Bharat ki Chhap - Episode 8: Synthesis and Growth
Director: Chandita Mukherjee; Cinematographer: Ranjan Palit
Duration: 00:50:23; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 1.819; Saturation: 0.062; Lightness: 0.368; Volume: 0.256; Cuts per Minute: 6.012; Words per Minute: 57.402
Summary: Starting with Qutbuddin Aibak's reign in the north of India where science and technology were stagnant, this episode investigates the introduction of the printing press and new weapons through Portuguese rule in Goa. Science and technology flourished only for the needs of royalty such as armaments, developed water-supply systems and unmatched dyeing techniques for cloth.
Bharat ki Chhap: EPISODE 8
Synthesis and Growth
For the first time in the history we've known...
comes the age of paper now – of words and records
Of paintings and crafts and travellers' accounts
That reveal to us customs and lifestyles then
1. People were coming from West Asia and Central Asia and this had an influence on trade, agriculture, architecture and innovation. The existing political scenario was one in which the big empires had declined and little kingdoms existed, where local rulers were bullying the people. Under this regime of over taxation there were many including farmers who had begun to produce less – generally this period is one of decline in agriculture and trade.
At this point came Qutub-idin-Aibak, a general of Ghori, and he began with appointing beureacrats who got paid a salary and not a lagaan of the poor villagers. They had to leave the villagers alone and collect a salary and live within that. This led to the whole system beginning to change and the power shifted from officials to the king once again.
'Lifestyle' connotes almost everything - social structure, arts and ideas, techniques and science. We are speaking of the medieval period
when many migrants came and established their dynasties in North India. This process begins in the 13th century with Mohammed Ghori's general, Qutbuddin Aibak. And the Qutb Minar is a symbol of his reign. The decline of trade in the previous centuries has caused the decay of city culture. Agriculture was the main occupation, agricultural taxes, the income of the ruling class. Officials got land revenue rights instead of salaries. Gradually, they began to usurp this land. They had to pay the king his share maintain troops for him. So power shifted form the king to the officials. Friction among the nobles led to petty quarrels, resulting in the loss of resources and lives. No wonder the Turks, Afghans and Mongols triumphed.
2. Different Fighting Styles: In episode 8’s preamble, it is described how the various smaller kingdoms and states were weakened and fighting amongst themselves. They did ritualistic dueling in a flat field with hunkering elephants. Ghazni and Ghori brought with them a new world of flash and fury – they had fast horses, skillful riders who fought while in the saddle. No wonder that those living here could not cope militarily with this blitz.
However this was hardly a period when the horrid brutal Huns came here to loot, murder and rape innocent and hapless Indians. Infact there were only several small kingdoms and principalities ruled by chieftains, there was no governance or principles of state, no unification amongst these rulers. They were thus easily overrun and those who came from Central Asia to loot, eventually decided to stay in India.
3. How did we choose the topics or themes for BKC episodes? The choices were often based on available research on a subject. Why is it not yoga or Ayurveda that is examined as a science here is because we don’t have proper historical evidence of its antecedents and texts. A yoga practitioner today may or may not be practicing the way it was done a 1000 years ago. Most of them will not have a theoretical basis or will not talk about Pathanjali’s Yogasutra and how they are carrying out the instructions there. These are instances when the intellectual tradition is broken, also because of selling out to commercial interests. For instance, Bharatnatyam today is taught as a series of items or performances that the child will be taught, rather than an art or performance form. This kind of teacher will not tell you what was written in the Natyashastram. Thus what is focused on in the series is because of what research has taken place.
Qutub Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi
Purana Qila, New Delhi
Everywhere, in times of unrest and trouble, people have invaded, or migrated to, new places. Such changes affected science and technology too. Central Asia was no different. Over centuries, people came from there to India - Indo-Aryan speaker, Kushanas, Shakas, Hunas - often seeking fertile land or wealth. Mehmood Ghaznavi, too, in the 10th century, came only to plunder. But in the 13th century, Ghori came and settled here.
