Many traditional crafts in India are on the verge of extinction. Often labeled as languishing or vanishing crafts, they need our utmost attention to preserve the valuable heritage and propagate the craft through sustained education, training and skill development. One such craft has its roots in Udaipur, Rajasthan.
We are talking about the opulent Danka embroidery or Danke ka kaam.
Danka embroidery or Danke ka kaam is a unique embroidery, practised in few parts of Udaipur in Rajasthan. With little formal documentation on the history and evolution of this craft, not much can be understood on how exactly it originated. However, the reason for this craft to survive till today is the unstinted patronage it received from the royal Rajput women of the Mewar region who adorned it on various occasions in ceremonial costumes.
However, with the passage of time and disruption in fashion and tastes, this mandatory embellishment on the fabrics has lost its royal patronage and this precious form of art remained confined to a small region. And, owning such an exquisite masterpiece was simply out of reach for common people.
What is Danka Embroidery
Put simply, the embroidery involves sewing the square shaped pieces of gold, silver or other metals on a fabric using multiple strands of zari using motifs from nature.
Danka is a small diamond shaped concave piece of metal, originally gold or silver that are hand-embroidered on silk, chiffon and satin with zari (or kasab). The Danka pieces are stitched on the fabric in Zardosi style using a few strands of gold or silver zari.
The process involves fine craftsmanship with delicate handling of the metal pieces to ensure that the motifs are neatly formed as they get engraved on the fabric. Some of the commonly used motifs include peacocks, paisleys, flowers and other patterns inspired by nature. The price of Dankas could be about Rs. 3000 per 10 grams and the number of Dankas for each design is counted and distributed to the craftsmen.
Materials and process
The Danka is cut from thin metal sheets of about 30cm X 2cm. Each piece is about 1 to 1.5 sq cm. The pieces are hammered gently to get a concave depression on the plate. The pieces have tiny holes pierced on them in the four corners for sewing on the fabric. While the craft originated with the use of gold or silver plating, gradually brass and plastic sheets were also used to make it affordable.
To get started with the embroidery, first, the fabric is laid on the wooden frame called adda and it is evenly stretched till it gets the right amount of pull. The craftsmen sit on the floor to work on the fabric. The Dankas are picked up and stitched on the fabric with the needle, using matching thread, from the corner towards the center.
Current status of the craft and challenges
The craft is predominantly practiced by men from the Bohra community and today there are 39 recorded practitioners of Danka.
While the craft has remained within their families and picked up by younger generations, mostly as a part time engagement; one can sense the resistance to propagate the craft since the artisans are apparently quite content with their clientele and satisfied with the earning.
- Danka embroidery has remained confined to the kaarkhaanas (workshops) where the embroidery is done; the clients often visited them and there was no need for the craftsman to move out of their place.
- The limited patronage and lack of awareness and appreciation of the craft outside the traditional Rajput royals has made it difficult to spread beyond the confines of Udaipur.
- Moreover, the non-availability of the craft in off-the-shelf mode makes marketing and promotion a bigger challenge.
- In addition, the affordability factor has also worked against its popularity even among the connoisseurs due to the ‘local’ identity of the craft.
- And, today, very few can appreciate its richness and subtlety since people’s preferences have changed over the years
- Another challenge emerges from the process wherein cheaper alternatives to the materials used could affect its original appeal
Efforts to revive the craft through skill development and other forms of support
Today, thanks to the efforts of a few organizations and individuals, Danka embroidery has survived through the ages despite its self-limiting, aristocratic patronage. Since it’s not an ordinary craft that can be revived and made popular among today’s generation. The cost factor, the skills involved infusing life in the motifs and the nature of material call for many measures to save the craft from dying.
- Danka embroidery could become a part of luxury couture, thus creating a demand for the craft by unveiling it to fashion designers who can work closely with the craftsmen and convince them to share their expertise with others for training and skill development
- There is a dire need to include include dying crafts in the Design School curriculum to the younger generation can pick up the skills under the guidance of the master craftsman
- The use of Danka embroidery can be extended to beautify furnishings and combine it with other crafts to widen its use on different fabrics and not just ceremonial attire of royal women
- Workshops, exhibitions and demonstrations can help in sensitization about the value and intricacies of the craft and the nuanced process of actually working with the materials and tools
- Combine it with tourism and heritage to showcase the traditional talent of craftsmen who’ve practiced it for centuries
- Identifying and developing the craft cluster through access to common facilities and educating the artisans about including contemporary taste could benefit many practitioners
- Creation of forward and backward linkage to the artisans who want to launch themselves as entrepreneurs and grow the market for the craft, connect with funding agencies, CSR project, banks is essential in instilling confidence in their business
Whether it forms a part of luxury modern costume or traditional bridal trousseau, Danka embroidery needs to attract designers and promoters who can proudly exhibit the craft and display the embroidery skills on a global scale.
(Images Credit: http://www.handicrafts.gov.in/)