Clothing is a language through which people can tell stories about themselves, their community, and their place in the world. History, myths, cultural patterns are transformed in women's hands to create the costume that identifies their tribe.
A Banjara woman in her traditional costume, in the picture above. Her costume is as colourful and picturesque as her ornamentation. The bright coloured cotton skirt and ghagra is voluminous and is thickly embroidered and bordered by mirror discs, cowries, glass beads and shells.
The Banjaras were also known by various names Lamani, Lambadi, Vanjara, and Gormati. They were nomadic tribes who were believed to have originally migrated from Afghanistan, before settling in Rajasthan and other parts of India. The major concentration is in the states of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. Traditionally they were considered to be the suppliers of bullocks and salt merchants.
“Their costume has its own place in their history, belief, style, and unique yet independent visual appearance” – Castes and Tribes of India.The production of costume and consumption was confined among themselves and within the community until recently. They made their own costumes with beautiful art and craft embroidery work.
The traditional colours, symbols, image and design used in Banjara embroidery is not random. The community’s collective choice is translated into colour and thread, giving a vivid reflection of the culture.
Banjara embroidery uses mirrors, cowrie shells, Ghungroos (bells), Titri (coins) stitched on to the fabric directly, with no use of adhesive. The nomadic tribe is said to have used mirrors on the clothes to protect themselves from wild animals. Their needlecraft also uses the patchwork and applique work techniques, using old clothing.
The embroidered textiles formed an integral part of the bride's trousseau. Abundant cowrie shells and coins were stitched on to their fabrics as a symbol of prosperity. The Ghungroo bells are traditionally stitched on the borders of the pallu. The round and square mirrors used in the craft are stitched with a thread frame along the edges and attached to the fabric.
In olden days, the Banjaras used unspun cotton thread for embroidery. They always used bold primary colours in the craft, drawing from nature. The essence of Rangoli or muggu(kolam) is transferred on to the fabric as motifs. The banjara embroidery rarely contains any figurative expressions, be it in the form of flora, fauna or human.