Chanderi - The Sufi Weave

Chanderi is an old fortified town nestled between the hills alongside Betwa River in Madhya Pradesh. It does not even have a train station, but the fame and glory of its weave is known to all the world. Weaving is literally the heartbeat of the town, the streets reverberating with the incessant beats of the khatka (loom).

Ain-ul-Mulk was assigned by Allauddin Khilji (1296-1316) to capture Chanderi and bring it under the throne of Delhi.  Ain-ul-Mulk was the disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, and on his request Nizamuddin sent one of his khalifas – Hazrat Wajihuddin - to accompany the battalion to ensure his victory. After the conquest, Wajihuddin decided to stay back in Chanderi where he established his khanqah. Waji was a facilitator for Chistia Nizamia sect which had many adherents in Bengal and so his disciples came not only from in and around Chanderi but also as far as Bengal and Dhaka. Dhaka was famous for its fine Muslin and the migrated weavers most likely initiated the weaving that Chanderi came to be renowned for. The cultural mingling is evident even today as the staple diet of the community is the surprisingly unlikely serving of fish and rice.  One also comes across place names such as Bangali Talaiya and Bengal Bagh in the middle of Madhya Pradesh.

Historically, the first mention of Chanderi fabric appears in Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl which documents the fine weaves of Chanderi. During Aurangzeb’s reign, another book mentions the existence of an imperial workshop in Chanderi which produced and extremely fine cloth with gold and silver worked into it. In 1857, a British officer R C Sterndale states that Chanderi is famous for the muslin manufactured here, a fabric popular with the princes and nobles of North India and the Deccan, the courts of the princely states of Gwalior and Baroda being the major patrons. He describes the cloth as soft and transparent with its ends fringed with gold thread. He also claims that the material is extremely expensive, a saree costing from 800 to 1000 Rupees and more. In Baroda, a 120 feet long pagdi / turban was part of the ceremonial dress for the royal family.

Till the 1920s, the fabric was only woven in white or natural coloured thread. Ram Narayan Mishra, a prosperous saree trader claims to be the first to introduce coloured thread in the bana (weft), resulting in pastel hued fabrics. Today raw silk is used in the tana (warp) in almost all sarees imparting a lustrous finish and the bana varies from cotton, mercerized cotton, silk, katan silk and such with zari borders and motifs. A good saree has 10-17000 tana threads. Some of the more popular colours are totai (parrot green), mor gardani (blue-green of a peacock’s neck), tamatari (tomato red), pyazi (Onion pink), neembo turanji (lemon yellow), gajari (carrot red), angoori (grape like pale green), narangi (orange), kesari (saffron), badami (almond), chutney (sap green), and surmayi (grey hued).

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