Lucknow and Chikankari are almost synonymous with each other. So when SheThePeople.TV‘s flagship initiative Women Writers’ Fest came to the capital city of Uttar Pradesh after its three successful editions across other cities in the country, it would have been blasphemous if we didn’t talk about the embroidery style, Lucknow is famous for and the women reshaping it. For the uninitiated, it is the famous embroidery style that was born out of Lucknow and it still lures people from around the globe to the Awadh city in search of the intricate handiwork.

The discussion, which was thoughtfully titled “The Arts and Crafts of Lucknow: Chikankari as empowerment,” brought together Asma Hussain, fashion designer and a royal family descendent of Awadh, Vandana Sehgal, architect and associate professor of architecture in Uttar Pradesh Technical University, Dr Jaspal Kalra, design academician and social entrepreneur and Veena Singh Padrauna, revivalist of chikankari and Awadhi craft.

Chikan needs more attention as it is still the one that we eat and not the one we embroider. This makes me want to focus on it much more to be better on it.”

Hussain kick-started the talk by counting the various kinds of handiwork popular from in and around Lucknow. “Silverwork, copper utensils and we have over 17 crafts which exist in Lucknow. There are crafts from around Lucknow as this city is kind of a binding factor for the crafts from around Uttar Pradesh like the Ittar from Kannauj, fabrics from Varanasi, Zaidpur, Mau, Mubarakpur, Bareilly, Farukhabad printing. These were the centres built by our rulers as the artisans lived there and worked but their market was Lucknow because of it being the focus it used to give patronage to the artisans.” she says. “This makes the heritage of Lucknow extremely rich,” adds Sehgal to Hussain’s argument.

 

While readymade and machine work has taken over everything, handwork has taken a backseat. Artisans who used to be the most respected lot in the yore, are today, struggling to earn a justified price for their craft against the cheaper machine-made goods. Hussain stresses on why it’s important to fight for the worth of handwork and makes a point, “As far as the beauty is concerned, there is no comparison between the artisan-made and machine-made good. For the last 25 years, we have been spreading awareness that wearing a handcrafted piece of clothing or using it as home decor etc. gives one an intellectual and an elite status. Being an intellectual person makes one a better human than being a commercial one.”

Also read: Why aren’t we reading Hindi literature: Panel at Women Writer’s Fest Lucknow

She also stressed on how artisans need to focus on their designs to make it more commercially viable. “Sometimes that’s the most difficult task,” she says.

“There are crafts from around Lucknow as this city is kind of a binding factor for the crafts from around Uttar Pradesh like the Ittar from Kannauj, fabrics from Varanasi, Zaidpur, Mau, Mubarakpur, Bareilly, Farukhabad printing.”

While Chikankari is still a very relevant form of embroidery, Singh shares an anecdote wherein while talking to somebody about the art, they said, “we are vegetarian.” So she told them, “Chikan needs more attention as it is still the one that we eat and not the one we embroider. This makes me want to focus on it much more to be better on it.” Singh, who belongs to the royal family of Padrauna and is often regarded as the Rajkumari of the region, has worked on reviving the art of Chikankari and runs Royal Fables.

 

Kalra, who has done practice based PhD degree from NIFT titled ‘Design Education of Chikankari Artisans: A Tool for Social Innovation’, believes there needs to be more done to bring the buyers of handcrafted work and the sellers/artisans closer. “That’s when real financial empowerment happens for the makers and then only these people get recognition.”

Vartika Punjabi of Ada, spoke about how the fashion house had set about the task of documenting online the entire process of creating their pieces, the various forms of stitches, the embroiderers and spoke about how this online documentation is their effort towards raising awareness about how the craft is integral to the social fabric of Lucknow. “The marketing of such products will become easier as we look to social media platforms and organising e-commerce accessibility for Chikankari,” she said.

While the Chikankari embroidery is prevalent and loved by people around the world, there has to more demand for the handcrafted piece of work rather than machine work. Chikankari truly depicts the rich and intricate history of the Awadh and makes it that much more exceptional.

Also read: Lucknow Women Writers’ Fest Sees Crucial Conversation On Finances

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