Indian states were weak because of infighting. Ghaznavi and Ghori had superior armies and better breeds of horses. They used the horse-shoe, new to India. This made hilly terrain easier to negotiate. And there was the iron stirrup to secure rider's feet, even enabling him to stand and fight. His swords-thrusts had a greater reach.
Polo Grounds, Leh, Ladakh
Polo-playing requires a similar skill. This game is being played in Ladakh.
Maitreyi: Arabs, Iranians and Central Asians settled here, bringing their languages, lifestyles and sciences, which blended with local traditions. Scientific records, too, reflect this synthesis. Many biographies and diaries also exist - Ferozshah Tughlaq's Seerat-e-Ferozshahi, Babarnama -
Babar's autobiography, Ain-e-Akbari
and Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri -
chronicles of Akbar's and Jahangir's times. Then there are many travellers' accounts that serve as historical records.
Nissim: A learned traveller came here in the 11th century. He observed Indian life closely. He said the science here was like pearls mixed with cowdung, hard to separate. He found the people superstitious. Knowledge was controlled by the upper castes. Such people were indifferent to advances in other lands.
Adalaj Stepwell, Ahmedabad
4. Written texts, Stories, Diaries, Chronicles ..
In this period after 1100 and 1200, we start seeing real written records on paper, not inscriptions and cryptic things carved on stone which were largely panegyric. Longer texts were written like the Sirat-a-Firoz-Shahi of Firoz Shah Tughlaq, the Babar Nama by Babar, Aini-Akbari, Tuzk-e-Jahangiri and so on. Also Ibn Battuta and Al Beruni wrote about their travels in chronicles and these were valuable descriptions of day to day life that were not available earlier. In the previous period the only record was that of Xuanzang’s travel writings.
Xuanzang writes about how he went to Nalanda and found that there were dark skinned ‘creatures’ who were not allowed to cover the upper part of their body, and who were creeping along the walls trying very hard to make sure that their shadow should not fall on others. If that happened then they were beaten up and punished severely. Xuanzang was also a Buddhist and this perhaps troubled his notions of equality of all people. However such descriptions of daily life in India are not found easily from these periods and even this is available to us now because the manuscripts were preserved by the Chinese by copying and keeping a record. The manuscript itself would have fallen apart but every 200 years or so somebody copies it by hand, word for word, and possibly edited it and left out some pages. After 1000 A.D. we start seeing some forms of writing.
The writing was however predominantly male and seeking for posterity for the writer. But there are more insights into daily life than from other sources especially from this period.
Say, who could he be?
A prisoner, brought by Ghaznavi
a diary of all he saw
Can't you guess his name?
Untouchable in their eyes
Are travellers from foreign lands
Strange are the ways of these people
Who consider their religion, knowledge, nation superior
Perhaps they should travel abroad
to broaden their horizons
Their ancestors were not so narrow-minded
Maitreyi: Science and technology had become stagnant but the synthesis of cultures brought change. Though society felt the impact gradually, it was far-reaching. It formed the basis of present-day Indian culture.
Nissim: While the rulers patronised artists and scholars, medicine and astronomy were the only sciences promoted. The Unani
or Greek system of medicine was adopted by the Arabs, who later popularised it in India. The basic principles of Unani
differ, yet exchanges between the two led to an indigenous Unani Tibb
Maitreyi: But no such exchange marked other sciences. Scholars were unwilling to share knowledge, while the artisans readily shared their skills. Many crafts flourished, and spread rapidly. With tin-plating, copper vessels grew common. Paper became so common that even sweets were wrapped in it. The spinning wheel replaced the spindle. Stitched garments instead of draped ones. And new things to eat! Pickles, jams, sherbets, carpets, perfumes.
5. Hindu Right And Science: If we were to do this series again we would be more aware about how the Hindutva right would usurp the field of sciences in India. And this would influence how this series would be used to address the general public on the issue.
