Zari zardosi is an art of metal embroidery which was usually done with gold and silver threads to decorate the attire of the kings and royals in ancient India. Though its existence can be dated back to the Vedic period, but it was only during the medieval era when this embroidery craft played a significant role in embellishing the attire of various Mughal rulers. Its usage was not only limited to the royal costumes, but it was also used to adorn the walls of royal tents and accoutrement of regal elephants and horses. Thus this imperial craft had flourished from the medieval times, reaching its peak during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Later the proficiency of this gold thread embroidery was carried forward by the other great Mughal rulers like shah jahan, under whose reign the craftsmen also known as zardos, developed the art of weaving saree using this technique of zari zardosi for Empress Mumtaz mahal. But this craft got a major setback under the rule of Aurangzeb, which in turn resulted in its decline. Due to its high cost and the rarity of the raw materials the craftsmen cold not carry on the embroidery work on their own and were forced to search other alternatives. As a result of which many craftsmen migrated to other cities in search of work. Finally this imperial style of metal thread embroidery was revived in north India after independence in 1947.
Zari zardosi is one of the most important elements of Persian culture which derives its name from two Persian terms, of “Zar” meaning gold and “Dozi” meaning embroidery. It is one of the most famous and elaborate techniques in metal embroidery which involves making intricate designs using gold and silver threads. It embroils the use of metal pieces like sequins and precious stones on velvet, satin and heavy silk bases to make the craft more magnificent. The art of zari embroidery was originally done with pure silver wires coated with real gold, known as kalabatun, but gradually due to the rarity of raw materials, these silver and gold wires were replaced with synthetic thread, without changing the authenticity of the craft. This Persian craft has a strong Indian essence to it, due to the use of the metal embroidery in Indian textiles and costumes which are used for various ritual and ceremonial purposes.
The process of zari zardosi begins with the craftsmen drawing the basic layout of the design on a butter paper, which is later perforated using a needle. He then marks the designs on the fabric which is stretched on a wooden frame called adda having four wooden legs. The craftsmen then uses different types of needles depending on the design to make intricate patterns with zari. This zari was traditionally made up of fine gold and silver when it originated in Persia during the Mughal era, but the gradual rise in the cost of gold led to the use of cotton and polyester yarn instead of gold thread. And hence this zari embroidery got segregated into three different types, depending upon the use of raw materials to make the embroidery products. They are “Real zari” which is made up of pure gold and silver, second is “imitation zari” made of copper wires which are electroplated with silver, and “metallic zari” which is a metallized film slitted with polyester.India has always been known for its zari embroidery, because of the traditional skill of Indian craftsmen who have for centuries practiced the craft by inheriting its qualities from father to son. The constant demand of the present market has brought in a successful transition from traditional techniques of zari embroidery, to modern ones. All the equipment’s used in zari manufacture are locally fabricated making the industry more self-sufficient and a unique one.