Banaras was a great centre of textile-trade as well as a market
for Kashmir shawls. Dacca muslin and its own manufacture: "it has a very
considerable silk, cotton and woollen manufacture of its own." These included
some expensive type of probably zari and brocades. Mrs. Colin Mackenzie, a
traveller to Banaras in1847 AD, records some, interesting information about the
zari and brocade textiles. An Indian prince who visited their party wore "wide
trousers of cloth of gold", or brocade. This seems to be very popular among the
gentry of Banaras, which is corroborated by her later account and also b)' the
surviving examples of that period.
Mrs. Mackenzie furnishes a very interesting account of the shops
which dealt in the zaribrocade. "This was the house of one of the richest
manufacturers at Banaras. Half of the room was raised one step. Here we sat
while bales of the most magnificent gold and silver stuffs, called "Kinkob"
were unrolled before us. I do not suppose any European brocades equal them.
They are used by the natives for trousers some of the muslins spotted with gold
and muslin shawls and scarves with gold and silver borders for about thirty
rupees were beautiful..." The above account not only gives a picture of the
trade but also informs us about the price which these stuffs fetched in those
times, assuming that the prices offered to Mrs. Mackenzie were meant for
fabrics of high quality. She also informs us how brocade was popular in the
ladies' dress as she narrates her visit to the Rajah of Sattara.
The dress of the ladies included, "a very short red jacket with
short sleeves ...a red drapery embroidered or spriggled with gold enveloped the
whole person ...the jacket was (made of) cloth of gold...a singing woman, with
stiff outstanding petticoats of red gold, was introduced." These stray
information leave no doubt about the popularity of the brocades used as
material for both male and female costumes. The men also had their coats made
of brocade. This seems to be the popular costume-type all over the country in
the nineteenth century, specimens of which are preserved inBharat Kala Bhavan
and other collections; some of them are being reproduced in this book. Soon
after, Dr. J. Forbes Watson published his monumental work, The Textile
Manufacturers and the People of India. This seems to be the first authentic and
systematic record of the facts relating to the textile industry in the
nineteenth-century India. He quotes Captain Meadows Taylor, who observes:"a
piece of silver of about the length and thickness of man's forefinger gilded or
of pure gold was beaten and drawn through successive holes in a steel plate an
line wire was literally as thin as a hair". This was the kalabattu. Water adds
that the gold or silver thread, badla, was twisted around silk thread and
The women who manufactured the gold and silver thread were called
batavaiya(those who twisted into the shape of kalabattu).The brocades were
meant forcholi sleeves etc. or for the entire piece for the choli. Watson
reproduced a sample of the kimkhabfrom Banaras in his Vol.7. It was a silk
gauze and gold showing diagonal stripes and flowers in gold on a mauve ground,
which was and is a very popular shade for the ground (angan).Unfortunately, the
price of the stuff js not quoted; the textile was 13' 8" long and 2' 10" wide.
However, it is strange that Watson did not furnish any account of the zari
sarisand scarves which seem to have been very popular in the nineteenth century
and are still very popular. The official catalogue of 1 he Crafts Exhibition,
Delhi (1902-03) IndianArt at Delhi by Sir George Watt throws immense light on
the Banaras kimkhabs,and zaris. The process of manufacture is recorded in the
following statement: "The small needle-like spool (simple pencil of bamboo,
actually called 'needle' by the weavers) is by the hand carried in and out of
the exact number of threads of the warp that may be necessary in the production
of the pattern". Thus, loosely it was called 'loom-embroidery'. Sir George
further informs that Banaras has been the chief centre of brocades or kimkhabs.
The zari work was known in Banaras as pot-than. He distinguishes
the various sub-types, e.g., baftas, amarusand even the gold and silk gauzes or
abrawanswhich were brocades in only varying degrees of the use of gold thread;
the brocades in pure silk were known as amarus, those with gold wire or thread
(kalabattu)in addition to silk were kimkhab,sometimes a speck of golden thread
orkalabattu illuminiated a particular feature of the pattern in the amaru.
Kimkhab came very near to borderings, braidings and trimmings. The kimkhabs
included pure cloth of gold or silver, the brocades with greater portion of the
surface in kalabattu" which were too heavy to be worn and therefore, were
chiefly used for curtains and trappings.