Mostly some things would remain the same and some would be tackled with more aggression. For instance using verses from the Rig Veda that reveal that people who wrote the text at the time ate beef and served it to their guests. They even wrote that a good host would serve his guests a milk-fed calf, one that has not been fed any grass yet, so that its flesh is tender. They will sacrifice that calf to show respect to their visitors and honour. These snippets and verses from the Rig Veda break contemporary taboos and would be shocking in the present. Today unfortunately the requirement is to be more obvious rather than subtle as BKC was when it was being made and aired. It is important to clearly say that your ancestors ate beef etc.
Other examples of what we would highlight include syncretic culture and how Indian culture was made by imbibing of influences from all sides. How infact those people that the pundits in Rig Veda derogatorily refers to as milchers are from Central Asia, same as the pundits themselves. Many people at different stages of history came from Central Asia – Kanishka, Vishkas, Kushans, Shungas and others.
After several generations the Mughals too came from Central Asia and others from the Arab countries. It was a constantly syncretic and evolving culture.
Another aspect that would be highlighted if the series were made now rather than in the 1980s would be language. Language is a living record of the consciousness of people and our languages have continuously evolved just like science has, and the meaning contained in language has evolved. The world view that is reflected in those languages has also changed. Popular knowledge or what is heritage now is from the Vedas and Puranas and the keepers of culture and continuity. The rest who are secular people doing research on the Rig Veda are not regarded very highly. If the series were made again, then one objective would be to show that this knowledge is a common public domain and that we all have a right to dip into it, interpret it, take a bath in it, re-present it and draw insights from it. This is not the domain anymore of special pundits and scholars alone. The scholars who assisted in the making of this series are only a key for the knowledge that we can access.
Another critique that is essential is that of the educational system itself, which is based on memorization and passive repetition of given texts and accepted formulations by the writers of the textbooks. Since the National Curricula framework in 2005 and right to education in 2010, there have been some changes which might disappear with the 2014 election results. We may return to a system where the dispute might be whether a masters in astrology is an M.A. or M. Sc. like in the days when Murli Manohar Joshi was the education minister. In order to equip people to be critical of policy change what we need is for a more effective education system.
These technological changes took place in a time of socio-political transition. By now, feudalism was deeply rooted, directly affecting the peasantry. Farmers worked on land now held by fewer people. The landlords extracted very high taxes to pay the king his dues and have enough left over. So farmers had to increase crop yields through new techniques. The effect was two-fold - their exploitation increased but techniques improved.
6. Ghanis And Other Ancient Technological Innovations
Ghanis were invented in an ancient time and are somewhat in use even now. In 1987, we already had a hard time finding a ghani. It wasn’t a question of making an appointment or speaking to an expert. While we travelled we used to ask people in villages and in the countryside whether they had seen one, and continuously looked for rahaks and ghanis. And that is how we found this one.
Usually ghanis now are replaced by powered systems that use electricity or a diesel pumpset. Even in this ghani it is a plastic PVC oil can that is used to bring the water up.
Animals were used for agricultural operations. Energy alternatives like windmills did not exist. The medieval peasant had mainly wooden implements, based on mechanical principles like parallel worm gearing, used here for centuries - as in the cotton gin and sugarcane press. Right-angled gearing has a different principle. We think it came from Iran around the 13th -15th centuries, as part of the Persian wheel or rahat
. We located a rahat
in Nathavala village, Rajasthan, drought-ridden for the last five years. The rahat
is not in use. Otherwise, a camel would be in harness.
Nathawala. Jaipur, Rajasthan
When Babar came in 1530, it was a novelty for him. He wrote: “Indians use the water-wheel for irrigation. On two long ropes equal to the well's depth, pitchers are tied. These ropes are mounted on a wheel, which has an axle joined to a geared wheel, linked to a third wheel with an upright axle. The ox rotates this wheel which turns the other one, and so, the well-wheel also turns, filling the pitchers with water which through a channel can be taken anywhere”
Persian wheels were used to irrigate orchards and fields, and supply water to the houses of nobles. They helped increase crop yields
Now cash crops took over – cotton, indigo, tobacco, that came from Portugal, spices, that attracted European traders.
