Assam and its adjoining stated in the North East of India are famous for silk. Silk was the royal attire of Tai Ahom Kings. These people came to Assam from a Chinese province through Patkai range of hills and enchanted by the beauty of the region, settled permanently and intermingled with the local people. They must have brought the silkworms with them from China.
Silk is woven in the homes. It is part of economy of the state. Of many varieties Muga: the golden silk and Eri or Ahimsa silk are most famous. Eri is produced by the silkworm called Philosamiaricini and is reared indoors on the leaves of Castor, Kesseru, Payam and Tapioca trees. The yarn from cocoons is spun. The word Eri is derived from Erranda which is Indian word for Castor.
It is produced only in Assam, the East Khasi hills and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Bodo women weave Dokhana (draped skirt), Chaddar (upper cloth) and Jhumara in addition to plain shawls. Endi shawls are highly prized outside. The same silkworms produce different colors of thread in different areas.
It started in Patiala state of Punjab in India. Patiala rose to prominence amongst many princely states of Punjab before independence. Phul means flowers and Kar means the work. So Phulkari literally means Flower Work on the rough heavy cotton. Throughout the Punjab, in the Hindu,Muslim and Sikh communities alike, women embroider Odhanis (veils) or Chaddar (wraps) ornamented with Phulkar, literally “flower work” and Bagh, garden, a variation where the embroidery completely covers the support material. The support fabric is most often an auspicious dark red, or more rarely, an indigo blue or a white reserved for elderly women, on which the embroidery is executed in untwisted floss silk called pat, sourced from Kashmir, Afghanistan and Bengal and dyed yellow,orange,burgundy,bright pink, purple, blue and green in Amritsar and Jammu. Darning stitch is used to embroider from the reverse side of the fabric, with the longer float on the face, thus allowing large surfaces to be densely embroidered with economy. Aside from their everyday use as veils, the Phulkari is integrated into the lives of the women. and is an indispensable element in ceremonies, especially those concerning birth,death and marriage. When a girl child is born, the women of the family organize a great feast, marking the beginning of the task of the child`s grandmother in creating the future bride`s trousseau. The most significant items of the trousseau are the chope, a reversible Phulkari worked double running stitch and wrapped around the bride after the ritual bath two days before the wedding, and the suber phulkari, composed of five eight petaled lotuses, worn by the bride when she walks around the sacred fire during the wedding ceremony. A phulkari is also worn 11 days after the birth of a son, when the mother goes out for the first time after delivery, and when visiting a temple during religious festivals to request prosperity and happiness for loved ones.
ASSAM SILK SAREE SHOP IN NORTH LAKHIMPUR ASSAM (Photo credit: rajkumar1220)
Sibsagar is a district in upper Assam. It is called Shivasagar these days. It is an important historical town in Assam. It drives its name from a huge water tank named after the Ahom King Sib Singh. Sagar means a large water body. Ahoms are not the original inhabitants of Assam. They came here from China through Patkai range of hills. Slowly from invaders, they stayed here bewitched by the beauty of the land, lush green woods and hills. During there early days they subdued local Chutia and Kachari kings.
They established their capital in Rongpur which falls in this district. They were very fond of very huge water tanks and made so many of them. The water never dries in them indicating that they are fed by underground water sources.
The town is famous for silk clothes. In those times, there was a loom in every home on which women of the house weaved clothes of silk and cotton not for sale but for the family folks. Silk was obtained from three kinds of worms namely eri (Attacus ricini), Muga(anthraea assama) & Pat(Bombyx textor). they produce different kinds of silk. These silk worms feed on leaves of different trees. Eri feeds on castor oil plant, Muga worms feed on sum-tree and Pat worms on mulberry trees. A fine white thread which is much valued is obtained by feeding Muga on chapa (Magnolia griffithi) and mezankuri (tetranthera polyantha). During British times, Muga production ousted all other forms. Pat production was lowest.
These days, there are many shops which do roaring business in silk materials. Silk clothes are acquired from Manipur mostly these days. In the town there is a popular shops called Sangeeta dealing in all sorts of silk materials. Most of the visitors to the city make it a point to buy tea, silk dress materials and visit the sibsagar tank and famous Shiva temple called Shiv dhol.
When we were small boys, every year ten days before the festival Dussehra, our mother would choose a small area on one of the mud walls and make a crude image of a woman, stars and moon and bullocks with the cow dung. We lived in the village. Almost everyone has some land on which agriculture was done. Also there were plenty of animals like cows and buffaloes. Houses were made of mud and walls and floors were plastered with wet cow dung. We did not understand all this and thought this as some folk art. It was called Sanjhi. Now this ritual has almost vanished like many other rituals which were observed in the rural parts of the country. The images slightly resembled the Warli art. Both were drawn almost in the straight lines meeting to form triangles and squares.
Sanjhi images in my sisters home at a village in chandigarh
The image is called Sanjhi and established on the first day of the nine days of Durga Puja or Navratras. In fact, a common thread runs throughout India and festivals have the similar philosophy behind them. Only the style varies from place to place. Even days coincide. The images of Sanjhi are suggestive of Durga, Uma and Katyayani. And just like Durga Puja in which the idols of the deity are immersed in the river waters, Sanjhi festival also ends with the immersion of Sanjhi on the day of Dussehra.
The festival is observed mainly in Haryana and Punjab. The girls offer prayers and food to the goddess everyday.
These shapes including stars, moon, sun, face of the goddess etc are given different colors. The star-studded collage is fixed on the wall of a dwelling, facing south, in the later half of the early October or late September months. In some places, the image of Sanjhi is painted on the wall. The art of Sanjhi is quite native and simple.
Apart from the various forms of Sanjhi created on the first day of the moon in Kartika, there are some other rituals observed by girls during the Navaratras. Devotional songs are sung just after dusk. Lighted earthen lamps are held by adolescent girls who assemble around Sanjhi. They sing chorus songs, that are centuries old, to please the goddess. The girls, who sing these songs are rewarded by their elders with token money.
Sanjhi on Wall
The girls believe that by appeasing Sanjhi they will get a good husband. In one of the songs, Sanjhi is asked about her basic needs — what would she like to wear or eat. In another song, the girls promise to appease her by offering presents. This low key group activity is held every evening for nine days in front of the Sanjhi image put up on walls. On the tenth day of Dussehra, the images from the walls, along with the cow dung used as an adhesive, are scratched and removed. Only the head of the figure is securely contained inside a small earthen vessel whose belly has been ridden with several holes. In the evening, the girls with their respective earthen vessels float their lighted pots in the village pond.
The vessels are hit with cudgels by the village youth to stop the bowls from reaching the other end. A legend says that none of the bowls should float across the pond and touch the other end, otherwise misfortune would fall on the village.