Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Folds of Cloth, Appliqued, Flowered, Pegged: The Shamiana Mughal Tent

Shamiana is a ceremonial tent richly decorated with hangings, used by the Moghal and Rajput courts as they travelled around the country. They are traditionally made with textile techniques as Appliqué - the technique of applying one piece of fabric to a ground cloth by means of stitching. Shapes and motifs can be attached with an ordinary sewing thread, or by some type of embroidery stitch that is both functional and decorative.

Indeed, the Mughal Empire in India raised the art of the tent to new levels of splendor: Timur's 12-pole tent described by Clavijo was far surpassed by Humayun's Zodiac Tent, in which the 12 signs were worked in precious stones, and by Akbar's vast and carefully planned tent-palace. The window of the tent of Nur Jehan, favorite wife of Jahangir, the fourth Mughal emperor, was screened with a gold medallion set with pearls and gems and golden bars or chains.

Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo was the Spanish ambassador to the court of the Mongol emperor Timur in Samarkand from 1403 to 1406. His description of Timur’s tents is corroborated by the miniature paintings of the period.

Nearby this awning where we were seated stood a very large high pavilion, in fact a very huge tent, and it was four-square in shape. In height it was the measure of three long lances such as used by a horse soldier, and the side was a hundred paces from angle to angle, it being as said four-cornered. The ceiling of the pavilion was made circular to form a dome, and the poles supporting it were twelve in number each as thick round as is the chest of a man breast high….

The inner walls of the pavilion are lined with crimson tapestry very beautifully woven in patterns of diverse designs, further it is hung with silk stuffs of many colours, in places worked over with embroidery of gold thread. The ceiling of the pavilion is its mark of greatest beauty for at the four corners are figured four eagles sitting with their wings closed. The exterior walls of the pavilion are made of a silk cloth woven in bands of white and black and yellow that to us appeared made of silk sarsenet. Outside at each corner there is set a very tall staff capped with an apple of burnished copper above which is a crescent.… From a distance indeed this great tent would appear to be a castle, it is so immensely broad and high. It is a wonder to behold, and magnificent beyond description….

Round and about the pavilion on the ground outside is erected a wall of cloth, as might be otherwise the wall of a town or castle, and the cloth is of many coloured silks in diverse patterns…. This forms the great Enclosure surrounding and shutting in the pavilion. It is known by the name of the Sarápardeh, and within its circuit stand many other tents and awnings pitched diversely and at intervals. Among the rest we noted here a very lofty circular tent of another kind, for this is not stayed with ropes, the wall being supported by poles of the size and thickness of our lances, which are wrought into the canvas wall, as might be to form a netting cross-wise. Above those of the side walls rise other long poles which hold up the upper part of the tent forming the domed ceiling…. Then in a row there were four tents that were connected together by a passageway going from one to the other, by which one could pass as might be through a corridor, and this corridor was covered in above by a ceiling....

In this wall, the Enclosure, there were opened at intervals window frames with shutters, but these window openings could not be passed through from without by any one, for each was guarded by a netting of thin silk tape…. High up, in the ceiling of the cupola of the tent we are now describing, is seen the figure of an eagle in silver gilt, it is of a great size and its wings are open. ”

Read more:

Shamiana in Pakistan Today:

Two Folds of Cloth, Outside Dosuti Coloured, Inner Cloth Flowered Printed or Gulkari with Frill all round. Complete with Kanat Ropes, Bamboo Poles and Pegs.

Other Resources:


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Dance Form That Depicts "Life", A Blend of Hindu & Muslim Culture

Kathak is the classical dance style of North India. The word Kathak is derived from katha , meaning "a story", and hence the word Kathak means a storyteller who recounted mythological tales in the temples and danced them in a state of ecstasy. Having its origin in the sacred text known as the Natya Shastra , set to be divinely inspired through the sage Bharata, it has become one of the most comprehensive and expressive languages of movement in the world.

With the advent of the Mogul rule in India (11th-18th centuries), it was transformed from a temple dance to court dance and became a brilliant entertainment. It was recognized in its innovative aspect by the Mogul emperors, especially the poet king Wajid Ali Shah who rescued it from oblivion, lent it dignity and founded the famed Lucknow Garana. There are three main gharanas, or schools of kathak.  These schools are named according to the geographical area in which they developed.  These are the Jaipur, Lucknow, and the Benares gharanas.  Each has a slight difference in interpretation and repertoire.

This dance form depicts "life" and is based on the philosophy of the trinity - creation (Brahma), preservation (Vishnu), and destruction (Mahesh). Its poses are seldom static and it has a continuous flow of movements very near to life. Equal stress is laid on intricate footwork and beauty of expression. It is two-dimensional in character; it conceives the space basically in straight lines and does not put emphasis on giving a three-dimensional effect. The human form is conceived as a straight line and there are very few deviations from the vertical median.

Kathak is a wonderful blend of Hindu and Muslim culture. The costumes are very gorgeous for both Hindu (Lahenga-Choli) and Muslim - (Churidar-Kameez-Vest) called Angrakha.

Mughal Patronage of Jewelry: Meena Kundan

Under Mughal patronage the skills of Indian goldsmiths were channelled into the production of not only jewellery but also jewelled objects such as fly whisks and mirror frames, pen cases, boxes and even large-scale pieces of courtly furniture, the most famous of which was the Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan, set with some of the ruler’s most valuable diamonds.

The Mughal appreciation of jewellery was nourished by the availability of gems in the Indian subcontinent. This abundance engendered a highly developed culture of jewellery, marked by sophisticated techniques for working gold, setting jewels, and faceting and carving gems and hardstones. 