7. First Colonizers- Portugese: The late 1400s and early 1500s is also the period when the first colonizers, the Portugese, arrived in India. There was new equipment, armament’s that the Indian nobility picked up from them. Also the printing press arrived with the Portugese and fonts were made in Indian languages of Marathi, Konkani, Tamil, Bengali etc. New foods come from countries and caught on in India especially those from similar climates that had also been colonized by the POrtugese. Like the mirchi (chilli), aloo (potato). New species of these developed in India. Also we got chikoo (sapodilla), pineapple and of course tomatoes.
Portugal controlled many Indian ports well before Babar came. Vasai was the main Portuguese colony in the north.
At first, they seemed only trade rivals of the Arabs, but they soon controlled the entire spice trade and the western sea routes. Ships on these routes paid tax to the Portuguese. A naval academy had been set up in Portugal. Their navigators had instruments and maps. Guns and cannon too, not yet common in India. Naval and military strength meant high profits. So high was the income from spices and taxes that Goa earned the name Goa Dorada
- Golden Goa.
Vasai Fort, Thane Dist.,Maharashtra
The growth of new ideas in Europe was aided by the printing press. This came to Goa in 1557, but it was used only to print missionary books. Though few Indians could read, the padres
began printing in the Indian languages, but in the Roman script. Later, printing in the Tamil script was attempted. Books in Marathi, Konkani, Malayalam followed. Many scholars studied our natural resources.
Garcia D'Orta, a medical doctor, surveyed Vasai. He wrote of many plants and medicinal herbs.
If the Portuguese discovered coconut and banana here, they also gave us many new fruits and vegetables so common today. Green chillies too, a must for all Indian meals!
Nissim: By the 15th century, many Europeans began arriving. Many travellers have left their accounts. The nobility often employed European doctors. Surprisingly, scientific
advances in Europe made little impact here. New ideas spread faster in Europe because of the printing press, which Indians, never exploitated.
Maitreyi: Science developed slowly. Perhaps the social environment was such - poetry, art, painting were patronised and a new cultural awareness emerged. Some individuals played a key role in this - like a 13th century poet of the Delhi Sultanate.
Qutub Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi
Say, who could he be -
this musician-poet of Delhi?
Passionate about India, this colourful man
ragas and coined new words
Can't you guess his name? Amir Khusro!
Spring is in the air, everywhere
Harbinger of joy, spring is here
Wine is plentiful, as much as one desires
Offerings of fresh fruit
come with this season
Fruit-laden branches sway proudly
koel sings melodiously,
then grows silent again
Spring is in the air
Tughlaqabad Fort, New Delhi
Nissim: The Delhi Sultanate was declining in Khusro's time. New principalities emerged: Kashmir, Jaunpur, Gujarat, Malwa and many others. The Deccan had Vijayanagar, and the Bahmani empire that later split into many states.
Maitreyi: The control of the fertile Raichur plain let to infighting and was with Vijayanagar. Yet the cultural synthesis continued. Islamic customs influence urban life.These buildings at Hampi are a case in point. The Lotus Palace has both arches and temple vimanas
. Forts, especially, reflect this synthesis of styles.
Records show that 14th to 16th century South India saw the rise of many cities. Vijayanagar had more than eighty towns, centres of trade and administration, or temple towns. Excavations at Hampi reveal the extent of urban planning. Remains of temples, markets, buildings and a drainage system have been unearthed. The tanks and wells that supplied water to palaces had a storage capacity of over half a million litres.
For commoners too, there were wells, tanks and aqueducts, an important part of the water system. The Kalyani tank has black granite steps going deep down. Transportation of water without pumps depended on gravity. So they had sloping channels and the tanks were at different heights. Under Krishnadevaraya, Vijayanagar was a major centre for international trade. Spices from the south and south-eastern cottons brought wealth to the treasury. Guns and cannon were brought by foreign traders. Horses and guns were imported to make the Vijayanagar army superior, but this attempt failed. 30 years after the death of Krishnadevaraya, Ahmednagar, Bijapur and Golconda joined forces to defeat the Vijayanagar army.
