Chikankari is an ancient from of white floral
embroidery, intricately worked with needle and raw thread. Its delicacy is
mesmeric. For centuries, this fine white tracery on transparent white fabric
has delighted the heart of king and commoner alike. It is centered mainly in
the northern heartland of india, namely Lucknow, the capital of a large
state, called Uttar Pradesh. It has survived the loss of royal patronage,
suffered deeply at the hands of commercialization, lost its way sometimes in
mediocrity and yet stayed alive, is a tribute to the skill and will of the
crafts persons who have handed down this technique from one generation to
Today, This delicate form of embroidery is traditionally
practiced in and around the city of Lucknow.
Lucknow is a Lovely
old city, a city of old gardens and palaces, fine architectural conceit
mosques, temples and ageing monuments, a city so favoured by European
travelers once upon a time, that it was popularly called the Constantinople
of the East. Like Marseille, it has a great deal of historicity. It is
synonymous with architectural elegance, cultural finesse, social warmth and
anenduring love for gracious living.
Lucknow also has the
distinction of being today, the cusp of a very beautiful, very aesthetic
form of white floral embroidery, unique to this geographical
location.Chikankari has been practiced in Lucknow for almost more than two
hundred years. But it did not originate in Lucknow. It flourished in the
Mughal Court at Delhi in the 16th and 17th centuries. When the Mughal Court
disintegrated the artisans scattered across the country. Some of them came
and settled in Awadh. They brought this craft with them and gave it roots.
origins of chikan are shrouded in mystery and legend. Some historians opine,
that chikan is a Persian craft, brought to the Mughal Court of the Emperor
Jahangir by his beautiful and talented consort Mehrunissa. The queen was a
talented embroiderer and she so pleased the king with this ethereal, white
floral embroidery that it was soon given recognition and royal patronage.
Workshops were established wherein this embroidery was practiced and
perfected.The word 'chikan is probably a derivative from
the Persian word chikin or 'chikeen' which means a kind of
In all probability the word chikan is used for the
white floral embroidery that Mehrunnissa brought with her from Persia. This
form of embroidery became very popular with the king and his nobles and was
embroidered on the finest Daccai.
Mulmuls or muslin garments
which were most appropriate for the hot, tepid climate of Delhi. There
are some very fine Mughal miniatures that depict the Emperor Jahangir in
white flowing muslim garments. Historians believe this could be chikan.
After the decline and fall of the Mughal court, the artisans and craftsmen
scattered across the length and breadth of India. Some settled in west
Bengal, so for some time chikan flourished in Calcutta, though it is no
longer practiced there. Some fled to the Northern state of Awadh and settled
in the royal courts of the descendents of Burhan ul Mulk a Persian nobleman,
who had found favour with the last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah and was
appointed as the governor of Awadh.
are, however, other opinions on the origin of chikan craft. According to one
historians, there is evidence of embroidered muslin apparel depicted in the
famous paintings in the Bagh and Ajanta caves dating back to the 9th century
A.D. He suggests that this could be early trace of the presence of chikan.
Kamala Devi chattopadhyaya opines that chikan can be dated back to the time
of king Harsha, who is said to have had a great fondness for white
embroidered, muslin garments, but no colour, no ornamentation, nothing
spectacular to embellish it. Bana, a contemporary of king Harsha
refers to this skillfully embroidered white muslin. We would like to believe
that this form of embroidery was chikan but cannot say it with certainity.
Megasthenes, dating back to the 3rd century B.C has written of the use of flowered
muslin by the Indians in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. It could
have been chikan. We are not sure.
Dr. Rahul shukla in his book on
the Taj Mahal, entitled Art Beyond Time, talks about chikan as being an
offshoot of the Taj. This is very likely because, chikan motifs show a
strong influence of the motifs and screens (jaalis) present in the Taj
Mahal. At present, the Taj motifs are freely used in Lucknows
chikan work and most of its glory springs form the Taj pitra dura.
The Persian fondness for floral patterns greatly influenced the Mughal
rulers who adopted these patterns in their architecture, their paintings and
even their garments. The Indian artists used more flowing designs rather
than the stiffly formal Persian styles. Sheila Paine feels that the
floral designs of chikan share the same heritage.
used the finest of white cotton fabric called muslin or mulmul. A great deal
of muslin was produced in and exported from Bengal. Dacca was the main
region where cotton was cultivated due to the high humidity of the region,
which prevented the delicate thread from breaking on contact with the air.
The cotton spun was very white since the Brahmaputra and the ganges Rivers
have bleaching properties. The chikan workers in Bengal used this fine
muslin for embroidery.