It is said that if you cross the Brahmaputra river once, you will return again to cross it a total of seven times.\nI\u2019ve done 3 and as I try to find out more about an Assamese textile, it seems that more trips are in store for me in the future.\nThe textile at hand is from Assam and every day it reveals a bit of its story to me.\u00a0 I have just begun the journey of understanding it and will share the \u2018jagruti\u2019 or awakening of my vision with respect to this textile here.\nThe dealer had not seen anything like this before and neither have I. But I do not count. The dealer has obviously seen more material pass through his hands than I have \u2013 so I am slightly intrigued by the fact that he had not seen a piece like this before.\nAnd so eventually after a few weeks, I get the cloth and begin my journey.\nMy Observation Notes along the learning journey:\n\nIt is an old piece of silk in a rectangular format with some weaving and some embroidery and is roughly 2.5 m x 0.8m.\nThe field is filled with inscription from top to bottom aligned vertically. \nThe ends and the edges have embroidered figurative motifs.\nThe inscription is recognisable as being from the East / North East part of India\nA closer look at the woven borders reveals that the base cloth is from Assam.\u00a0 [Over several trips to the North East I have acquired 4 Assam woven saris \u2013 each one woven in muga silk and tussar silk. Now, every Indian woman knows that the ratio of saris viewed to the ratio of saris purchased is 100:1 \u2013 give or take a dozen. Examining so many saris therefore has familiarised my eye to the Assamese weave.]\nTo my delight, the weave on the textile being studied is finer than any other Assamese piece that I have seen. Here is a zoomed-in close-up of the border. The dots are really finely woven [compare them to the central floret that is only 3inches tall]\n\nA closer look at the embroidered figures reveals that these are images of Krishna and Ram. Most scenes are from the life of Krishna and a few are from the life of Ram.\nRendered by an experienced hand the figurative embroidery is dorukha \u2013 or double-side \u2013 like the embroidery style of a Chamba Rumal. [Though it is not as flawlessly dorukha as that of Chamba Rumals, it is still dorukha.]\nThe inscription itself I had neglected to examine until now, as it is in a script that I do not know. But the moment I stopped to examine the text, I saw that the pattern created by the words was a familiar one:\nA B A B B B A A\nA C A C C C A A\nI have chanted this rhythm hundreds of times myself. In my childhood at the age of 6-7, when I\u2019d complain to my grandma that I was bored she would ask me to repeat a chant as many times as I could .. 100 times and then 200 times and so on. It did keep me busy but not any less bored.\n\nAnd so once I recognised the pattern of words even in this unknown language, I guessed the words at once:\n\u201cHare Ram Hare Ram Ram Ram Hare Hare\nHare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare\u201d\nThis refrence to Krishna & Ram confirmed the textile\u2019s Hindu roots.\n***\nThe script had narrowed down the geography to the North East.\u00a0\nAssam and Manipur are the two states that have large Hindu populations in the North East region and so the Hindu origin narrowed down the source location further.\n\nLater, it was confirmed by our Assamese-literate housemaid that the script is indeed Assamese!\n***\nThe textile was revealing itself to me, one aspect at a time \u2026.Using the clues of \u2018Krishna\u2019, \u2018Ram\u2019, \u2018Silk\u2019, \u2018Weaving+Embroidery\u2019 and \u2018Assam\u2019 I began searching.\nAnd once again I marveled at the internet \u2013 google archives in particular for documenting old books that are no longer bound by copyright issues.\nAlong the journey of fact-finding I stumbled into the cultural history of Assam, the impact of that on its arts, its place in the silk route and learned about the many textiles that share the cultural roots with this particular textile.\nPlagued with feelings of \u2018how little I know\u2019 and burnt out eyes, I plodded on, scampering through the literature available on the subject. What a wonderful lead-line this textile provided in discovering the cultural history of Assam!\n***\nI read about the \u201cVrindavani Vastra\u201d woven during the lifetime of Sri Sankardev, in the 16th century was a tapestry 120 cubits long and 60 cubits broad. It depicted Krishna Lila scenes and was therefore named the Vrindavani Vastra. Lost in Cooch Behar and then rediscovered years later by an Englishman in Tibet, it is now in the V&A museum London. \nTechnically, the word \u2018Vrindavani\u2019 means \u2018of Vrindavan\u2019 (the birthplace of Krishna and hence always associated with Krishna) and\u00a0 \u2018Vastra\u2019 means a \u2018garment\u2019. This is the name not only of that particular 16th century textile but also describes the category of textiles that have a Krishna-centric devotional purpose.