Jodhpur: soaring high!

Jodhpur: beating the blues contd…

As mentioned in the previous post, Jodhpur is famous for its textiles, arts and crafts. Even today, its woodcarvers create some of the most popular contemporary furniture that are found online – just Google for ‘Jodhpur furniture’ and check the results!

You have to walk around the old city to sense how effortlessly the past blends in with the present.

Spot the similarity in the two photographs given below. The left one is from a miniature painting made at Nagaur in 1737 and the right one is zoomed in on some cotton hand dyed Lehariya textiles made there in the 19th century. Can you see some women in the painting wearing textiles similar to the example on the right?

‘Bandhani’ and ‘Lehariya’ textiles:

The technique of dyeing fabric has been part of India since several centuries. The two kinds of tied and dyed textiles unique to Rajasthan and Gujarat are locally known as ‘Bandhej’ or ‘Bandhani’. They have been part of the global trade in textiles for so long that the word ‘bandana’ owes its origin to this textile technique, as ‘Bandhani’ textiles were exported as scarves to the West. Only Jodhpur and Jaipur have a special tie – dyed technique, called ‘Lehariya’. It is derived from the word ‘lehar’ meaning ‘waves’ – possibly referring to the sand dunes of the Thar desert.

In making ‘Bandhani’, the cotton or silk fabric is tightly tied by a thread in accordance with a design that has already been traced or stamped on to the fabric. Those parts of the design that are to remain uncoloured are tied. This means there are white dots all over the fabric after it has been dyed in the vibrant hues of Rajasthan as they have resisted the dye.

The dyeing process is quite as elaborate as the tying is and there are different groups of people who are assigned these responsibilities. Usually women tie the fabric and men – called ‘rangrez’ – are involved in dyeing. You would have heard several songs, mostly Sufi, where the singer is requesting the ‘rangrez’ to dye her ‘dupatta’ (stole) in the colour of love.

Earlier, the colours were symbolic of the communities (Rajput, Bishnoi, Jat etc,), marital and other status of the woman (eg. young mothers of a newborn male child would wear black dip-dyed edges and yellow veils with red dots) or occupations like agriculture, trade or armed forces. Now, they are mostly in sync with the demands of people, sometimes related to the latest fashion trends.

But lehariya is different. I have always been fascinated with lehariya, the way the fabric appears to resemble the flow of waves on a human form is to be seen to be believed. It is made by diagonally tying the fabric so that after dyeing there are diagonal lines (or zigzag) all over. When there are two sets of diagonal lines crossing each other, the textile is called ‘mothra’ as the gap between these two lines is like a single pulse or ‘moth’.

Lehariya is usually worn only as turbans or ‘dupattas’, though now even saris are made of them. Jodhpur still makes the best lehariya and a lot of the Jaipur Rajput men would order several lengths of the lehariya yardage from Jodhpur for special occasions. Earlier it was worn mainly during Teej and Gangaur, Rajasthan’s two harvesting festivals but now you can buy and wear one anytime.

Does it occur to you that there is an inextricable connection between Jaipur and Jodhpur?  The matrimonial alliances between these 3 states (re previous post), and later with Bikaner, resulted in a stimulating flow of cultural genes, along with several artistic styles, which originated from the ‘zenanas’. It is significantly visible in the miniature paintings.

Painting on paper and frescoes:

The Jodhpur style is part of a larger miniature painting tradition known as the Rajasthani school. Till the 16th century, the local Rajasthani painters mainly illustrated manuscripts based on classics or religious texts.

The early paintings were made to communicate the story from the texts, where the figures were quite rigid and so were the lines in the architecture. The garments had such sharp edges that they seemed to have been ironed out on the surface of the painting! The most discernible feature was the protruding eye which was so prominent that it could sometimes be the focal point in the entire space.

With first the Sultanate and later strong Mughal influences (from 16th century due to Akbar), the paintings concentrated on being naturalistic, started having a full profile of the face with no projecting eye, free flowing garments, and flora and fauna so accurately depicted that the birds, flowers and plants became easily identifiable. Even the repertoire of colours changed.

