I once visited Lucknow as a child. Back then, the smell of all the kebabs used to attract me to various shops, just like an insect is attracted to nectar. And who had not heard about the Bhool Bhulaiya? That was one place where I behaved myself and stayed close to my mother lest I get lost. But out of the numerous things that I saw and learned at Lucknow, one thing definitely fascinated me – the Chikan embroidery.
To be honest, when I first heard its name, I got attracted because I thought it was related to chicken. However, when we visited the nooks and corners of this historical city, haggling with the shopkeepers to buy Chikan embroidered cloth, I realized what it exactly is.
The Art Of Chikan Embroidery
Chikan embroidery is simply a mixture of skill and hard work. It is a delicate floral embroidery, manually done with needle and thread. There are as many as 36 kinds of stitches in Chikan embroidery. To my dismay, I discovered that the word ‘chikan’ has nothing to do with chicken. It may have been derived from the Persian word ‘chikin’ meaning embroidered cloth.
The origin of Chikan embroidery in India is sort of disputed. Many people claim that a Sufi saint introduced this fine embroidery to his followers. There are others who say that Megasthenes brought this artwork to India. Yet there are other claims of the Chikan embroidery’s origin in Dacca (present day Dhaka in Bangladesh). However, the most accepted belief is that this embroidery was introduced by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s wife, Muhr-un-Nisa.
Mehr-un-Nisa or Nur Jahan is considered to be the most dominating Mughal Queen ever. She was the brain behind most of the decisions taken by Jahangir. She patronized art and literature and would herself make Chikan embroidered fabric. The artisans of that time picked up this kill. After the fall of the Mughal Empire, the artisans settled in Lucknow (Awadh). The Nawabs of Awadh instantly developed a liking to this skillful embroidery.
Chikan is mostly common in muslin cloth, although they are now available in crepe, chiffon, silk, georgette and organdy materials as well. Go get your piece of this royal cloth as soon as possible!