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Thanks to Bollywood and the designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, the art of chikan work is not only famous in India but also worldwide. Not only this talented designer duo, designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Pratima Pandey and Urvashi Kaur also constantly use chikankari to add elegance to their designs. Considered as a relatively new form of handcraft, Chikankari entered India along with Persians and Mughals.
As the legend suggests, Chikankari was introduced by Nur Jehen, wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Traditionally, it was a delicate form of embroidery which was done on white yarn called “Tanzeb” or a colourless muslin cloth. However, this is not the only story stored in our history regarding Chikankari. Another legend suggests that a traveller was once passing through Lucknow and stopped to quench his thirst. He asked a peasant to give him a glass of water. In return for the kindness of the peasant the traveller decided to teach him the art of chikankari. This way the peasant would never be hungry.
We do not know which one is a twisted tale of time and which one is the truth, but we do know that Lucknow is where it originated from. After years of its practice, the art has become mainstream and extremely popular and yet valued. Lucknow still remains the centre of its most authentic form of embroidery. Traditionally, it was done only on white cloth. Presently you can find a huge variety of fabrics like georgette, chiffon, cotton etc. with Chikanwork on it. The art form has also expanded out of the fashion zone into a variety of products. You can find cushion covers, pillow covers, table linen etc. embroidered professionally.
The motifs, at present, vary from any form of shapes and symbols. However, traditionally the embroidery was done only in floral motifs. The garden was a popular theme for the Mughal art and architecture. The same was reflected in their embroideries too. Megasthenes, a Greek traveller has mentioned in his accounts about Indians using flowered muslins.
The art, fortunately, has survived the test of time and we can say surely it will continue to do the same. This irreplaceable art form is intricate, delicate and elegant to its core. Moreover, we all love it way too much to let go of it just yet. Its expansion into lifestyle products has made it multi-functional. Madonna took Chikankari international when she wore it in 2000s and immortalised it for the entire world.