Divine Fungus: This organic
motif in Chinese mythology symbolizes longevity and immortality. This abstruse motif, sometimes difficult to find hidden in the embroidery, is often placed on Parsi garments particularly jhablas and gives protection to the wearer.

The Unesco Parzor Project has been working in diverse fields. Over the past year the Youth of the community and the Elderly have been interviewed across the country by teams headed by Dr. Lata Narayan and Dr. Siva Raju respectively for their separate studies. Prof. Shalini Bharat is conducting detailed surveys into the Parsi Family while Dr. Katy Gandevia and her team have studied numerous Parsi medical practitioners in Mumbai. Along with the demographic researches, the medical projects are also progressing thanks to support from the community. Volunteers have willingly donated blood for cancer and genetic studies and given their time for the neurological surveys. In other fields, Sabeena Gadihoke’s book on Homai Vyarawalla, India’s First Woman Photo Journalist is about to go into print while Dr. Bharati Modi’s linguistic study of Parsi Gujarati is being finalized for publication.

Embroidered sarees showing Chinese influence were very popular. These family heirlooms depict the aquatic world, birds and animals.

For the past four years Parzor’s Craft Documentation programme has also continued across India. Ashdeen Lilaowala and other researchers, have recorded Parsi crafts in areas ranging from Navsari to Madras. Parsi crafts and their designs are a special contribution of this community, which have so far not received the acknowledgement deserved. Garas, Kors, Jhablas carry specific designs, which are often found on Tanchoi fabrics, Torans and even chalk boxes. Can this be just a coincidence? Parsis today seem to forget a great tradition of creativity, which has produced beautiful crafts in the past. The aim of the crafts module of the Parzor Project is to rekindle interest and pride in this tradition while at the same time recording it for posterity.

The Parsis were influenced by both the
eastern and western cultures of the world. Parsis also used Western motifs such as the Swiss roses and bows in garas, jhablas and kors.

In the first ever-serious research into the origin, history, development and technique of what is known as Parsi embroidery, the Parzor Project has traveled across India and plans many more field trips in the country while also tracing roots and routes from Yazd and Kerman in Iran to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Canton in China. Many discoveries have already been made ‘ the Zoroastrian reverence for nature has been celebrated in the motifs of their embroidery since time immemorial, the Rooster , symbolizing Sarosha and the Divine Fungus seen regularly on textiles give protection, especially to children when embroidered on their Jhablas, Taoist symbols decorate Parsi Kors, the Sassanian ‘Circlet of Pearls’ traveled from Zoroastrian Persia to China in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and then traveled back to the Parsis embroidered on the gara. So ‘Parsi embroidery’ is not just expensive, beautiful silk embroidery conceived, designed and executed by skilled Chinese craftsmen and simply ordered by prosperous Parsi traders who were involved in the China trade for their women folk, it is much more.

The Paisley has been used in
various cultures of the world. In Parsi embroidery both the Indian and Chinese paisley have been used. The Indian paisley or Ambi is more ornate as compared to the Chinese paisley, which is larger and squarish.

Community accounts verbally passed down and still recalled by the elderly across India from Bharuch to Kolkata confirm the role the Chinese pherias played in familiarizing Parsi women with Chinese embroidery. Parsi elders recall how these cycle wielding Chinese men would leave their bundles of embroidered silk cloth on verandahs of Parsi homes, while they made their rounds selling their silk ware. When they returned in the afternoons, Parsi women, also free from their house hold chores would sit on the verandahs with them observing them working on their small embroidery frames, thus learning their special embroidery stitches including their use of curved needles. With this newly acquired skill Parsi women created their own Garas, Jabhlas and Kors. The creations by Parsi women exhibited their preference for certain motifs such as the rooster and fish, which have significance in Zoroastrian tradition as against dragons and snakes popular in Chinese tradition.

