Amidst all the glitter, glamour and glitz of yesteryear the shimmer and shine of Gota stands out! It has captured in its weave the fantasy of the times. Travelling from the markets of the Western Indian cities of Surat, Ajmer where they were manufactured, Gota came to be the ubiquitous accessory of every royal garment. Let us know of the history of the exquisite Gota embroidery based on original fieldwork.
Gota involves placing a woven gold cloth onto other fabric, preferably silk or satin, to create different surface textures. It is often complemented by ‘kinari’ or edging, which is the fringed or tasselled border decoration. Whether gracing the feet of the royal ladies as Gota butis on the hemline of ghagras or adorning the head as Gota patti on the odhanis Gota played a very prominent role in the lives of the Indian royalty. The Gota was cut into fine shapes of birds, animals, and human figures, attached to the cloth encased in wires of silver and gold, while the space around was covered by coloured silk. The overall effect was one of enameling quite similar to the kundan – meena jewellery, a highly refined craft of Rajasthan.
History: There is not much evidence of the use of Gota since any particular time before the Mughal reign as hardly any textile piece survives before that era since time creates havoc with textiles as it is used to be an organic that disintegrated with time. It can be said with certainty that the craft of attaching the Gota ribbon in various shapes and forms received an artistic lease of life during the Mughal era. Mughals, the greatest connoisseurs of arts, crafts and literature in India actively encouraged all forms of arts and crafts. Muslim craftsmen predominantly practiced this art and drew inspiration from Mughal embroidery and classical Mughal darbar (royal) wear.
Though Gota craft did not play a major role in the greater textile and garment scenario like Benarasi, Zardosi, Kinkhab, Tanchoi, Muslin, Blockprints, Jamdani did, Gota was indispensable. The Gota ribbon consisted of ‘badla‘ in the weft and silk or cotton in the warp; ‘badla’ is the flattened gold or silver wire.
Mostly the manufacturing of Gota was done in Surat in the 17th – 20th centuries, though some amount of manufacture was carried on even in Ajmer. After the Gota ribbons were made they was carried from the manufacturer’s in the form of rolls of ribbons. Then, they were attached to the garment in either their original form – as wide bands of ribbons – or they were passed through further processes. These processes rendered the Gota into either Gota moti or Gota patti. Gota moti meant that a bearded cord would be covered with Gota while Gota patti meant that the Gota would be cut into small leaves.
Gota not only rendered the garment a glamorous look with its shimmer but also complemented the heavy, intricate embroidery that usually decorated the surfaces. Thus, heavily embroidered ghagras with a wide border of Gota exuded an overall rich and luxurious appearance. Gota succeeded in highlighting the embroidery of the garment by reflecting the lights. Since there was no electricity, illumination from the candles, diyas, lanterns that were lighted in every nook and corner of the large havelis and palaces created a mystic and romantic aura. The shimmer of the Gota zari and the glitter of the sequins enhanced this atmosphere.
Various royal families of Jaipur, Kota, Bharatpur, Bikaner, Amritsar, Patiala, Kapurthala other than the Mughals, extended royal patronage to the Gota craft and its craftsmen.
Intriguingly, it cannot be ascertained if the Gota craftsmen belonged to any exclusive place or community, as Gota was always regarded as a minor craft.
Though Gota continued to remain exclusive to the royal courts for its grandeur but even then it did not fail to elude the fantasy of the masses. Even in the remote village of Rajasthan, women adorned their tie and dyed dupattas with trips of Gota. Generally, large floral patterns were made out of Gota strips folded into petals were the central motif. The Gota strips were so arranged along the borders that when the dupatta was draped over the head the Gota border would come over the head.
Swaying through the deserts of the Thar, balancing vessels of water on their heads, the Rajasthani women in their bright red and yellow tie and dyed dupattas with strips of Gota emerge as a vibrant picture of life and colour amidst the heat and dust of the environment.
