Mirzapur in Varanasi district in Uttar Pradesh is one of the oldest and most important areas of dari weaving in the country. This belt that stretches across Bhadohi, Varanasi, Ghazipur, Sonbhadra, Kaushambi, Prayagraj, Jaunpur and Chandauli districts represents the largest concentration of dari weavers in India. The whole process of Mirzapur handmade dari is labour intensive, export-oriented and provides employment to men and women who can work at their homes. The high quality of workmanship and mix of traditional and contemporary designs is achieved through the panja dari weaving technique.
Weaving is considered to be one of the oldest crafts in the world with the earliest form of carpet weaving reported in India around 500 B.C.E and has been traditionally linked to the social and climatic environment. Marco Polo has written about the different types of durries and namda (traditional floor covering of wool) used in India in his chronicles.
Panja weaving that is adopted in Mirzapur gets its name from the metallic clawlike tool called panja in the local dialect that is used to beat and set the threads in the warp (lengthwise yarns). Mirzapur handmade durries are classified into panja dari and loom dari. Both cotton and wool are used to make panja durries.
The master or the head weaver carries out the process of warp making based on the design and colours selected using tanna (a machine for warping). The thread rolls are put on the vertical movable frame in the desired colour combination. Once the entire octagonal cylinder is covered with thread, the log upon which the tanna is wound is fitted into the blocks and the tightly wound thread on this log is used on the loom frame.
The weavers pull a fixed number of warp threads depending on the design towards themselves and takes a bundle of weft (crosswise yarns) across the warp threads to fill the gap longitudinally. The warp is marked at regular intervals to guide the weaver on the design. Once one row of weft is completed, the weavers beat it to settle it tightly into the warp using the panja.
Once the weft threads are tightly beaten between the warp, the weaver exchanges the upper and lower layers of the warp using kamana (a v-shaped wooden frame whose ends are bound with a tight piece of rope) and rucch (two bamboo pieces on which the kamana is attached with the beam just above the reed). This provides more strength and durability to the dari by locking the weft between the two layers of warp.
The warp is continuously tightened by adjusting the two beams with tightening screws on the loom frame. This makes the dari strong and the designs symmetrical. This process is repeated as they go up the warp when the lower part is filled. The weaver takes the finished dari off the loom and hands it over to the master weaver for finishing as per the client’s requirements.
These elegant and handcrafted durries generally have bold designs and bright colours. Peacocks, lions, half-kite’s shapes, multi-hued diamond shapes, geometric designs, traditional mandala patterns and repetitive bands of colour are the main motifs.
The extraordinary skill and creativity of the weaver is seen in each and every process of dari making. This panja weaving technique has been recognized for its strength, texture, designs and involvement of labour in each and every process.
Mirzapur handmade dari is known for its long life, durability and creative patterns and was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2015.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)