PRA-KASHI - Silk, Gold and Siver from the City of Light

October 06, 2019

National Museum hosted a special exhibition called Pra-Kashi: Silk, Gold, and Silver from the City of Light from 10th September to 8th October. Presented in collaboration with the Devi Art Foundation, curated by Pramod Kumar KG and supported by Eka Archiving Services, the exhibition that displays textiles from the Asha Workshop of Varanasi, is one of a kind.
This exhibition has come together because of about 26 years of efforts of the Asha Workshop in Varanasi. What started as a Master's project for Rahul Jain, a textile technologist, it got a life of its own.
The collection on display explores the weaving techniques of Taquete-Samite, Lampas, Extended Samite, Brocaded Double Weave, Damask, Velvet, and Voided Velvet. In terms of motifs & pattern design, the collection holds a rich variety of florals and geometrics inspired by the Angrakhas & chogas of  Mughal Miniature paintings, florals adopted from Kashmiri shawls & carpet collection from City Palace museum at Jaipur. As for the contemporary take, the exhibition shows seven breathtaking textiles which in true sense are works of art, with motifs of endangered animal species like Himalayan snow leopard, Siberian cranes, Python, Red panda to name a few.

PATKA(SASH) Silk and silver-gilt thread complex complementary-weft weave with inner warps, brocaded with Silk. Mughal India, c. 18th century CE.
The two patkas from the collection of the national museum, are the finest examples of the craftsmanship & textiles from the early era. The intricate patterns & motifs are created by adding extra warps & weft yarns.

Silk and silver-gilt thread in extended samite weave. Delhi, 1997

The in-between layers of the extra warp & extra weft help to create the patterns of great complexity, such that one can see the foreground differentiated from the background. One doesn't get to notice this much in the pastel & lighter tones but when the tonalities get deeper, the differentiation is visible as seen in the Red Patka. To create different kinds of textiles textures & weights of the fabric, different kinds of golds were used.  So if it had to be a stiffer garment, more gold had to be used. Traditionally the gold wires or stripes were wrapped around the silk or cotton cord and are gilded to create the zari.  But the real magic happened when this was being done by hand, the gold around the zari was even at most places but where the evenness didn't happen, it tends to give a dynamic movement to the fabric.

The zari yarn braided to create intricate edging with tassels.

On Left: Gilted textiles with Floral motifs |  On Right: Representation of how the textiles looked.
The shading & intricacy of the motif is to be noticed.

On Left: Gilted sash with floral buttas and border from Mughal miniature painting of Shah Jahan's Darbaar scene
On Right: Representation of how the sash looked in tangible form.

The flower motif of this reversible jacket was borrowed from the end panel of a Kashmiri shawl, dated to c, 1700, from the collection of Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahemdabad.

The end panels and borders reproduce the floral patterns of a Mughal patka, in the collection of the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi

"Flowers have provided a lasting inspiration to the motif, pattern and scale in the design and vocabulary of nearly all the arts of the Indian subcontinent. Their myriad forms under the rubric of Buti, Buta, Bel, and Jaal, allowed for an endless possibility of patterns and design across varied textile techniques. Seen here are some of the finest examples of silk, cotton and metallic yarns used to create brocaded double weaves, taffeta, extended samite weaves and twill tissues. These designs showcase the finest delineation of small and large patterns across multiple registers of silk and metallic grounds that allowed for diverse end-use as garments, draped textiles, and other court accessories."

On Left: Border of Minakar(Enameller) Textile | On Right: Backside of a neckpiece with Minakari work
"The Minakari(Enameller) textiles were inspired by the"clothes of god" woven in Mughal India and Safavid Iran in the 17th and 18th centuries, in which silk weavers used the ancient samite weave, and its variations, to conjure up on cloth the appearance of enameled gold. The examples on display showcase the aesthetic preoccupations of the historical examples. they were woven using an older design idiom but do not attempt to replicate specific originals. with their polychrome patterns set jewel-like against metallic grounds, these contemporary shawls and fabric panels bring alive the grandeur associated with these textiles in their historical courtly milieu. they comprise a singular modern body of work that follows closely the exacting technical and artistic standard of the past."
To create these gold textiles with velvet motifs, Rahul Jain worked with the weavers to create a special loom, which took around 2.5 years to make. It takes 3 weavers doing a certain specific job to create 1cm of fabric in a day.