The Gota ribbon and the numerous floral patterns made out of it stood out against the dark background of the odhanis, dupattas and lehangas. Sometimes, Gota was mixed with other embroidery styles like zardosi, resulting into a richer and gaudier appearance.
With the decline of the Mughal Empire, and later on with the Indian states dissolving into the greater Indian republic, Gota like all the other craft techniques of India underwent a drastic change. There resulted confusion with the shift in patronage, causing many a craft to fade away into oblivion. But we will come to that later, let us find out how Gota was made.
Technique: After the Gota ribbon arrives in rolls from the shops it is flattened out. Then a broad Cellotape is stuck all over the wrong side of the surface i.e. the non- shiny side of the ribbon.
Then, the Gota ribbon is put on an iron tool called pitan – kutan and with the help of an iron nail-like tool the Gota is hammered out into desired shapes. The design has meanwhile been drawn onto the butter or tracing paper by an exert artist hired specially for this purpose. This design is now traced on to the final fabric with the help of a paste of kerosene and lime. Then, the tiny Gota pieces are stuck on the pre designed areas. The adhesive used is BONFIX. After the pieces have been pasted the edges are embroidered to the fabric. The threads used to embroider the edges are sometimes plain, braided or twisted. Sequins, beads, stones, crystals are added for a glamorous look.
Raw Material: Today Gota is still manufactured in Surat and Ajmer. Due to the unavailability and the high cost of gold, it is no longer used in the weft. It has been substituted with synthetic fibers that are easy to maintain and are cost effective. There is continuous research going on for more durable, easy care fibers that could be dyed in attractive colours. If success were achieved then Gota would surely go global! The ‘dapka’ rolls costed Rs. 500/ kilo, while copper Gota costed up to Rs. 1000 per kilo in 2001.
Video of the process of making Gota embroidery is demonstrated below. Video taken by author of the blog, kindly use with permission and due credit.
Design: Now, there is a greater concentration of an admixture of Gota along with other embroidery accessories. These are beads, sequins, stones, colored threads twisted or braided. There are newer designs, mostly floral that are in vogue. These designs have the Gota cut out into finer shapes and motifs unlike the older motifs where Gota stuck out at angles. The Gota is now cut such that there are no such angles and delicate flowers, leaves, creepers can be made. There are some traditional motifs such as peacocks, paisleys that are still popular, though these are found mostly amongst the products that are made for the mass market.
The mass-market products are mostly mixed synthetic fabrics, or fake chiffon’s, georgette. Even the tie and dye that forms the base upon which Gota is embroidered is no longer real, it is mostly machine – printed tie and dye. The tie and dye red and yellow odhanis that the women in rural Rajasthan draped with bright large Gota floral motifs have become a rarity!
End Products: Gota is presently widely practiced on bandhni, lehariya, mothra, block printed fabrics. These fabrics could end up as dupattas, scarves, lehanga – choli sets, salwar kameezes and the essential sari. The fabrics used are range from chiffon, georgette, silk, cotton, tissue, crepe, tissue, Kota doriya and other synthetic fabrics.
Centres of Production: The areas of Jaipur where the Gota work in Jaipur is done are Ramganj, Chandpole, Choti Chaupad and the areas around Jaipur are Naila, Bassi, Kanota. There were approximately 5000 to 6000 men working on Gota in Naila in 2001. You can witness the inspiration of Gota from the snapshots of Naila town.
Special mention goes to a man in his mid forties, Ram Kishor Sharma. A resident of Naila he learnt Gota work in the late 1970’s from Jaipur. He claims that he had taken Gota work to Naila on the Sankranti of January 1980 (i.e. 14 January 1980) and then taught it to some Karigars. Earlier he had around 30 – 35 Karigars working under him but he did not mind them claiming independence to start their own work so now he has 10 – 15 Karigars working. He has designs with him that date to 30 years back. But he was very surprised when asked if he has kept them carefully as he said they would be lying in his Karkhana somewhere. He said that since the last 3 years Gota has reached its peak.
