The Roots of Shikargah

The brocades of Banaras are famed for their tales. The history and the life that the cloth is imbued with, is just as cherished as the saree itself. It is important then, to know where the stories come from. Shikargah sarees are a fierce legacy; representative of a spirit unique to the land and its people. 
What is Shikargah?
Shikargah does not refer to a style of weaving, but rather a type of design. The name is given to sarees where the fabric depicts hunting scenes. It’s typically marked with scenes of hunters riding horseback or on elephants. The hunters are often see wielding guns and weapons while pursuing wild animals like tigers. 
This fierce scene is a signature design of medieval Persian decorative art. It creates sarees with a distinctive appearance, and with the resurgence of handloom, the Shikargah has become a proud choice for women across the country. It pays tribute to the hunting hobby that medieval kings of the country used to enjoy. It allows the wearer not just to appreciate the history, but also participate in it. 
 

The History 

The roots of the Shikargah design seem to trace back to Persia. Weavers are believed to have migrated from Persia and the areas further north, to India, and specifically Banaras. These weavers brought along with them their secrets of the trade. New techniques of brocade weaving were established, as were the new vocabulary of motifs as well as their unique style which incorporated floral and animal images. This led to an adaptation of the Persian style of imagery with local history. 

While exact dates are unknown, the presence of the Shikargah design can be found in the pages of time even before the Mughal and Sultanate periods. It took form much before the British Raj, and inspiration from the style can be seen in medieval arts and crafts. 

While the roots of the design formed in Persia, the design has evolved and imbibed features from several other sources across time. This includes the Chinese and Ottoman brocades, as well as European wallpaper designs. As the designs continued to evolve, it became relevant to future generations and established trends, while still keeping tradition alive. 

The Design 

The Shikargah designs different mediums, including echo across carpets, fabrics, metal ware and ceramics. 

In the context of the saree, the hunting scene design usually forms the body of the garment while the borders and pallu are designed to match. It is also integrated with other pieces of Persianate origin like the tree of life and pomegranate flowers. There are other cases where the hunting design is depicted only on the pallu while the hunter and animals are etched in a repeated pattern along the width of the saree. The other form of design is when the animals and hunters are arranged in a lattice pattern across the body of the saree. The sarees thus have a dynamic design and pattern, combining history and modernity. 

The colour palette of the Shikargah saree is usually festive in nature, while metallic shades have been combined in recent times. This gives the saree a rich and full appearance, creating a unique look. The motifs often show a combination of the hunting scene with vegetative and floral elements, as well as animals, birds and human figures. This design of the Banarasi weave is extremely flattering with well-balanced positive and negative spaces. The pattern is evenly distributed across the saree and the brocade is rich and heavy, laden with history and culture. 

The genius of the design decidedly comes from the original weaver, who was able to recognize the manner in which the designs could be incorporated with the weave. It caters not only to the aesthetic sensibilities of the wearer but also their history and culture. The authentic Shikargah saree involves intricate and skilled craftsmanship that takes about two to four months to complete. It makes use of the supplementary weft weaving technique that is employed for other Banarasi brocade sarees. 

Legacy 

The unique design of the saree went on to inspire several arts and crafts across history. Weavers were employed by the royals for use in Court, and the fabrics were created alongside the in-house weavers and designers. In modern times, it is cherished by several brides as attire for their wedding day. Shikargah went on to be the most famous among the kimkhwabs, seen in the form of sarees, dupattas and other traditional attire. It has also inspired styles of sarees like the Vanasingaram which depicts ‘the glory of the forest’. 

The sarees are now immensely popular, and regularly woven in Banaras, for people across the country. A style that was borne centuries prior in a foreign land is still a relevant work of art in the country today. This can be attributed to the timeless nature of the designs, that allows a vibrant piece of history to reverberate amongst its people even today. The glory of our history, along with the beauty of the stories cause the Shikargah to be one of the most cherished fabrics amongst the Banarasi sarees.