A business family, connected with the trade in Banaras, informed
that for trappings and curtains the gold or silver thread (kalabattu) was made
of much heavier material known as ekpara, dopara, tinpara, chaupara and even
chhapara brocade. These various grades were determined on the basis of the
number of kalabattu threads repeated in a given spare; for example, the ekpara
represents ten such kalabattu threads in a running inch. Thus, even the
chaupara was supposed to be a very heavy material popularly used for trappings
of elephants etc. It was only rarely that the chaupara was used. The curtains
were also heavy fabrics and they were double-sided weaving ( do-rukha).
Similarly, very close weaving was known as khes
.The other factor which determined the price of the kimkhabwas
the degree of gilding on the kalabattu 'thread', which was determined as
ekratia, doratia, tinratia, chauratia and so on; i.e., containing one or more
ratis (one rati = nearly 7.5 gm.) in the kalabattu thread which had its unit as
one thousand or twelve hundred yards etc. (the hazargaja or barahsaugaja).
Originally, the manufacture of kalabattuwas an indigenous industry but later on
it was imported from France. The "Gold Mohour" brand French gilded wire or
thread (i.e., kalabattu) was most popular among the Banaras weavers. Thickness
of the textile is mainly. due to the silk threads used in the 'enamel' work.
The colour pattern in the 'enamel' work was technically known asalfi. The very
fine kimkhab work was known as ektara.
he Banaras weavers recollect that Surat manufactured very fine
gold' thread' (kalllbattu) which was used for very fine type of work.It is also
learnt that formerly the two localities of Banaras, viz. Madanpura and Alaipura
monopolised the manufacture of the zari and brocades respectively. However, in
the present times both the centres in Banaras manufacture both the varieties.
The third variety of brocades, according to Sir George, known as bartas or pot-
thans, had only certain portions of the pattern in gold or silver thread
(kalabattu) while the abrawan (a Persian term) meant a silk gauze or muslin
with certain portions of the pattern shown in kalabattu.
The exhibition displayed some important and beautiful kimkhabs
from Banaras and Ahmedabad. The garments represented a riding coat and a long
coat jalidar (mesh pattern enclosing rosettes) and lahariyadar (wavy lines)
pattern respectively. They were bordered with gold embroidery and pearls; The
gudari pattern anga showed uniform patches of several colours and beautiful
pale border. Watt observed that due to many factors, the kimkhab industry was
on decline in the early twentieth century. The taste changed considerably
during the nineteenth century with the advent of the British rule and the
manufacturers were forced to change according to the new patron's taste. The
Banaras brocades witnessed a major change due to a special and interesting
factor. Watt recorded that a weaver happened to visit London. The state of
Banaras weavers, the manufacture of zari textiles and its trade are very
well-recorded in the District Gazetteer of 1909.
Most of the workers (in weaving and cognate crafts) were Muslims,
yet there were high-cast Hindus also, total about 12,000 people." All the raw
material is imported from Bengal, Central Asia and even China (via Bombay).
China silk is a yellow colour and fine quality. The Central Asian is known as
sangaland this is either wardwani or white or bashiri or yellow (from Samarkand
and Bukhara). The Central Asian import is dwindling because the cost is
enhanced by the necessity of sorting the threads which are of varying
thickness".. "Of Late Italian silk has been largely imported from Como and
elsewhere and is used for the well known 'Kashi silk' and similar fabrics".
Many of those were dyed by celebrated artisans, some exported to Lucknow by
Nawab Wazirs. But aniline dyes imported from Europe replaced vegetal dyes.
Brocades were exported to Europe the patterns are often merely geometrical. The
kimkhabs are very heavy in texture and are seldom used for fabrics.
A lighter fabric, both in material and ornamentation is the
pot-than or bafta work, which in colouring and pattern differs but little from
the former. Where the kalabattu work in gold or silver is omitted the brocade
is known as amaru and this is much in demand among those who cannot afford the
high prices demanded for kimkhab work.Similarly, in every sphere of lndian art
and industry cheap and decadent European influence was felt. The colours used
in the Banarasi brocades were indigenous and showed a preference to dazzling
and variegated tones. The import of European chemical pigment, however,
considerably influenced the local taste, still in certain cases it could not
substitute some of the very popular colours.
But the European customers or the Westernised Indian patrons
cared for more sophisticated or sombre colour- schemes. This vitally changed
the entire out look of the Banarasi manufacturers, their colour-sense was
irretrievably lost and consequently led to the decline in taste. This state of
affairs continues in some proportions. Certain weavers, induced by the traders,
still produce incredibly bad motifs, most inspired by cheap Edwardian or