Printed, woven, painted or embroidered with the name of a deity or a sacred chant, the Namawali Chadar is a type of religious garment found in India. The word namawali literally translates to “object inscribed with a name.” In this case, it refers specifically to the name of a religious deity or a particular mantra, which is repeated across the fabric as a pattern. The word chadar, meaning “covering,” is broadly used to refer to it as an upper-body garment, but the Namawali Chadar can also take the form of a shawl, stole or scarf.
The words on a Namawali Chadar are traditionally written in the Devanagari script. The Chadar can be made of a range of fabrics, including silk and cotton, and may feature additional motifs, such as images of the deity and other religious symbols like shankhas, chakras, tridents etc.
The practice of making Namawali Chadars is believed to have begun around the fifteenth century, with the advent of the Bhakti movement. Between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, it was produced across different parts of India, including Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. The earliest versions of the Chadar were mostly owned and worn by members of royalty, who would specifically commission weavers to produce these cloths under their patronage. Indian paintings from the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries depict widows wearing the Chadar during religious ceremonies.
Once it began to be produced and printed in larger numbers, the Namawali Chadar was no longer restricted to use by royalty and gained widespread popularity. Today, it continues to be worn by priests and devotees during religious ceremonies, as it is believed to purify the soul. In many regions, it is used to cover the body during cremation ceremonies, and as a drape for altars and deities in temples. Depending on the deity it is dedicated to, the Namawali Chadar may be called by different names, such as the Hari-Nama Chadar, which features the sixteen-word Hare Krishna mantra.
A similar garment is the ritual shawl known as the Ramnami Ordhni, which is made by members of the Ramnami sect of Varanasi, and features the name of the god Ram repeated across the fabric.
Chakraborty, Nandini. “NAMAVALI SHAWL IN INDIAN PAINTINGS: TRAVERSING TILL THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.” Ensemble 2, no. 1 (2020): 181–86. http://www.ensembledrms.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/17_20013159N1NSNY_proof181-186.pdf
Google Arts & Culture. “Ramnamavali Chadar (Shawl).” Accessed September 12, 2021. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/ramnamavali-chadar-shawl/oQFKa7EKLPCovQ?hl=en.
Kaur, Jasminder. “Ramnami Tradition of Banaras.” Accessed September 12, 2021. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331287237_Ramnami_Tradition_of_Banaras