Had the Deccan states not clashed constantly, the waste of resources could have been avoided. And the outcome may have been different.
The cultural richness of the Deccan states tends to be eclipsed by the Mughal splendour. Founded in 1569, Fatehpur Sikri was Akbar's capital for some fifteen years. Akbar may have left Agra to be with Salim Chishti in whose honour is held this annual urs
festival. Akbar prayed for a son at his dargah
Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Dist., Uttar Pradesh
8. Ain-A-Akbari And Other Texts: Ain-A-Akbari was written by Abul Fazl about the rule of Akbar, here ain refers to law. He talks about the thinking that went into many of the policies of the emperor, the philosophical preoccupation, the dialogues he had with various people. Another account of life at the court of Akbar by somebody who was his great critic and denigrator was not printed or published.
it was a manuscript but his descendants felt bold enough to take it out even though by then the prejudices and the lack of openness to other ways of thinking and living had hardened. The rule of Aurangzeb did not help when taxes were imposed on people who were not circumcised. But the critical text produced in Akbar’s time was unique.
O Salim Chishti, be my saviour
At your doorstep, many fortunes change
I want to serve you even after I die
For you help the wretched and the poor
The white marble is from Jahangir's time.
The ongoing cultural synthesis is well exemplified by Akbar's reign. This red sandstone city is a beautiful blend Iranian, Central Asian and many Indian styles. Wrote Abul Fazl: Fatehpur was a village 12
kos from Agra. It became a big city after Akbar came here. Many exquisite buildings have been erected. Most of the palaces are on the hilltop and in the valley are many mansions and gardens. By the emperor's decree, a mosque, a school and a house of worship have been built, the like of which few can name.
Apart from men of religion, many scholars graced Akbar's court. Among these was Abul Fazl, author of the Akbarnama,
a part of which was the Ain-e-Akbari,
a chronicle of everyday life and the affairs of state. This was Abul Fazl's house Ain-e-Akbari
discusses many topics - alchemy, physics, military technology, medicine, flora and fauna, geography, philosophy, calendar-computation, minting techniques etc. Fazl was no ordinary observer. He emphasised aspects that others might have ignored.
He was truly a historian. But for him, we would not have known many things. Like Al Beruni in Ghazni's time or Barni in Tughlaq's,
Fazl is our main source for the Mughal period.
Raghu: The royal workshops were probably here. Artisans from all over supplied the nobility with objects of necessity and luxury.
Ranjan: These workshops were well organised and equipped. But the craftsmen had to bring their own tools. Ain-e-Akbari
gives details of quality and price, but hardly mentions tools or techniques.
Raghu: Innovations seem limited to areas like armaments and to water-supply systems.
9. Industrial Revolution was happening elsewhere in the world. The industrial revolution could only happened in a certain context, at a certain point in time, and it could only have happened in England, and not in Russia or even America. Bible reading groups in churches across England had made sure that even the poor farmers and carpenters were literate.
In earlier years, the discourse of the gentry, those in Oxford and Cambridge, wrote their scientific papers in Latin. But now English was the language in which even scientific documents were written and presented most people being literate that they could understand what was being talked about. At the same time there were also societies who were doing quite a bit of science popularization in Britain. Ordinary people could attend public lectures on geology, astronomy, chemistry and these were open lectures, rather than closed door discourses in Latin. All of these discourses made it possible for an inventor to discuss what he is doing with a great scientist and back and forth, and the scientist who gets an idea coming to meet an umbrella maker or person making a musical instrument and asking them whether they could make an instrument.
Water was usually drawn from wells by hand. Here, the Persian wheel was used to draw water.
Those were the two beams connected by a shaft to gears. The buffaloes went around this chamber. Thus the water was lifted further up.
