Image: A leheriya of 21 thin lines and 8 thick lines, with multicoloured mothra. Courtesy of Mohammad Saqib.
Text: Brinda Gill
“Water is precious in Rajasthan, a desert state. The arrival of the rains is a truly special moment. To welcome the monsoons, traditionally, men wore leheriya turbans, and women wore leheriya drapes with colourful skirts and blouses,” says Mohammad Saqib. He is a textile designer, the fifth generation of a family of traditional dyers known locally as rangrez, and the founder of Rangrez Creation, in Jaipur.
Image: Mohammad Saqib at a leheriya dye pot. Courtesy of Mohammad Saqib.
Saqib explains, “The word leheriya derives from the word leher, which means waves. The patterns on leheriya textiles are either straight lines or lines of a continuous `w’. These allude to falling rain, and the waves in lakes. Thus, leheriya is water-centric in symbol and design.” He adds that the craft originated in the city of Bikaner, in Rajasthan, in the 17th century, when leheriya turban cloths were made for the erstwhile ruler. Gradually, the craft spread to other places in Rajasthan.
Image: Top: Sadun Shai leheriya. Bottom: Wave leheriya. Courtesy of Mohammad Saqib.
Leheriya turban cloths, of specific colours and patterns, began to be made for the royalty of other princely states in Rajasthan and, later, for specific communities and regions of Rajasthan, as well as for specific occasions outwith the rainy season— such as festivals, and even solemn occasions.
Image: A 'nagina', or nine colours mothra design on a sari. Courtesy of Mohammad Saqib.
Leheriya is a wrap-resist technique. It involves dipping the cloth in water, rolling or folding it when damp, tying it tightly with thread as per the design, dyeing it, washing it and then repeating the process for every additional colour, progressing from light to dark. Once all the dyeing is complete, the cloth is washed, dried, and then finally opened to reveal the design.
Designs can vary from a single-line in a single-colour contrasting with the base, to a mesmerizing play of multiple lines— fine, or broad, or both —in striking colour combinations.
Image: There are six types of leheriya worked on this textile. Courtesy of Mohammad Saqib.
One variation of leheriya is mothra, in which the tie-dyed leheriya fabric is rolled from an adjacent side, and tie-dyed again. This process results in an additional set of diagonal lines, cutting across the earlier lines. The places where they intersect appear as dots locally known as moth (a grain), hence ‘mothra.’
At Rangrez Creation, various types of silks are resist-dyed; natural, azo-free, or synthetic dyes are used as per the requirements of the clients, creating a multiplicity of leheriya designs— from traditional to contemporary, in single or multiple colours, with single or multiple stripes and waves. Leheriya is also worked on cotton cloth, to order.
Image: Leheriya with six colours of natural dyes. Courtesy of Mohammad Saqib.
Recently, Saqib made a leheriya turban cloth with forty different colours and shades. In the past, he has made a leheriya sari of sixty-five colours and shades that took forty days to complete. To achieve these complex designs, he resist-dyes every small section of cloth in the necessary bowls of dye.
Image: Leheriya sari with sixty five colours and shades. Courtesy of Mohammad Saqib
“The beauty of leheriya technique means it has been used to create designs on a variety of textiles beyond traditional Indian garments. We are happy that textile lovers appreciate the effort involved, as awareness of this traditional Rajasthan craft has spread overseas. We are happy to show customers around our workshop and to create customized leheriya textiles for them.”