Motif adopted from a carpet of City Palace Museum of Jaipur

Qanats(Tent Panels) These textiles are a reproduction of a woven silk qanat from an imperial Mughal tent ensemble, dated c 1650, in the collection of the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahemdabad.
Left: Red Shikargah Ghagra on display, done as an interpretation of the Ashavalli, in Varanasi, in the 1920s.
Right: A picture of Maharani Deergh Kaur of Nabha in her Shikargah Banarsi Ghagra that she reclaimed from her great grandmother.
"The entire composition of brocades reveals the Mughalesque way of embellishing fabrics. The style of outlining the motifs in contrasting colors were named as minakari or inlay work. This inlay work is the distinctive characteristic of Ashavali brocades. It is believed that the kinkhab of Gujarat does not lose a little color or shine even if kept for ages because it was washed in the water of Lake Kankariya."- Vishu Arora, Prof. at NIFT
"The shikargah textiles displayed here are woven in much older samite-weaving technique using silk and silver thread, with the more ornate set of five worked in the silver-gilt thread as well. the set highlights several species of birds and animals from India's endangered wildlife, in addition to the more familiar species. the birds include the Tree Pie, Himalayan Bulbul, paradise flycatcher, as well as aquatic species and Siberian and sarus cranes. the animals include along with the more common Asia lion, forest deer, mountain goats, crocodiles, and pythons."

"Surviving examples of human figural images in courtly Indian textiles are few and far between. The panels here are woven in silk, silver and silver-gilt thread in an extended samite weave. their European figures are adapted from "The last judgment" fresco, painted by Michelangelo in c. 1534 CE, in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Italy. The woven images, in some ways, reflect the revered Indian ideal of Kashi as the earthly portal for the final release, moksha, as the soul rises to free itself from samsara, the cycle of rebirth. the rite judgment and the subsequent passage of the soul converge as a profound metaphysical idea across religions and culture. Kashi remains, even today, a bedrock for human faith."
On Left: "The last judgment" fresco, painted by Michelangelo | On Right: Samite- weave textile with human figures

Left: The Nativity, Mughal India c. 1725-1730 CE |  Right: The Nativity by Ghirlandaio, Renessaiance c. 1492

The exhibition ends with this artwork of Padma(Lotus) as a dedication to two Padma Bhushan awardees, the late industrialist, art collector, and philanthropist Suresh Neotia and the late textile maestro Martand Singh.

It is an exceptional work of art, which one has to experience in person. These pictures do no justice to what these textiles are. I was fortunate to attend the last curated walks but the exhibit is on till 8th of October at the National Museum, Delhi.


Lenders to the Exhibition

National Museum, New Delhi
Suresh Neotia and Family Collection, Kolkata
Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection, New Delhi
Cristina Patnaik, New Delhi
Jamuna Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi
Helen and Rolf von Bueren, Bangkok
LACMA(Los Angeles County Museum of Art), LA
The Cleaveland Museum of Art, Ohio

Asha Workshop

Silkweavers : Jamaluddin Ansari, Kamaluddin Ansari, Samim Ansari, Nasim Ansari, Saddam Ansari, Hasmat Ansari and Shausat Ansari

Patternmakers : Jaffer Ali Naqshband and Mohiuddin Ansari

Workshop Supervisors: Aziz Haque and Anwar Ahmad

General Assistant : Alauddin Ansari

Metal Thread Specialist: Shyamsundar Jaisal

TextileSpecialists: Rahul Jain, Vinay Singh, and Abhishek Jain

Curatorial : Eka Archiving Services, Pramod Kumar KG, Ankita Chugh, Talib Ahmas and Gulsher Ahmed

Exhibition : Devi Art Foundation, Lekha Poddar and Anupam Poddar, Priya Chauhan and Sandhita Chandra, Prem Prakash, Shyamoo Vishwakarma and Surender Singh
Textile Installation: Imran
Lighting: Kanhaiyalal
Painters: Pankaj, Karan, Shivram, lalu, Deepal, Tej Singh

  • Vasudev, Shefalee. “Pra-Kashi: ‘It Is Not a Craft, a Textile, or a Product.’” Voice of Fashion, 24 Sept. 2019,
  • Arora, Vishu. “The Time-Honored Ashavali Brocades of Gujarat.”, 17 June 2017,

Thank you

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