The word ‘Kundan’ means 'Pure Gold'. And that is exactly what this technique of setting stones required. A collet or cup was made out of pure gold sheets.

· The various parts of the jewel were put into place and fixed in the form of necklaces, earrings, bangles etc and soldered into place.

· The reverse would be carved or etched to create a base for the finishing which was Meenakari or enamel work. Real precious and semi-precious stones were ground into fine power and mixed with catalysts to fill into these grooves and ‘fixed’ into place by blowing them till they melted into place as beautiful colors.

· It could be hammered or beaten into shape to fit uncut or cabochon cut diamonds of size. This was filled with lac or lacquer from trees which was hardened just enough to solidify around the base of the gold cup.

· A very thin foil of pure silver was then spread very carefully on the lacquer layer to cover the black completely.

· On this clean shiny bed of silver foil, the cleanest or shiniest surface of the uncut or cabochon cut diamond and precious colored stone was placed so that it would shine as much as a mirror would. Only the best of colors with highest of clarity grade of diamond were used.

· Finally very fine foils of pure gold were gently pressed down into the fine gaps and spaces around the diamond to ‘set’ it in position. This was one of the slowest and painstaking part of the work since based on this the final look of the jewelry product could change dramatically.

The origins of Kundan are unknown but the guesswork of knowledgeable people indicates that this beautiful technique was born in the Northern parts of India.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Islamic Shariah & The Natural Instinct to Adorn and Beautify!

Man has been created with this natural desire to adorn and beautify him/her self. It is an instinct that is unique with human beings, as all the other creations of Allah are void of this perceptivity.
Elegance and beautification are encouraged in Islam, as the Qur'an states.
Allah (s.w.t.) said: Say: Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants, and the good things of His providing. [Al-Qur'an: Al-A`raf (7:32)].
Islam also acknowledges this natural instinct of man, thus it did not place an entire stop on this desire. However, Islam laid certain reasonable limitations and restrictions.

Islam also acknowledged the desire of husbands to see their women beautiful and adorned, thus permitted the wives to use the various types of jewellery on their hands and feet. Women are also encouraged to wear Henna on their hands and feet, and good fragrance is regarded as charity.

At home with family members, women may dress as they please. 
Others believe that only a woman’s hands and face should show while she is in public. Women who accept this belief often cover their head, neck, and hair with a large scarf which has come to be known as a hijab. This Arabic word can mean several different things to Muslims. Translated literally it means “screen,” “separation,” “cover,” or “partition.” It may also refer to traditional Islamic dress codes for women, or compliance with those codes. 
A Muslim man or woman should like only what is Halal in his/her spouse. When someone starts to enjoy what is Haram and starts to think it is beautiful, he/she should question his/her belief and its strength. 
Men are told to adorn themselves for their wives as women are for their husbands.
Ibn `Abbas, the companion of the Prophet (s.a.w.) said: "I adorn myself for my wife just like she adorns herself for me, and I wouldn't want to get my right from her without giving her her right too, because Allah (s.w.t.) said: And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness". (Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir).

Islam prohibits Muslims from dressing for the sake of fame, vanity, and pride.
Allah (s.w.t.) said: Allah does not love any proud boaster [Al-Qur'an: Al-Hadid (57:23)].
The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will not look at the person who trails his robe behind him out of pride. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Shehnai of the Kashmir Valley

The shehnai is believed to have originated in the Kashmir Valley, where people use the instrument in band-i-pather. The shehnai is thought to have been created by improving upon the pungi (a woodwind folk instrument used primarily for snake charming).

In other variants of the legend, the shehnai was named after a shehnai player called Saina; derived from sheh (breath) and nai (flute); or derived from the combination of the Persian words shah (king), and nai (reed, flute) to give the meaning "the king's flute".

Shehnai is usually played at traditional North Indian weddings and is associated with the bride leaving her parental house for her husband's house.

The Shehnai is an aerophonic instrument, a double reed conical oboe, common in North India, made out of wood, with a metal flare bell at the end.

The Ancient Aryan Boteh, The Kashmiri Buta & The Paisley

The design motif known as paisley in the west is taken from the ancient Aryan boteh (botteh) motif. Boteh is a Persian word meaning bush, shrub, a thicket (a small dense forest of small trees or bushes), bramble, herb, a palm leaf, and flower bud.

In Kashmir in the north of the Indian sub-continent, the name used to describe the motif is buta. 

The earliest surviving examples of the boteh motif in the weavings of Kashmir, are from the third quarter of the 15 century CE. reportedly commissioned by Sultan Zein-al-Aabedin (d. 1468). This Sultan is the one who, according to Kashmiri historians, geographers and researchers, brought the “decorative designs from Iran to India.” 

The western name for the boteh motif is taken from Paisley, a town in western Scotland (now a western suburb of Glasgow) which had once specialized in the production of scarves and shawls (from the Persian word shal) decorated with the boteh motif.

Weavers in the town of Paisley introduced an attachment to their handlooms that enabled them to use five different colours of yarn. This innovation gave the Paisley weavers a competitive edge over weavers elsewhere who were only using two colours, commonly indigo and madder. The Paisley weavers also took special care to imitate the Kashmiri shawls as closely as possible. 
It wasn't long before the name Paisley became synonymous with the boteh motif and demand for the imitation shawls grew as women all over Britain began to ask for 'Paisleys'.

Other articles on the boteh also link the motif to the Cypress and to the significance of the Cypress as a tree of life in Zoroastrian folkloric tradition. In addition, the boteh motif is sometimes referred to as the flame of Zoroaster.

There are a variety of different forms of the boteh motif. These different forms could also be related derived shapes and they can sometimes be seen within the same design, be it on fabric, a carpet or an engraving.