Embroideries of Desert India
The western Indian desert, which includes the regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat, has been the home to nomadic tribes with ties to other nomads living in Pakistan, Turkestan, and Central Asia, all of whom share a tradition of fine embroidered textiles. With the coming of the Mughal courts to India in the sixteenth century, design workshops, or karkhanas, were set up in the custom of the Persian Safavids. Local embroiderers were brought into the workshops to create the finely embroidered cottons and silks worn by the court. When the Mughal court in Delhi broke apart in the late 18th century, many of these skilled craftsmen left for the smaller independent Indian kingdoms, especially those of Rajasthan and Gujarat, where embroidered cloth was still highly prized.
These craftspeople, who constituted the Machi caste, set up professional workshops and created fine embroideries for rich patrons, court aristocracy, religious institutions or traders. As they settled they developed distinctive styles rooted in local traditions. Styles of the court are exhibited in the red satin aba and the odhni on the south wall. The aba and the odhni show the fine embroidery and the extravangant use of gold and silver thread that was characteristic of court wear. The aba is a traditional style of Moslem dress, while the odhni was probably created for a Hindu woman because it depicts human figures and animals, design elements forbidden to Moslems. The other embroideries in the gallery are typical of ethnic styles worn by nomadic groups throughout the western Indian desert.