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ASHDEEN, The man who saved a dying art

Parsi Embroidery

A unique part of India’s diverse textile heritage. This unique artistic tradition has its roots in Iran during the Bronze Age but with time it influences from European, Chinese, Persian and Indian culture. In the 19th century, when retravelled from India to the Far East to trade in opium, returning home with artistically embroidered, hand-spun silk as gifts for women was the best times for Parsis.

The saris that depict Parsi embroidery are known as Parsi Gara Saris and take about 9 months to complete. Parsi embroidery incorporates motifs that have deep meanings. The reverence of the Parsis towards nature is evident in their embroidery work. But now, you’ll find very few of these in the market. The reason is the declining Parsi community and mass production of clothes that are readily available.

A traditional garage can come in several designs. For instance, there are various kinds of flowers, all of which have some symbolic meaning, such as the lily for health, chrysanthemum for long life and the 100 petalled-rose, which stands for spiritualism. One may also find the Indian ambi being used, but with a crane from the Chinese tradition inside it. Or, there could be the typically Chinese paisley with lotus petals at the base, combined with an Indian peacock or the Persian bird of paradise, the Simurgh.  Besides, there is also the Carolina — a spider design that is actually a flower, and the chakra/chakli motif (male/female sparrow).

“People tend to forget that it is not just a craft, but also a visual identifier of the Zoroastrian community and its achievements.” – ASHDEEN Z. LILAOWALA.


ASHDEEN Z. LILAOWALA, a Textile Designer,  Author of ‘Threads of Continuity – The Zoroastrian Craft of Kusti Weaving‘, also a graduate of NID, Ahmadabad. (National Institute of Design)  launched his label ASHDEEN specializing in hand embroidered saris back in October 2012. His embroidered cocktail dresses, gowns and saris have been appreciated for their contemporary, unique take on the traditional Parsi Gara embroidery. ELLE magazine had also voted him as “The hottest design talent of 2013” and awarded him for his excellence in reviving embroidery.

In 2005 -2006 along with Parzor Foundation, Ashdeen conducted a detail research project on Parsi Embroidery for the Ministry of Textiles. Travelled through Iran and China to trace the routes and origins of the craft. He has documented several private Parsi embroidery collections in various cities of India.

The independent designer Ashdeen Lilaowala of the label ASHDEEN said, “The biggest challenge of reviving and working with an ancient craft like Parsi Gara embroidery is that you need to create your own imagery without slavishly reproducing it. Also, you need to train and nurture craftspeople to interpret your vision of Gara embroidery. My journey wouldn’t have been possible without the decade of research I have done on Parsi Embroidery to trace the roots of the craft and the route by which it came to India.

Over the last three years, the response has been extremely positive to many interpretations we have done. Women across India and abroad have appreciated our new colour combinations, varied fabrics and distinct motifs, which have given the Garas a more contemporary appeal.”

You can see his collection here,

Wajiha Haider
Wajiha Haider
Constantly wandering in search of people and their stories.

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