That's where we were. Water from that well came up into those channels. Another Persian wheel brought it here. Yet another took it up to the fort. The water wheel had gears. The horizontal motion of animals or men was converted into the wheel's vertical motion. Shirazi, the inventor, also used gears and mechanical principles to design many new devices.
had 16 brushes on handles that cleaned the barrels of 16 guns at a time. He designed a cannon that could be dismantled and transported easily. A grindstone attached to a military cart ground the flour as the cart moved.
Ranjan: Whether these were widely used is hard to tell. His experiments, though significant, do not seem related to social needs then.
Raghu: Science develops in an environment conducive to the spread of new ideas. Yet Akbar's reign saw little progress in science,
though much happened culturally. There were translations of texts across languages. Perhaps an open atmosphere is not enough.
Amrita: Well, exchanges via translations were common even earlier. Perhaps Abul Fazl and Shirazi were exceptions. More typically, the court patronised the arts. It was an age of music, poetry, painting and crafts.
Raghu: The historian Irfan Habib says here that the annual expenditure on building Fatehpur Sikri was 250,000 rupees, seemingly a huge amount. But Akbar's personal income was 15 million rupees! This money came from agricultural revenues, the source of income for the mansabdars
or officials too. About 82% of the revenue went to them.
Ranjan: What did they spend on? Servants, clothes, jewellery. No demands were made on science.
Amrita: Exquisite handicrafts were in demand instead.
10. Industry In Europe: Industry was also expanding in Europe at this time and their industries were based on machine and technology and industries in India were based on skill and fine craftsmanship. These skills and crafts were picked up after a long period of being trained by gurus, but it is because of this that the product from India was of superior quality and attracted people from all over the world. This high quality product would spell doom later, when many from Portugal, England would arrive in India to exploit the skills and resources of India.
Initially though when Europeans realized that Indian products were far more popular then the passed legislative measures that banned printed garments from India. This was a throwback to the time when Romans passed laws against the payment of gold for Indian crafts to cut down on the influx of Indian goods. Indian chintz was banned, only chintz which was manufactured in Europe and was a product of machine printing was allowed, and thus became more common. With the industrial revolution, the advantage was in any case with the Western world, as large amounts of cheap cloth could be produced. This cloth was then sold back in India, making India the market rather than the producer, and this would lead to the Indian handloom industry’s collapse.
Evenutally it was ‘swaraj’ in cloth that became the basis for the nationalist struggle led by Gandhi, when he made khadi a symbol of Indian nationalism and about recovering the place of Indian weavers. The struggle involved making bonfires of mill made cloth and about demanding deindustrialization. This episodes ends by showing how the coming of the Europeans was the beginning of the end of the Mughal empire.
11. If we made BKC series now, what would we do differently is a question. I’ve already said that I would make more obvious the agenda of the Hindu right in relation to history of science, would emphasize on the poor methods of education in the country that emphasize rote learning and look at alternative modes.
Another aspect of the series that we would focus on if we did the series in the contemporary, would be more coverage of Indian crafts. The threat of extinction of these crafts and skills is actually more dire today. Less people in India know or care about it, people wear junky and ugly stuff from Thailand and Singapore, the colours don’t go with their skin tone. They are not even aware that their actions are causing crafts families to commit suicide in Andhra Pradesh and other places.
Itmaduddaulah's Tomb, Agra
The nobility sent for seeds and horticulturists from abroad, introduced grafting and gave us fruits like mango, melons, cherries and apricots. Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb - built by Empress Noorjahan in her father's memory. Jahangir was interested in trees, plants, birds, animals. He studied them and had them painted.
is rich with observations on nature. Unrivalled in colour, smell and taste. Rated above grape or melon by gourmets of Iran, Turan. Leaves like those of the willow, but larger. Its flowers bloom in spring and resemble the grape's. And it has an exquisite fragrance.
