Dupattas and delights

As someone who loves fashion and clothing, coming to India has been a dream. Literally, I’ve been dreaming about the beautiful colors and textiles of India—wearing clothes and trying out styles here is so much fun, since there are so many more options here than back home in the US. Throughout my trip, I’ve been collecting dupattas (also called chunni, a type of scarf that women wear with Indian clothes) from all the cities and regions that I’ve visited, and it’s been a unique way to keep a memento of my travels with me. I’m planning on displaying them on the walls of my apartment back in Philly—I’ve never been so excited for interior decorating before!

Since this has been a theme present throughout my travels in India, I thought I’d introduce you to the dupattas I bought and some information about the regional specialties of textiles. The textile industry is the second largest employer in India, and there’s a world of culture and tradition behind every stitch.

  1. Amritsar: Punjabi phulkari

“Phulkari” design is a traditional style of embroidery from Punjab; typically, they are floral, as “phul” means “flower” in Punjabi. When we were in Amritsar, I fell in love with the beautiful, intricate embroidery, and buying my first phulkari dupatta was actually the catalyst of this collection. According to my co-intern Hareena (and authority on all things Punjabi), people often gift phulkari patterned items to brides-to-be, and are often worn for celebratory occasions like weddings. I got the chance to wear one that I picked up at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where it’s required for visitors to cover their heads (although I’m not getting married anytime soon!)

The blue is a traditional design, while the black is more contemporary.

  1. Jaipur: Rajasthani embroidery

A common characteristic of Rajasthani embroidery is the use of mirrors, or “shisha”. The mirrors are stitched on to the fabric (usually cotton) using a special technique (fun fact: I know how to do this stitch! My grandmother taught me) and lots of colorful threads to create designs and patterns. I bought a yellow embroidered dupatta at Johari Bazaar, the most popular market in Jaipur. Had to haggle a bit to get it at a good price, but that’s where half the fun comes from!

Rajasthani tie-dye textiles, called “bandhani”, are also quite famous across the country. It’s a very intricate process to make these designs, as the artisans tie hundreds of small knots into the fabric, dye it, then pull it out (sometimes they do this right in front of you at the shop, which is pretty fun to watch).

My yellow shisha work dupatta from Jaipur and an example of bandhari print (actually gifted to me by a friend back home)! 

  1. Varanasi: Banarasi silk and brocade

After its religious significance, Varanasi is best known for its silk sarees. Banaras (a British-ization of the name of the city Varanasi) silk is one of the finest types of textiles in the country, and it’s quite common to find a Banarasi silk saree in an Indian women’s wedding wardrobe. The silk is typically paired with with brocade designs in gold thread (also called “zari”), producing a wide border around the dupatta/sari and smaller, floral patterns throughout the body of the cloth. You can find silk shops on every corner around Varanasi, and there are even stores where you can see the artisans making them! I bought mine in an alleyway, or gali (pronounced “galee”, not like my last name, “gaali”) in Godowlia market, which is an adventure in its own right.


An example of Banaras brocade designs from Varanasi!

Title image: a picture of the markets in Banaras. Peep the silk sarees up top!



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About varshinigali

Penn class of 2020, majoring in Health and Societies, interning at the Public Health Foundation of India.