India is rich in its cultural diversity and the appearance of its many ethnic groups. Even though each group is known for its traditional costume , Banjara, a semi-nomadic group stands out among them.
Banjara, also known as Lambadi or Lambada are a historically nomadic trading tribe who reside in South, West & Central India and with a language of their own called ‘Gar Boli ‘ .
In the Mughal era, the community was engaged in transporting provisions and trading goods. Their habit of living in isolated groups, away from others, still persists and they live in settlements, on the fringes of towns.
Embroidery is intrinsic to the traditional costumes of nomadic Banjara community.
The Banjara women, locally referred to as Lambani, make symmetrical embroidery by lifting the warp thread of the fabric with a fine needle and making triangles, diamond and lozenges, parallel to the weft thread, giving the effect of an extra weft weave. They specialize in making borders of long skirts, that are part of their traditional costume.
The base cloth is usually, hand woven, over which embroidery is done in yellow, green, red, off-white and black. The embroidery is truly unique in its style and the matchless quality is achieved with a combination of brightness and originality. The colorful threads used in the embroidery are largely symbolic of the vibrant life style of Banjaras. For embellishing an article, they also employ beads, shells, and mirrors. The sunlight which is reflected through the colorful mirror accentuates the splendid beauty of this work. Mirrors are used widely in Banjara Embroidery marking a distinctive feature.
There are 14 types of stitches used in Banjara embroidery. They are Kilan, Vele, Bakkya, Maki, Suryakanti Maki, Kans, Tera Dora, Kaudi, Relo, Gadri, Bhuriya, Pote, Jollya, Nakra. It also includes running stitches which appear like small dashes that creates a variety of patterns on the cloth. It is stitched with parallel lines and a thread of different color is interwoven between the stitches to create a horizontal pattern. Other than that criss cross pattern, chain stitch and overlaid quilting stitch are also made. Different types stitch patterns are used while embroidering to give the design a unique look. Check here for more details – Slideshare.
Cowrie shells and tassels are also used with the embroidery. Since the embroidery is laborious and time consuming it is usually done when the women are free from their main occupation of farming. Some of the banjaras are engaged in mining and selling of handicrafts also.
Women of the various communities from Northern districts of Karnataka made ‘khowdi’ , patch worked quilts, with an abandon of colors and composition. The women of Banjara community use their traditional skills in embroidery as a means of livelihood adapting those to contemporary products, however, keeping intact the vocabulary of stitches and mirror work. Traditionally women gathered to sing and dance around a mat which is also made of four squares, joined together.
Banjaras are also described as hardworking, ingenious, powerful, self-assured and honorable. It was this limitlessness and freedom that is reflected through the Banjara embroidery designs. The traditional craft has been handed from generation to generation and Banjara communities strive to preserve the artwork that they have inherited from their forefathers. Despite their gradual absorption into the mainstream of life, the Banjaras still continue to keep in touch with their age-old customs, traditions and beliefs. An off-shoot of Banjara needlework is the fantastic range of artistic pieces like bags, belts, purses, skirts, blouses, bed spreads, sofa backs, cushion covers and many more utility objects that meet the changing tastes and requirements of present day connoisseurs.
The products are popular and admired by customers all over the world for its rural charm and aesthetics. Banjara embroidery is considered delightful and the products are sold widely in the art and craft market.
If you are interested in knowing more about Banjara community, Charllotte Kwon and Tim McLaughlin have written a book documenting Banjara culture and history, stitches and textile designs. This large-format hardcover book was published by Thames and Hudson in 2016. It is available in the Maiwa stores or online here.
Also, you can read more on the brilliant work done by Dastkari Haat Samiti for Google Art & Culture and a document available online on Behance.
If you want to look inside the colorful and vibrant houses of the community, click here.
Last but not the least, for those who enjoy watching videos more than reading, I am sharing a National Award winning short film on the Art of Lambani Embroidery by Director Kumar Rathod.