According to eminent art historian, Dr J Losty, “…we have large folios in which a single painting occupies most of the surface and the text is either relegated to the reverse or if short enough occupies a narrow strip above the painting. This is the first appearance of the chitrapothi or ‘picture book’ format in which the story is carried by the paintings, sometimes hundreds of them if the text is illustrated verse by verse. The text was later sometimes downgraded to just a caption or an abbreviated version on the reverse leaving a well-known story to be carried by the pictures.”

The painting below represents one such example:

Markandeya’s Ashram and the Milky Ocean. Folio 5 from the Durga Charit. Jodhpur c.1780-90. Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, Debra Diamond. 2106

Dr Losty also writes, that “in several Rajput states a deity such as Krishna or Rama was declared to be the ruler of the state and its raja simply the god’s minister.” Hence, several paintings depicted Krishna as the central figure.

In the 18th century, the Jodhpur school broke away from its Mughal influence and came on its own and continued this individualistic streak for the next 100 years. The result was a painting like this:

Three Aspects from the Absolute. Folio 1 from the Nath Charit, attributed to Bulaki, Jodhpur 1823. Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, Debra Diamond, 2016

The paintings were not restricted to paper, there are several parts of the Mehrangarh fort where frescoes are clearly visible. If you have time, then visit nearby Nagaur and Ahhichhatragarh – their frescoes are some of most fabulous in the world!

You might already be familiar with some of the Mughal era flowering plant patterns and motifs like these two below – they are still quite prevalent in textiles, architecture and jewellery in the 21st century. Look out for these in your travels 🙂

The Jodhpurs rulers were always striving to introduce new thoughts and knowledge systems into their state. We already know that Sir Pratap Singh was a keen aviator and pilot and is credited with building one of the first international airports in Jodhpur. He is also the person who designed the ‘Jodhpurs’ – type of breeches – which are trousers tight from the knee below to facilitate horse riding. He realised that long hours on the horse during battle with the kind of trousers they had wasn’t comfortable and tore away easily so he redesigned them into trousers that soon became highly fashionable. Jodhpur has produced two important designers since then. Did the spirit of innovation rub off?

Post Independence Jodhpur:

Jaipur is the present capital of Rajasthan and Jodhpur is its second largest city that has the state’s high court and one of the best law colleges in India. Both of these cities, along with Udaipur, can boast of the best educational and medical institutions in a state with an abysmally low literacy rate in the country, especially for females.

The royal families of the erstwhile princely states of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur had played an insurmountable role in shaping the social, educational, financial and cultural ethos and structure of Rajasthan. That does not diminish the roles of the royal families of Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Kota, Bundi or Chittor. They had been an inspiration for several generations.

Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park:

A 15 minute walk down the Mehrangarh Fort, in the lane left from the main road, is the main entrance to the Desert Rock Park. It was made in 2006 under the guidance of environmentalist and India’s ‘Tree Man’, Pradip Kishen. He was invited by the Mehrangarh Trust to salvage the 70 hectare of “ecological wasteland”. In his interview to Natgeo Traveller, Kishen tells the story of how this once green tract of land had destroyed the local ecology due to human intervention in the form of the Mexican shrub—the mesquite or Prosopis juliflora which had been introduced by Rao Jodha to help his subjects collect firewood since it was a hardy plant. With time, the shrub grew like wildfire and came to known as “baavlia” or the mad one.

Read the interview on:

The Park has some carefully planned out trails with exceptionally good signage and map  that is available on the website for free download. Depending on the time you have, take one of the trails and just wander around with the map, it helps you identify the local floral and fauna. This Park restoration is an important case study for us for projects.

With that, I bid adieu to Jodhpur and leave you to cherish your memories of it or plan a trip soon 🙂

Books referred to are:

  • ‘Handmade in India’, Ed. Aditi Ranjan & M P Ranjan, NID, Ahmedabad. Published by COHANDS & DCH, 2007.
  • Rajput paintings from the Ludwig Habighorst collection. DR J Losty. Francesca Galloway 2019
  • ‘Varta’: 1000 years of Indian Miniature Painting Tradition. Articles by Dr Sridhar Andhare and Dr Asok Kumar Das
  • All photographs taken in the blog are by the author other than those of Manju Ramanan (provided by her) the Museum artefacts (credits provided).



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