This delicate white floral embroidery is created with intricate needlework and raw thread. The esteemed technique, which once received royal patronage, is used in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.
The art of Chikan embroidery has been practised in Lucknow for over 200 years, however its journey began even earlier than that. While nobody is certain of the origins of Lucknow because its origins are shrouded in mystery, it is widely believed by historians that it is a Persian craft, which was brought over to the Mughal Court in the 16th Century by Emperor Jahangir’s wife Mehrunissa who was a talented embroiderer. In fact, legend has it that Mehrunissa was so good at it and seeing the floral embroidery pleased the emperor so much, that it was given royal patronage and the embroidery was studied so that it could be perfected.
Chikan embroidery was used to adorn the finest muslin garments, which were favoured in the hot and tepid climate of Delhi. This theory is evidenced by Mughal miniatures that depict Emperor Jahangir in white flowing muslin garments featuring, the floral embroidery.
However, a conflicting argument for the origin of Chikan embroidery is that it dates back as far as the 9th Century A.D. where it can be seen in famous paintings in the Bagh and Ajanta caves. Other historians dispute this though, believing instead that it dates back to the time of king Harsha who is rumoured to have had a great fondness for the embroidery after a contemporary of wrote about white embroidered muslin garments. There is however no way of knowing for sure that they were referring to Chikan embroidery.
Writings dating back to the 3rd century B.C contain the words ‘flowered muslin’, which again could be muslin but there is also no way of knowing. There is however more evidence to suggest that even if it did not originally derive in Persia, it was the Persians fondness for floral patterns that inspired the Mughal rulers to use the floral patterns in their garments, paintings and architecture. The only discernable difference between the Persian and Indian design, is that the Persian one is quite stiff and formal, where as the Indian one is free flowing.
The cotton used to create Chikan embroidery came from Decca and was cultivated in a way that exploited the high humidity of the region, which created properties, which meant that the thread was very sturdy. Additionally, the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers have bleaching properties, which is why the thread favoured for Chikan embroidery is so white.
The name Chikan is supposedly derived from the Persian word’s for Chikin or Chikeen which means ‘embroidered fabric’ – this again lays claim to the fact that while Chikan embroidery may be currently thriving in Lucknow, it started many miles from there.
Image sources: panoramio.com, pinterest.com