Saturday, Jul 02, 2022

Threads and Tales: Aurangabad’s Dying Art Form 

Aurangabad, apart from its history and fortifications is also known for this unique weaving technique called Himroo that is indigenous to Persia

The silk threads used for himroo technique
The silk threads used for himroo technique Simrran Gill

A sound of screeching tyres, sudden brakes and an almost collision. My mind immediately thought, “What sort of randomness were these pedestrians upto that they didn’t see a huge vehicle taking a narrow turn?” But then I recalled that I wholeheartedly belong to a nation with a bunch of very daring pedestrians. 

I got off and started walking towards my destination, literally a stone’s throw away from the entire incident. It was one of the swanky looking shops, in an otherwise narrow street, with two people hard at work. I was greeted with curious looks but warm smiles. On this hot dusty afternoon in Aurangabad, shade in any form was a huge respite. While I glanced around and marvelled at the pastel summer colours, I was told that I was looking at one of the finest art forms of the country that, today, is dying a slow death — himroo. As my curiosity piqued, I started walking towards the far end of the shop where I spotted a small white door leading to a tiny room, smelling highly of fabric and faintly of dust. I ran my fingers through the very fine threads that now were laid out in front of me over a loom. And behind the loom were deft hands and piercing eyes of Vinod Khode, a third generation weaver, at work. 

Vinod Khode on a traditional loom
Vinod Khode on a traditional loom Simrran Gill

“This is a himroo shawl. Traditionally, it is woven in cotton (wrap) and silk (weft). And one of these takes anywhere about 15-20 days to get made depending upon the design,” he told me. Looking at his sheer concentration I asked him how long has been doing it, he smiled and said, “Since I was a child. It’s a family legacy that we are carrying forward.” 

It is believed that while the art form was roaring in the 1950s with nearly 5000 weavers at the time, it is now a lost craft with only two weavers practising in 2018. Today one of the most renowned places producing the traditional Himroo shawl is Himroo Fabrics (my current stop), which is a historic weaving centre. Founded by Bashir Ahmed Qureshi along with his father Habib Amhmed Quarishi in 1891, it is now run by Faisal Ishtiaq Quraishi, a 6th generation descendent. 

Faisal Ishtiaq Quraishi, a 6th generation descendent
Faisal Ishtiaq Quraishi, a 6th generation descendent Simrran Gill

“Hum-roh means to copy a design into fabric. It was one of the oldest weaving techniques of Aurangabad. It has an enriched history dating back to 800 years ago. Back then in Delhi zari work was popular with silk. For muslims, however, it is prohibited to wear pure silk. Hence, the weaving in Aurangabad is done in cotton and silk, since cotton is readily available here, and then worn by locals,” said Faisal. 

Aurangabad, apart from its history and fortifications is also known for this unique weaving technique called Himroo that is indigenous to Persia. Known for their unique texture and quality, these shawls bear a royal legacy, as only a certain select population — Mughal rulers and Britishers — could afford to buy the craft. Brought to the country by Muhammad Bin Tughlaq during his reign, the art form found a permanent home in India. When Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devgiri, he brought with himself skilled weavers from Banaras and Ahmedabad who were experts in zari work and settled in Daulatabad. Even after Tughaq moved his capital back to Delhi, these weavers stayed back in Aurangabad and continued their craft. And the current art form we see today is the gift of these weavers. 

The silk threads used to weave a himroo shawl
The silk threads used to weave a himroo shawl Simrran Gill

The word Himroo is derived from the Persian word hum-roo, and means imitation. Some believe that since the technique copies a few techniques from other styles of knitting, the craft garnered the name. Essentially, himroo is a replica of Kim-Khab, which was woven with golden and silver threads in ancient times and was cherished by the royal families during the 14th century. 

The Quraishi family is responsible for reviving the craft in Aurangabad. Still going the traditional route, they use a manual loom with a set of weavers on it. “The traditional process of weaving a himroo shawl involves two artisans, a weaver and an assistant sitting across the loom, who work at interlacing the weft yard with the warp yarn at right angles. The design is programmed into the strings you can see and it is created in the warp, ” explains Faisal. 

The upside down design in a manual loom
The upside down design in a manual loom Simrran Gill

The design in a manual loom is upside down as compared to a machine power loom where the design is on top. And it is created using a binary technique, and then decoded directly on the cloth. There are also knots in the loom which help the weavers to bring out the design on the cloth. Each knot is twisted alternatively to blend two colours into the final product. 

The binary design in a mechanical loom
The binary design in a mechanical loom Simrran Gill

The himroo shawls have a few tell tale signs — floral designs in bright attractive colours, softness of woollens and its lightweight. One can even spot the varied designs of Ajanta and Ellora caves, lines and patterns, fruits shapes like those of pineapple and pomegranate, flowers like jasmine, rose and lotus along with simpler shapes like ovals, diamonds and hexagons. Some pieces also spot floral inlays of the Taj Mahal and Bibi ka Makbara. 

“While Painthani is known across the globe, himroo is still struggling. The craft needs immediate support. It is our family legacy and we are trying to preserve this art form. The cost of making one himroo shawl is nearly Rs10,000 and we have to sell it at half the price, and even then sometimes there are no buyers, ” said Faisal. 

What is now a small room with only two looms in place was once a space for 500 running looms and is their 132-year-old factory. “I know how to design the shawl and my father and grandfather knew the complete weaving process,” said Faisal before signing off.