All About the Sacredness of Textiles - The New Indian Express

All About the Sacredness of Textiles

Published: 28th July 2014 03:33 PM

Last Updated: 28th July 2014 03:33 PM

NEW DELHI: Noted textile expert Jasleen Dhamija examines a rich collection of fabrics placing special emphasis on their role in various religious ceremonies of India, in a new book.

Dhamija, who is renowned internationally as a Philosopher of Living Cultural Traditions, collaborates with a team of researchers for the just released book "Sacred Textiles of India" which talks about the ritual importance of cloth.

"This book is the answer to the question of how clothes can be sacred. Weaving was one of the earliest techniques man had developed. The tents used by nomads were made of textile and many esoteric concepts owe their origin to the textile industry," says Dhamija.

"Every religious ritual is linked to textile. Esoteric philosophic concepts like Buddhist sutra, grantha and tantra owe their origin to textile where sutra means to weave and tantra means to spread the thread," she says.

Articles illustrate Islamic and Buddhist textiles of Ladakh, the ritual garments of Parsi Zoroastrians, the representation of sacred trees in the kanthas of Bengal, the Hindu, Islamic and Christian traditions of Goa, and the significance of the torans of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

A chapter is also devoted to the various fabrics imported from India and which are regarded special the ceremonies of the Kalabari of Nigeria.

Elaborate pictures and prints of textiles from different parts of the country are shown and the writer explains each of these in detail by relating it to religion.

"The act of creation is seen as a ritual and these traditions are maintained even till today," says the author.

Dhamija talks about various weaving traditions like that of the Padmasalis of South India who owe their origin to Bhavana rishi, the Ansaris and the Naqshbandas of North India.

Monisha Ahmed, one of the book's contributors who has done research on the textile traditions of Ladakhi people writes about the significance of prayer flags in Ladakh and the white scarves offered to the Matreya Buddha by the Ladhakhis during important occasions like births, weddings and the welcome of dignitaries.

Ahmed talks about the mythical loom of Duguma, wife of King Gesar who is the hero-god in these regions. According to the myth, Duguma continues to weave to the present day and that when she completes her fabric the world will come to an end.

"A monk's possessions are rugs, two white towels, robes and wraps or shawls along with a pair of shoes, a staff, alms bowl and a filter for straining living organisms from water in order to avoid taking life. Textiles have always played an important part in the religious life people of Leh. Large number of fabrics are abundantly used in the monasteries and mosques," says Ahmed.

Shernaz Cama, a Delhi-based academic talks about how "sudreh" (muslin undershirt) and "kusti" (sacred girdle) play an important role in Parsi religion.

"Parsi cloth is supposed to be sensuous fabrics but the most important ritual cloth in our religion is "sudreh" and "kusti" as it is part of a pre-birth ritual and it is the only thing that accompanies a person when he dies to the tower of silence," says Shernaz.

Wendell Rodericks, a fashion designer from Goa writes about the textile heritage of Goa and the cult of Shantadurga Goddess of Goa who loves sarees.

According to Rodricks, Shantadurga appears in the dreams of her devotees and asks for sarees and other gifts. Devotees offer the bast sarees they can afford to the Goddess like Paithanis and the sarees are kept in the back rooms of temples and are later auctioned to devotees, who treat these saris as sacred and wear them for auspicious occassions like birth of a child, weddings and pujas.

Such is the sacredness of clothes that a baby is swaddled in them on birth and when a person departs from the world they are wrapped in clothes.

The book has elaborate pictures and prints of textiles from different parts of the country and the writer explains each of the these in detail by relating it to the religion.

The author talks about the ancient fostat cloth prepared in the Western part of India and tradition is still maintained in Kutch and Gujarat. The material, discovered in pyramid in Egypt continues to be exported not only to West Asia but also to countries in South east Asia.

The Sufi saint, Kabir is seen weaving in one of miniature paniting. The act of creation is considered to be sacred and when something is woven, it multiplies. The book discuss the tradition of weaving, which was inherited by Lt Jaffar Ali who followed Bahayuddin Naqsyabandi of Benaras.

Describing the links of sufism with weaving, the book says, "the rhythm of beating the whop and rhythm of embroidery gives peace and happiness to the inner self.

"Weaving is considered a form of calling the God. The Bhajans accompanied with weaving is considered to be sacred," says the author.

Paatan Patola is described as a magical cloth with history related to it. In south east Asia, an old Paatan Patola is considered to be sacred and the priest opens it only once a year intending to tell the future of the person.

The fabric is woven into grid format(9 grids) or navgrahas which gives power to the cloth. This is why they are used in various religious purposes, says the author.

"The Parsis are closely associated with the sacredness of cloth. They wear a kusti and Sadra everyday. The white cloth has the significance of spreading happiness and goodness. It is a white muslin cloth. The "girebaan" holds together the pocket of good deeds," says Shehnaz Lama, another contributor to the book.

The Kantha is another type of cloth which has a sacred cosmology associated with it. It has trees, animals and plants made on it, which infuses energy inside the child.

The book also talks about the Torans of Gujarat which are said to protect the inmates and are used to greet people and is generally placed on the threshold of a house.

Textile, says the book are second only to agriculture in generating revenue. Born in the Harappan civilisation, the textile industry has long been the backbone of the Indian economy. These were exported to the different parts of the world.

"On the cover of the coffee table book is a scarf produced in Patra, which has a powerful association with Shakti. I thought that this would be the apt cover of the book," says Dhamija.

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