Chinese embroidery often depicted daily
life with the help of fine threads and a balanced use of colour. These scenes portrayed Chinese men and women (cheena-cheeni) with birds and animals. architectural details such as pagodas are finely embroidered on this red ghat silk gara

The Chinese had over centuries perfected the craft of embroidery in their great Embroidery Schools. Archaeological finds have established that Chinese embroidery was first produced during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1027 BC). They were therefore well trained in their use of the finer aspects of colour, stitch, stylization of the motifs and overall balance, proportion and harmony in their work. As the demand from the Parsis increased, Indo-Chinese settlements dealing in embroidery are believed to have flourished in Western India. The craftsmanship of the embroidery and designs done in India was distinguishable from the original Chinese.

Enterprising Parsis traveled and settled in other parts of India especially the Deccan and hence acquired local skills like Zardozi embroidery and incorporated it in their embroidery repertoire. With European influence came European stitches, designs and new shades of colour. There was a large crossover of vocabulary as Parsis imbibed the best from east and west to create a special form. *

Parsi textiles depict two confronting birds,a motif which originated in Western Asia, but was transmitted to China through Sogdiana in the Tang Dynasty. This favourite motif is seen here both woven in Tanchoi fabric and embroidered in Parsi textiles.

In order to endure, a craft needs to cater to the needs of the time. While the classic embroidery patterns of the gara and kor will be a treasured part of Parsi heritage, the actual craft technique needs to be invigorated. In a constructive effort to preserve and adapt this craft for the community and the country, Mr. Ashdeen Lilaowala has conducted craft seminars/workshops in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Navsari and Delhi.

These sessions are especially aimed at creating awareness and sensitizing the Parsi community giving a sense of pride in this wonderful heritage. The workshops have drawn upon the expertise of some of India’s best designers as well as older Parsi practitioners of the craft both interacting with and motivating the chosen craftsmen. After familiarizing them with the Parsi embroidery tradition, the workshops have encouraged them to initiate new ideas to carry the craft forward. A craft can only prosper if the craftsmen are patronized to innovate and create new forms, thus constantly challenging and improving their own skills. There is an assurance of benefit to the craftsmen involved. Effort will be made to ensure that the contemporizing for product development would be sensitive to the original and carry the hallmark of Parsi tradition.

Parzor hopes to encourage young Parsis to continue an ancient heritage as well as use the sessions as an opportunity for enterprising Zoroastrians to build teams, collaborate with craftsmen and develop a business module, which will take this heritage into the future. The workshops have empowered members of the community with technical knowledge, introduced them to professional designers as well as taught basic management skills, packing of products and interaction with prospective buyers.

Any interested individual is welcome to contact us for further details Please contact Mr. Ashdeen Lilaowala, Project Head, at ashdeenl@rediffmail.com or write to him at Parzor Foundation, F-17, Hauz Khas Enclave, LGF, New Delhi 110016. Ph. 011-26513560.

If you have special embroidery to be documented for posterity in any part of India or Hong Kong or if you would like in any way to be a part of the UNESCO Parzor exploration of Parsi textiles and embroidery please contact Dr. Shernaz Cama, Director, Unesco Parzor Project at shernazcama@hotmail.com or at the above address. You could also contact our Bombay representative Ms. Perin Panday at 6, Shiv Sadan, 2nd Floor, Marine Drive, Mumbai 400020. Ph. 022-22045017. Any information from Zoroastrian families willing to share their unique heirlooms for the documentation project will add greatly to the value of this community study. You could also contact Dr.Cama using the comments space at the end of the following online form.

If you are interested in participating in Parzors Textile Module please fill in the form below:

Parzor is grateful to all those who have supported the craft documentation programme over the years. Without the support of the community this project could not have succeeded. We would like to acknowledge and thank Mrs. Bhicoo Maneckshaw, New Delhi, Ms. Meher Medhora, Ahmedabad, Ms. Feroza Modi, Mumbai, Mrs. Katie Ginwalla, Ahmedabad and Ms. Rhoda Vakil, Vadodara. We look forward to community support for this programme over the next phase.

PARZOR CRAFTS is the revival branch of the Textile Research Module. We are happy the announce that UNESCO, after a rigorous selection process chose one of our Hand Embroidered stoles for the Seal of
Excellence Award for Year 2008. Parzor crafts was competing with over 180 countries.