India has been called a land of cloth. The subcontinent has a glorious textile heritage dating back over 5000 years. Millions of Indian artisans continue to use traditional craft skills to produce an astonishing array of textiles that are revered globally. Today, India produces over 95% of the worlds’ handloom textiles. The textile industry is the source of livelihood for over a hundred million people and handloom weaving is second only to agriculture in terms of employment. As well as hand spinning and handweaving there is a vast array of specialist skills to embellish the cloth including dying, painting printing and embroidery. India’s textile mastery is unparalleled.
Throughout the length and breadth of the country, regional specialities have flourished based on natural resources, climatic conditions, and local demand. The traditional Ikat from Ponchampally, pretty hand block prints from Sanganeri, elaborate and exquisite brocades from Banaras and delicate saris from Chanderi are but a few examples. These are also some of the pioneers in obtaining Geographical Indication (GI) in recognition of their legal ownership of their techniques and design vocabulary.
Clothing as well as being functional was also symbolic and formed part of a visual personal narrative revealing status, occupation, and region. Textiles have been always important as gifts; this was true within both the Royal Court and the humblest of homes and remains true today, especially for festivals and celebrations. Also, fabrics were used to decorate rooms and served in lieu of traditional solid furniture. Textiles really do touch every aspect of life in India.
”Cloth has always been present at all the major lifecycle rituals in India and is still visible in much of everyday religious observance and everyday custom. From a simple thread tied around the wrist after puja (worship) to the gifts of elaborate saris at weddings, yarn and cloth are inextricably linked to religion and spirituality.” Rosemary Crill
“Textiles are a form of non-verbal language, which express the socio-religious and cultural history of a people. As one of the oldest technologies along with pottery, textile terminology expresses philosophical concepts. The concept of time for instance is conveyed in the Rig-Veda, the oldest philosophical text, as the weaving of the warp and weft and thus the creation of days and nights” Jasleen Dhamija