Thus Fazl describes mango in Ain-e-Akbari
Mango orchard, Aligarh
Nissim: The nobility's desire for exotic fruits was matched by their demand for beautiful objects. Crafts flourished - fine china, carpet, bidri,
brocades, textile printing etc. Centres of such crafts grew into townships.
Maitreyi: India had fine craftsmen Said Babar in 1530: “Hindustan has craftsmen of every kind of every skill”
. Their wages, however, were too low for them to buy expensive tools or raw materials. Despite the lack of facilities, and crude tools, their work was exquisite.A French traveller, who came during the reign of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, also remarked on this.
Red Fort, Delhi
Say, who could he be?
A doctor he was, he came from France
He travelled far and wide
You haven't a clue? I'll tell you who!
His name is Bernier!
Craftsmen beyond number, able and skilled
They get by on the little they earn
How can they be expected to progress
When they are encouraged by none?
Given a chance, they will show
Stunning artistry, beyond compare
National Museum, New Delhi
Machilipatanam, Andhra Pradesh
12. Textiles: A whole explosion of crafts related to textiles as a luxury commodity took place in this period. These textiles would finally go around the world and attract a whole lot of traders to India and they would eventually lead ot the colonization of india but in the 16th to 18th century. Indian cloth was very popular because they had colours, textures, weights, decorative embellishments whether embroidery or block printing or dyeing which made them unique in the world. Many of the English words for textiles chintz is cheet, shawl is shaal, pyjama which means garment of the legs pajama, dungaree, khakhi etc come from indian words.
Cloth-dyeing is an ancient Indian practice. A piece of Harappan cloth found in a silver jar was dyed with a fast colour. Other samples date back to the 8th century.
Mordants and resists are an Indian speciality. Mordants fix colour on the cloth, resists 'resist' colour where not wanted. These colours are fast and brilliant. The European method was different - colour was applied directly, without mordants or resists.
I am at Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh. During the Qutbshahi regime in Golconda there was much exchange with Persia.
In Persian, block-printers were called chheentsaaz,
while painting with brushed was called kalamkari
. These words came here from Persia.
Mother says we have done kalamkari
for 25 years. Nowadays the brush is used only to paint yellow, the rest is done with hand blocks. The technique has changed, but not the patterns. This craft flourished in the Mughal period. Kalamkari
reminds us of the inlay tradition, seen mainly in the period's architecture.
Amrita: You don't use synthetic colours?
Craftsperson: No, only vegetable dyes.
Amrita: How about this black?
Craftsperson: We put jaggery and iron in saline water for 20 days. When this juice is applied to cloth treated with myrobolan, it turns black. For red, we apply alum to the cloth.
Amrita: So it serves as a mordant.
Craftsperson: We put jaji
leaves and alizarin lumps to boil in a copper pot. So the pale alum turns red, like this. And the copper helps to make the colour vivid.
Nissim: The English East India Company gave an impetus to the textile trade. In 1606, a Qutbshahi decree allowed a Dutch company to open an office in Machilipatnam. Later, the English followed suit.
Maitreyi: In the 16th-18th centuries, India's major export was cloth. Such was the volume of our trade with Europe, that many English words like chintz, shawl, pyjama, dungaree, khaki, etc are of Indian origin.
Nissim: Till the 18th century, India was an industrial country, famous for its variety of products. These relied more on skill than on technology. Europe was still mainly agrarian. No wonder the demand for our artefacts grew. Industry was expanding in Europe too, but differently.
Maitreyi: This difference formed the basis of their progress. Their industry relied on machines and technology, ours was based on skill and fine craftsmanship, learnt through years of practice and hard work, passed on from ustad
or master to shagird
or pupil. This is what attracted Europe to India. Our products found a ready market there.
Nissim: By the 17th century Indian textiles were so popular, they became a threat to England's textile industry. At the start of the 18th century, a new law prohibited the import of Indian textiles. Later, even the wearing of printed garments was banned.
Maitreyi: The Industrial Revolution made English cloth cheap, and the Indian handloom industry collapsed. This change was part of a political transition which spelt the fall of the Mughal Empire.