A brocade fabric woven by blending cotton and silk, himroo was developed as an imitation of kinkhwab and features design elements inspired by Persian fabrics. The word “himroo” derives from the Persian hum-ruh, meaning “similar”.
The fabric is believed to have been developed in the fourteenth century CE, during the reign of Mohammad bin Tughlaq, to meet Deccani Muslim rulers’ demand for blended silk clothing, such as sherwanis, jackets, gowns, shirts and blouses, as well as shawls, bedcovers and curtains. Travellers’ writings from the period refer to the fabric as the finest cloth in the Deccan. When Tughlaq shifted his capital to Daulatabad in 1326, several weavers settled in the city. Himroo’s popularity also spread across the Mughal Empire, especially during the reign of Aurangazeb, and was supported by a burgeoning export market in West Asia. Following the decline of the Mughal and Maratha Empires in the early-eighteenth century, the fabric received significant patronage from the Nizams of Hyderabad.
Himroo employs locally grown cotton or rayon yarn as the warp threads on top, and pure silk yarn as the weft on the bottom. The yarn is first dyed in the desired colours, then winded over bobbins using a charkha. The bobbins are then fixed on a wooden frame with individual steel rods to transfer the yarn. The steel rods are fixed on the warper’s beam, and the warp threads are wound around it. The threads are passed through the jala, with a minimum of four heddles. All warp threads are then dented and rolled over the beam of the loom to create a taut surface for weaving. The weft yarn is adjusted on stalk pieces formed using a wooden rod to adjust the hanks, which can be rotated.
The textile is traditionally woven on a pit loom using the throw-shuttle technique, with the weaver seated on one side of the loom and a helper, locally referred to as dori uthanewala (“the one lifting the threads”), seated on the other end to lift the jala threads up as required. In the 1960s and ’70s, master weaver Abdul Hameed Qureshi introduced the jacquard loom to the weaving process, which required only one operator, making the process more cost effective and efficient.
The fabric is characterised by recurring motifs all over the cloth, such as geometric and parallel lines, hexagons; fruit motifs such as diamond mangoes and pineapples; floral motifs and creepers such as shamiana, banarasi and Ambi; and animal motifs such as elephants, square-bird or double-bird. The base of the himroo is often of a dark colour such as black, pale slate or mustard, blended with green, blue and gold, and the motifs woven in lighter colours such as pink, white, red and yellow.
The fabric enjoyed widespread popularity until the mid-twentieth century, when it underwent a decline in demand. In the 1930s, the former government of Hyderabad offered to support the craft but its efforts were compromised by the Second World War and its adverse impacts on trade. Demand for the fabric fell in the 1940s, with a little over 150 artisan families practising the craft, which fell further to thirty families in the years immediately after India’s independence. By the late-1950s, the fabric produced in Aurangabad, although being traded extensively, was facing severe competition from more economical, imitation fabric woven using power looms. Consequently, the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government established weavers’ cooperatives to support the weaving of himroo, which resulted in weavers migrating from Aurangabad to Hyderabad. Further, the Himroo and Nawabpura Cooperative Society Limited, Aurangabad (1953) and The Himroo Weavers’ Cooperative Society (1955) were established under the Hyderabad Cooperatives Societies Act of 1952.
Today, himroo is used to make shawls, bedsheets, curtains, decorative tapestry, pillow covers, skirts and accessories such as purses and neckties. The fabric is primarily woven in Aurangabad, where a number of weaving and training centres have been established under the government of India. While demand for the fabric increased over the years, especially among tourists, the number of active weavers in the area is experiencing a steady decline, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international tourism.
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