He gets Gota work done according to orders from shops and showrooms in Jaipur. He goes to Jaipur every morning taking orders from various shops and then every evening to deliver the work done. Some shop owners pay on receiving the work but most prefer to pay only when the items are sold. This proves inconvenient for the Karigars, as they might have to wait for a long time to receive payment for their hard labour. After receiving the order they prepare a sample of 1” * 1” area. Then this sample is to be accepted by the shop owners or designers.
After the sample is accepted then the actual production starts. Sometimes if the sample doesn’t appear attractive then colours of the threads are re matched with the base fabric. The suggestions of Ram Kishore Sharma are also accepted.
He gets Gota work done mainly for the Rajput families of Jodhpur and Pali too. Rajput ladies of these places generally wear heavily embroidered dupattas of the length of 7 – 7 ½’.
Karigars: The majority of the ‘Karigars’ who are actively employed in the craft of embroidering Gota reside in Naila, around 30 kms from Jaipur. The additional strength of Karigars comes up from Jaipur, Bassi and Kanota. Earlier, Gota was carried on as a domestic craft in poor households and women were involved in it but now only men are involved in all the processes of the Gota work. Most of the Karigars come from Muslim families. Sometimes even young boys are taken in as apprentices so that they can be experts, like the senior Karigars, by the time they grow up. The shop owners explain the designs to the ‘Karigars’. Since they are trained in this craft through generations and are extremely dexterous they have no problem in getting their word across. And, they are ensured of getting exactly as is expects out of them , if not better! The suggestions of the Karigars regarding designs and the type of work to be done are respected. Since the Karigars are experts the shop owners do not find any sense in dictating them.
Payment to the Karigars is done on the basis of the intricacy of the work done and the amount of time each has spent on a particular piece of article. The best Karigar is reserved for decorating the dupatta.
The creators of the dazzling Gota embroidery do not even know who wears their fruit of long hours of labour. They do not even know how much each article created by them sells for ultimately. They are not even bothered about all this as long as they receive what they deserve in time! (Hopefully, now with online shopping the Gota creators have direct access to their customers, eliminating the middlemen to some extent).
Market: I went to the most famous and the most frequented shops in Jaipur to capture the mood of the market and to observe how the shop owners were handling the rising demand for Gota work. I was wondering whether they were at all aware of the value of Gota and if they had any idea about the fancy of the clientele. Did they realise that contemporisation would eventually be a big boost to their business? Though most of the shop owners refused to comment much and the majority refused to let me take any photograph of the articles in their shops and boutiques I could catch that the mood regarding Gota was pretty upbeat.
- Nikhaar is located at Saraogi Mansion, Bapu Bazaar, Jaipur.
Their owner is also their designer, Anil Jain. Anil Jain claims that out of the variety of things kept in his showroom only 5% have Gota work done upon them. He has been into Gota work since the last two years on a large scale. Though reluctant to reveal much about the procurement of material, designs, the marketing procedures as followed by his showroom he let me know that the pricing of the final product is fixed after all the processes are completed, then the number of processes is taken into account. If a tie and dyed sari has been embellished with ‘Gota’ then the sari would cost higher than a plain sari with ‘Gota’ work He has a lot of exposure to foreign markets. Many of his customers live outside India. He advertises on the net through their web site http://www.nikhaar.com. People can place orders through the form after looking through the items advertised. They export to the US and UK where the strong NRI market is eager for traditional Indian ethnic wears. For his customers in India he has a special catalogue printed with the news of all the new products regularly. Other than Jaipur he sends work of Nikhaar that can be viewed at Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai. He was not ready to part with the names of the showrooms where his articles are displayed, other than Roopkala at Mumbai. The Gota worked saris in Nikhaar used to range from Rs. 2, 000/- to as high as Rs. 30, 000/-
He strongly advises the students who are on their way to being textile and fashion designers to be extremely professional in their attitude. They should have an intrinsic interest in the craft they want to design in and be ready to work late hours with the Karigars. This is the key to success as expressed by Anil Jain.
