A wrap-resist-dyeing technique practised in the state of Rajasthan, leheriya is known by its distinct patterns of stripes, chevrons and diagonals. It is traditionally found on the safas (turban cloths) worn by Rajasthani men and the odhanis worn by the women, as well as on sarees. Leheriya derives its name from the Sanskrit word lahara, meaning “wave,” and refers to the inspirations behind the designs: the monsoon season — a time of celebration in the state — as well as the patterns created by the wind on the desert sand.
Rajasthan, along with its neighbouring state of Gujarat, has a long-established tradition of resist-dyed textiles, particularly the technique of bandhani. Precise details about the historical origin of the leheriya technique are not known but visual evidence — in the form of miniature paintings from the seventeenth century — depicts Rajasthani noblemen wearing turbans with the leheriya patterns. The leheriya technique in fine cotton has historically also been used to make garments such as ghagras, kurtas, kanchali and angarkhi. The cities of Jodhpur and Jaipur are the two main centres of leheriya textiles, where expert dyers who create turbans are still supported by the erstwhile royal families. In the past, each royal house had its own signature leheriya hues and patterns.
Unlike bandhani, where small sections of the textile are reserved and dyed, the wrap-resist technique of leheriya involves rolling up the entire material and tying it at intervals according to a pattern. The untied segments of the fabric receive the dyes, while the resist segments emerge undyed. Because the dye needs to penetrate through layers of tightly rolled fabric, the technique demands the use of muslin or fine silks as its base material. The fabric is washed to remove any impurities. After that it is folded diagonally from one end to the opposite selvedge and rolled, or folded like a fan and then rolled. The rolled, wet fabric is wound around a wooden stand, and then tied tightly with untwisted yarn at regular intervals to produce the desired pattern. The work of tying the fabric is usually done by women, who are called bandhere. The tied fabric is soaked in water and, following this, is dyed.
Fugitive dyes, also known as kuccha dyes, are used in leheriya, so that the excessive dye may be easily discharged, leaving clean lines in the pattern. If multicoloured stripes are required, some of the ties may be opened for further rounds of dyeing, while others may be reserved accordingly. Once a diagonal pattern is completed, a second diagonal pattern may be created using the same process mentioned above. For this, the fabric is unrolled and tied from corner to selvedge in the direction opposite to the first pattern, resulting in a design that features two diagonal stripes crossing each other. This process creates the pattern of mothra, the name given to the small rectangular spaces where the diagonal stripes intersect, which has been inspired by moth, a type of lentil. Striped leheriya patterns are called salaidar, while chevron patterns are known as gandadar. A finished leheriya textile can also be embellished by khari work (not to be confused with khadi, the handwoven cotton fabric), where metallic dust is applied onto a motif that has been stamped with an adhesive on the cloth.
Tie-dyed textiles, including leheriya, have deep cultural significance in Rajasthan and are worn on special occasions. Women wear leheriya odhanis and sarees for the spring festivals of Holi and Gangaur, as well as the monsoon festival of Teej. Red or pink safas are typically worn by males on these festivals and on special occasions such as weddings, while a safa with the mothra pattern is traditionally worn during periods of mourning.
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