Quest for Glory: Of Zardozi and Kasab


Romancing with the opulent and eloquent forms of fabric which trace their root back in the 18th century when the rulers of Mughal empire and Kings used to adorn their palatial forts with zari embroidered drapes and stitched the royal metal thread work clothes for the entire family. The most luxurious form of embroidery employing the real form of gold and silver thread work to finely craft the silhouettes showcasing designer motifs and natural expressions are largely likened in the Indian subcontinent. These heavy works intricate embellished zari threadwork featuring the gorgeous semi-precious stones and pearls to add the beauty of these silhouettes.

Kasab embroidery is a variation of zari embroidery which is often woven on fabrics like cotton, silk, velvet or brocade for a finer finish and glorious outlook. It is often believed that the Queens used to discard these clothes after wearing them just once. They were given to the housemaids and servants who would manufacture their replicas in order to reserve the royal heritage of the realm. The craftsmen create embroidery using the actual fibres of gold or silver metallic threads on fibres. These rich and elite looking embroideries instantly uplift the flamboyance of the royal aesthetic.

The artwork of zari was introduced in India in the late 16th century when the Mughal invaders promoted the zar work. Hence, the Persian origin name “zar” which means gold and “dozi” means embroidery. The eclectic art of Persia showcasing the exotic aesthetics with a regal aura of Islamic expression is proof that the motifs were inspired by nature like leaves, vies, flowers, trees, elephants and so on. The combination of flora and fauna wonderfully exhibited on these cascading silhouettes exude ethereal vibes.

The Making

To make the zari, the foils of gold and silver metallic fibres are first melted to make them malleable which will allow the wire to easily take the shape and mould into different creative form. Ingots of metallic strips are kept between the steel sheets and undergone perforation which helps them turn into thin small strips. They are then hammered to make them turn into perfectly shaped metallic thin strips. It is done to achieve the desirable thinness and create intricate embroidery on the rich textile.

However, mostly, this form of embroidery is largely confused by people since Badla is also quite a similar form of embroidery. Yet the basic difference is that the when the plain metallic wire is used to weave embroidery, it is Badla but when the wire is wrapped around the thread, it is known as Kasab.

The artwork of heritage zari embroidery witnesses a glorious period during the reign of Akbar who was a ruler of luxury. His great grand son, Aurangzeb demolished the handcrafted art due to high costs of raw materials and rarity of the silhouettes. The craftsmen carried the art on their own and moved on to Rajasthan and Punjab to look for some work opportunities. Due to industrialization in the 18th and the 19th century, these craftsmen suffered a major setback and it was only until independence in 947 when these artisans were given investment and funds along with proper jobs to preserve the heritage part of the glorious past.

The craftsmen gather around Addaa sitting crossed-legged with the wooden framework and tools. Special tools like curved hooks, needles, salmaa (pure gold fibre), sitaara metal wraps), sequins, beads dabkaa (thread) and kasba (thread). The fabric is chosen to initiate the process of zari embroidery, namely satin, silk or velvet. The wooden framework is stretched out and the fabric is spread evenly to start with the intricate art of zardozi. Immaculately integrating the needle to permeate into the design of the fabric and create fun and interesting motifs.

Types of Zari Embroidery

There are primarily three types of zari embroidery although back in times, rad our grandmother’s used to wear pure zari embroidery work sarees. However, with time, craftsmen started using more of silver metallic content than pure gold to weave the gorgeous bold pattu border on the Kanjeevaram and benarsi brocade sarees. You shall notice that whenever on a saree spree, the shopkeeper always emphasizes on the rich and heavy work of zari border or zari pallu for it adds the value to the saree. The heavier and more the zari work on the saree, the more expensive it is. There are mainly 3 types of zari embroidery which are available in the market:

Pure Zari work which employs wrapping of the silver metallic wire around pure silk thread after which it is electroplated with pure gold. This step can also be done by machines today, however, it was performed manually before industrialization. In today’s date, the pure gold zari embroidery is just a plain myth and available rarely since the quantum of silver content used is much higher as compared to gold. The zari work in your grandmother’s saree will be pure work, so preserve them and take special care. On burning the saree, you will notice that the pieces of gold and silver and left behind which is a proof that zari embroidery is eternal.

Tested zari involves the similar process of wrapping the silver metallic wire around the thread but the copper wire is electroplated here instead of the gold wire. This is the reason why they look very similar to pure zari work sarees and are sold like hotcakes in the market for their impeccable look and almost similar price range. Until you have an eye for detail, you will be caught in the trap!

Imitation zari work is basically gilding thread with gold colored powder. These sarees are cheaper as compared to the pure and tested zari work sarees and the quality is absolutely low-key which tends to show its true color by fading away and turning black. They are totally artificial, and the process is rarely used on kanchi silk sarees.

How to maintain the beauty of zari embroidery dresses?

In order to retain the shine and beauty of the original zari embroidery ensembles, taking special care of these attires is a must. Since they are made of silver and gold metal wires, they can easily react with the atmosphere causing the weave to appear dull and dry. You must wrap them in soft cotton or muslin cloth to maintain its shine and newness.

Further, you should also dry clean these attires from time to time and wash them with mild soap water only. To avoid any reaction with chemicals, keep them safe and secure from any environmental factor.

Pure Elegance


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