A stitch in time
Whether it is the riveting aari threadwork of Rajasthan or the stark-yet-striking work Nilgiri Toda wool work, the traditional craft of any region is sought after. However, with the Parsi community unconfined to a specific geographic location, gara art, or their traditional pattern of embroidery is slowly vanishing. At the recently concluded Bengaluru chapter of the World Zarathushti Chamber of Commerce Winter Bazaar, the city saw a few fine examples of this art form on textiles.
Dating back hundreds of years, gara work is a combination of the forbidden knot, French knots and long- and short-stitches. Nature is a popular theme in Gara art and recurring motifs include parrots and peacocks, flowers, plants and trees. These were worked onto dark-coloured fabrics using thread in shades of cream. The original patterns depicted flora and fauna, though with time and due to the Chinese influence, pagodas and dragons also began appearing in gara work.
“Every motif that appears on a gara is imbued with meaning, symbolising divinity or prosperity. For instance, a floral pattern indicates creativity,” says Zeshah Davar, an artisan from Delhi, adding, ”Every time you wear it you feel special as there is an emotion attached to it.”
She adds Chinese words and symbols for wisdom, good luck or prosperity, embroidered in gold thread on the gara are also common. “Since there is an emotion and meaning attached to the design, it is one of the most sentimental gifts one can get or gift.”
Silks and georgettes are most commonly used for gara work, and though they primarily adorned saris and shawls, men sported them as detailing on their ethnic suits and head gear too.
According to Mumbai-based Zenobia Davar who was in Bengaluru for the bazaar, ”No one buys a gara for the simple purpose of wearing it; it is an investment in the art form. As with any work of art, it takes take time and effort and unlike many assets, garas retained their value or even appreciate, depending on their style and pattern.”
Zenobia who runs a boutique exclusively (where?)for gara-embellished apparel says her fascination with the art form began when she was a little girl. “I would spend my summer vacations helping an elderly Parsi lady in our colony with her embroidery.”
Bengaluru-based Sanaya Patell, still beams with happiness as she reminisces being gifted her heirloom gara. “I was given my great grandmother’s 200-year-old gara sari during my wedding; it has been passed on from her time and is still well preserved. The speciality of a gara is that even after ages, the fabric and threadwork is so fine it still looks new.”
Since they were never meant to be mass produced, every piece of gara work had a story behind it. Zenobia who inherited her great grandmother’s gara sari recalls how the first prize at gara art event in 2019 went to a lady who chose to craft an unusual design. “Unlike most contestants who had embroidered nature themes, her Gara depicted war scenes and battle fields complete with horses and armed soldiers. I realised people’s tastes vary and now we customise patterns.”
“Gara is time consuming and it takes months to complete a simple sari. One of our recent creations depicted sporting activities such as football, river rafting, cycling and more, in a story format.”