- Jaipur Sari Kendra and Rana’s
They were very reluctant to reveal the names or addresses of the designers and Karigars who work for them. They admit to having 200 Karigars working for them respectively. They said their Karigars come to them from Lucknow and Kolkata other than Jaipur itself. The Rana’s people said that they kept their Karigars in accommodation provided by them, shielded from the public eye. They said that they recommend Gota items to their customers to be dry cleaned and to preserved these by keeping the garments folded inside out, the folds should be changed form time to time. They sell not only from their showrooms in Jaipur but throughout India by supplying on a retail and wholesale basis to various cities of India. They refused to disclose the names of cities and showrooms outside Jaipur. The process from conception of a design to execution and ultimately its gracing the showrooms takes around 20 days. They get a sample made and if the design is accepted then more pieces are made out of it. The colour combinations or the base fabric colours are often changed. They refused to let any of their garments being photographed for fear that their exclusive designs would be revealed.
- New Silk Palace
They have their showroom amidst the hustle bustle of the Johari bazar, Jaipur. They do not cater to the upper classes. They insist they their customers are more form the middle classes with not much spending power. They are also practising the use of machine cut Gota. They mostly use Gota work on saris and lehanga choli sets. They get Gota work done on any fabric. Their saris cost around Rs. 1200/-. They also cater to creating according to orders made by people. They display and sell their dupattas for around Rs. 500 – 1,000/-. They however feel that the manner in which Gota has become fashionable and attractive is not an everlasting situation. They also showed displeasure in revealing the names or addresses of their Karigars.
Present Scenario: Through the ages, fighting against the adversities of time Gota has succeeded to emerge a winner! Although, always it had been considered a minor craft and not given the status as to any major craft, Gota craft has become fairly commercialised now. Gota has been contemporised in keeping with the fashion trends and demands of the time in terms of technique, design, motifs, end products and the market.
The new type of Gota embroidery owes a lot of its colour schemes and designs to the fashion forecasts. It is kept in mind to change into cool colours and pastels shades during summers and into warmer and richer colours during the winters. This effort has made Gota work fashionable. It has been very much accepted amongst the crème de la crème although the clientele is not restricted to the young and the rich, people from the middle classes and women of all ages flock to shops to buy Gota worked garments.
Incidentally, Vasundhara Das has been decked in an exquisite Gota lehanga choli as her wedding garment in the movie Monsoon Wedding. And, the famous garment worn by Deepika Padukone in the film ‘Padmavat’ – apart from several hundred women draped in Gota worked garments.
I requested a few friends and they kindly sent in their personal photographs of reinventing old Gota work into new textiles or using the Gota work from old garments of their ancestors into new garments for themselves. And, don’t they look stunning!!! Thank you Yogeshwari Singh, Purva Gehlot, Divya Tiwari and Prerna Dayal Mathur.
Apart from the exclusive stores (one can purchase online also) Gota has diversified into different garments and textiles like bags, purses, home furnishings but these are mostly machine made. There are several price ranges and Gota is everywhere. So enjoy the Gota worked sparkling world around you all the year around, not just for the festive seasons. If possible, do purchase directly from the Gota workers, and as always, my humble request, kindly do not bargain with skilled yet poor craftspeople who are preserving centuries old tradition and bringing them to your homes.
This research on Gota was undertaken by me during my tenure as faculty with NIFT, Gandhinagar, in 2001. I have edited and revised some of the information but the information from the fieldwork is still from 2001.
Kindly give copyright to the author of this blog post for sharing photographs and the content: Poulomi Das @varnikadesigns
Apart from original field work by the author, research from books are: