Once Flaunted Only by Mughal Royals – Now on Every Mithai Box and Bridal Lehenga in India
They say that Jodha Bai, Emperor Akbar’s wife, wore the most exquisite gota-embroidered gowns in his court. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a single sharara or gharara that is not patterned with Queen Jodha’s butas, kairis (mangoes), champaks (flowers), gamla (flower pot), and paisleys, peacocks, elephants, and sparrows – all flora and fauna motifs that have remained timeless applique traditions passed down several generations among craftsman families. The village of Nyla on the outskirts of the city of Jaipur, has a long history in the tradition of gota embroidery. Besides Nyla, other towns where gota work is popular include Kota, Bikaner, Ajmer, and Udaipur – all in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.
Not as Simple As it Looks
Just because you now see it on mithai (sugar-overloaded Indian candy!) boxes, doesn’t mean gota is all that easy to execute. It is actually quite time consuming, and depends on the complexity of the motifs and the quantity of applique work (a lot in the case of a bridal gown and not much in the case of a mithai dabba!). First, a fabric of your choice (today polyester-cotton blends are in vogue, but back in the day, the choice of material for this tradition was silk) is stretched across a wooden rectangular frame called a “khaat” next to which the craftsmen sit and trace the gota designs and motifs using basic tracing paper and chalk. The gota lace (ribbon-like and differing in width and thickness depending on the size and complexity of the pattern) is then dexterously cut and folded numerous times to make the precise shape of the tracing – this is a tough skill to master – and then stitched and hemmed, employing a chain-stitch called “dori-kaam,” across the fabric; this practice is called “takaayi.” Since gotakaam is technically a surface ornamentation having singular texture, gota is a form of applique that locals refer to “lappe-ka-kaam.”
Bling, Bling, Bling!
Gota was traditionally done as a “patti” or border of an outfit, but today it is trendy among bridalwear designers to pattern across entire outfits so that the bride has the semblance of a dazzling chandelier. Because it is applied so lavishly and abundantly by designers like Anita Dongre, gota, today, is not made using real silver and gold like in the days of Mughal Emperor Akbar, but by gilt and lurex and is churned out on powerlooms in Surat. Other metallic imitations include copper and polyester film. Beads and stones are sometimes used alongside gota to produce an enhanced “zari” or “zardosi.” When tassels are attached to gota work, this frill decoration is referred to “kinari.”