\u00a0 \nFurther, since Krishna is an avatar or reincarnation of Vishnu \u2013 one of the 3 primary Gods \u2013 Brahma+Vishnu+Shiva this may also be described as Vaishnavite or associated with Vishnu. \nAlthough the very interesting\u00a0 V&A Vastra\u00a0 textile is different from mine in almost every way, it is the fruit born of the same root i.e.\u00a0 the Vaishnavite religious movement that Assam went through in the 16th century.\n\nAt this point I am certain that this is an Assamese Vaishnavite Kapor (cloth) or Vastra (garment).\nI read on and find more confirmations.\n\nVishnu always carries his four symbols in his four hands: a) white conch shell b) rotating disk c) golden mace and d) lotus flower and we see that in our textile between the sets of text. \n\nPriest Cloths worn by Vaishnavites have motifs of the feet of Vishnu and the lotus-shaped throne of his wife Laxmi and often have inscriptions of the prayer chant of the incarnations or avatars of Vishnu \u2013 Krishna and Ram. \nA printed example with devnagri script\u00a0 \u2018Hare Ram Hare Ram Ram Ram Hare Hare || Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare confirms my Vaishnavite Textile theory.\nThen I stumble upon the most relevant finding \u2013\u00a0 The Namawali Shawl from the National Museum Delhi.[Namawali = with names]\n\n[This shawl has been described as a Kashmir shawl in light green wool \u2026\u00a0 but the base cloth appears to be an Assamese angocha in the photo\u2026 am confused]\nThe similarity of the National Museum cloth with our cloth is striking and I feel like I am almost there.\nBut because of this difference of horizontal versus vertical\u00a0 text\u00a0 I am not satisfied and search some more.\n\n\n\n\nOn a cultural website on Assam I find out about altar cloths:\nThe piece of cloth which is used to cover the singhasana or the throne at the altar is generally known as gosai-kapor\u00a0in Assam and is richly embroidered. Sometimes, verses from the much revered namghosa and kirtana are also embroidered into the cloth. Even the figures of god are woven / embroidered into cloths [Gosai = priest / god]\nThe unidirectional embroidery of the text leads me to think that what I have is an altar cloth \u2013 used to cover the idol or the altar when it is not time for \u2018darshan\u2019. \nToo often on my travels, while visiting ancient but active temples at odd times, I have been faced with such a curtain unable to view the god or goddess. I\u2019ve never thought about these curtains as \u2018textiles\u2019 until now.\n\nNot knowing which direction to pursue further \u2013 I look for information on the textile art of Assam and find out about \u2018loom embroidery\u2019 work. What is that!!! Will need to read more, search more, see more to understand the technicalities of the craft!\nIt has been the practice of women to embroider garments and cloth. For their embroidery, they use coloured threads, muga, like red, white, black, yellow and green of the colours some were evidently mixed colours or Misravarna like Kach-Nila, Gaura-Syama, the above colours are still popular in Assamese loom embroidery work.\nAnd then finally I strike gold in the notes of Anamika Pathak, Curator, National Museum, New Delhi:\n\u201cThe illustrated Namawali shawl with inscribed field became popular around the 15th-16th century in Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Assam. A lot of silk woven shawls or chaddar (drape covering) with repeated invocation of names in Bengali script have been found. \nIn Assam gamusas depicting woven inscriptions with Vaishnavite mantra in Assami script were used to decorate religious altars where sacred books of Vaishnavite tradition. Such fabrics were popularly known as Vrindavani Vastra. This was the phase of the Bhakti movement which inspired the creation of such Namawali Vastra.\u201d\n\n!!!!!\nI am satisfied. Finally I know what it is that I have. Finally I know what it is that I need to search for and what words to use to formulate questions when searching for more answers. It feels good not to be completely blind anymore! Of course even with sight, it is uncertain whether I will find much to look at on the net / in literature / in museums.\nHere is the complete piece ATI-850 :\n\nAnd here is how it might be used:\n\n\nThis has been a very enjoyable journey to Vrindavan and Assam.\nMore fun tasks lies ahead:\na) finding out the narrative details of each of the scenes shown \u2013 some I recognise but others will be familiar to people who are well-versed with the Hindu epics.\nb) investigating the piece as a textile remains \u2013 age, dyes, craft technique etc.\nOne small step at a time\u2026 because the journey of discovery is, after all the real reward!\njm\nOct 2015\nLink to the Namawali Shawl or Chadar (National Museum New Delhi)\nLink to a fabulous Vaishnav textile fragment from Nepal\n\u00a0\n\nSave\nThe post A Journey to Assam along a \u2018Vrindavani Vastra\u2019 appeared first on The Art Blog by WOVENSOULS.COM.