Ask any local craftsperson and they will tell you there is a story behind every weft, every warp, every motif, every stamp that comes together to celebrate the rich textiles of India—so many to count. With the country celebrating its handloom history, and the world opening up to it, Bazaar India decided to bring you six books that document the heritage of Indian handlooms.
Kashmir Shawls: The TAPI Collection (2012) by Steven Cohen, Rosemary Crill, Monique Lévi-Strauss and Jeffrey B Spurr
There was a time in 19th century Europe when every women of fashion carried a Kashmir shawl. Its intricate motifs and weaves were arguably the most popular and high-priced of Indian handlooms. Over time, as most other handlooms in India and abroad, the weave was imitated with power looms. The book traces the evolution of shawl design and business from the Mughal period through to the early 20th century, highlighting the role of embroidery in Pashmina shawls, with essays by renowned experts.
Textile Arts of India: Kokyo Hatanaka Collection
This one may be the most extensive, in depth, and luxurious book to ever be published on the textiles of India. From painted to block-printed, roller-printed, tie-dyed, woven, embroidered, exquisitely hand-painted with gold and silver leaf, as well as prized ikats and more—this book delves into the handlooms of India dating from the seventeenth to the first half of the twentieth century. Hundreds of full-colour photographs truly add to the visceral experience of the book.
Saris: Tradition and Beyond by Martand Singh Rta Kapur Chishti
If there is a book on saris one must read, it is this one. A more comprehensive book has not been written yet. From materials to techniques, histories, styles, and economics—the author (in a span of two decades) traverses 14 states to trace the diversity of the garment, and brings you everything you need to know about India’s iconic nine yards.
The Warp and the Weft: Community and Gender Identity Among the Weavers of Banaras by Vasanthi Raman
There is life and history in the hands that make the art we wear, and Raman illustrates that in her research into the genealogy of both, the Muslim weavers of Varanasi and the crisis—brought on by the communal violence of the early 1990s, and earlier on with the partition of the subcontinent—to produce a telling work on gender, class, religion, and how it all reflected in the weaves they produced. Raman’s is a work of incisive social documentation combining rich ethnographic fieldwork and economic analysis.
Textiles and Weavers in South India by Vijaya Ramaswamy
Ramaswamy delves into the socio-economic world of the weavers of the handloom industry in south India to find the role of caste, religion, and culture in textile production and trade. But what is unique about this book is Ramaswamy’s research into the technology of the loom, the ins-and-outs of domestic and foreign trade of textiles, and textile policies—and that it explores the lesser known south Indian industry is a big plus.
Shifting Sands: Kutch: Textiles, Traditions, Transformation by Archana Shah
Of history and legend, myths, mores, and miracles, Archana Shah, in this book, offers a window into the unique culture and craft of the people of Kutch, as well as their food and homes. The focus remains on their ancient textile traditions and the role it plays in the everyday living and cultural growth of the community.
Lead image collage: Amazon India