the era of the Nawabs. I moved to Lucknow last year and the city never ceases to surprise me with its beautiful people, unique cuisine, delectable street food, splendid monuments and the intricate and amazing Chikankari embroidery.
The Chikankari art of Lucknow displays artistically hand-crafted embroidery. These embroidered dress materials are used to stitch shirts, suits, salwars, kurtas, dupattas, sarees, pyjamas and any other item of clothing one desires to have them sewn into. When I first went to the Chikankari markets the simplicity of the clothes astounded me; these clothes are of cotton, moderately priced but are exceptionally gorgeous.
The Chikankari embroidery of Lucknow has a rich history; the enigmatic Nur Jahan, wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, was the pioneer of art of Chikankari embroidery in Northern India. Like other buzzing Indian cities, Lucknow has many major bazaars like Chowk, Hazratganj, Aminabad. Here, Chikankari embroidered clothes and unstitched dress material is the major fascination; tourists from all over the world vie for some exquisite Chikankari work to take back home as a reminder of the beautiful city of Lucknow and its refined artistry.
Chikankari embroidery is an artistic creation, not simply embroidered clothes to be worn and used, but they are to be admired and desired; only very skilled craftsmen can create such exquisite handiwork. It has complex variances in the different styles of embroidery, with distinctive textures in the thread as well as the fabric which serves as canvas for the multifaceted art. The Chikankari embroidery is mostly done on chiffon, linen and cotton fabrics. The refined graceful Chikankari dresses along with the exceptional Lucknow mannerisms or “tehzib” will always leave every tourist awe-struck. Chivalry like “aap-janab” (you sir), “pehle aap” (after you) are long lost etiquettes rarely seen in the urban flocks. But the modern-day Lucknowis prefer a diffferent, more westernized, lifestyle altogether; their grace and perfect manners are the remnants of the Nawabi past which never fail to surprise and overwhelm us who are travellers by heart.
Last month, a couple of friends and I decided to explore the bazaars of Lucknow; we expected the same clothes that are sold everywhere else in India. Lucknow is synonymous with Chikankari, so we knew enough to decide to buy some for home; but the true grace of Chikankari clothes revealed itself when we explored the markets through the dingy and cloistered alleys filled with old palatial houses with hanging balconies and large discoloured wooden windows. The streets of the bazaar and alleys were teeming with people and the innumerable shops displaying hordes of Chikankari treasure seemed like a sudden rupture of effortless elegance and charm.
The day was hot and sunny; but it was well spent exploring the serpentine lanes of crowded bazaar. The Chikankari embroidery skills are about 200 years old; though presently immense commercialization and exploitation of the Chikankari workers has been reported. Also, sadly, Chikankari clothes have lost its former glory as the present day youngsters have turned to Western forms clothing, thereby rendering the traditional hand-work of Lucknow antiquated and passe, like all other traditional practices, customs and industries. Yet true artistry can still be found as some of the shopkeepers can were enthusiasts of Chikankaridari work.
So I urge you to go and explore the city and its refined styles; the city has its own story to tell along with the bonus of having you dressed in fashionable yet traditional and graceful Chikankari clothes.
Have you visited the bazaar of lucknow before or do you plan to in the future? I would love to hear about your experiences. If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to comment below and share if you enjoyed reading this post. Also I would love to know your thoughts, comments and suggestions on such posts and whether you would love to continue reading them in the future.