The Indian state of Karnataka is known for its many artistic and cultural practices. Amongst the mesmerising music and astounding dance forms of Karnataka, the traditional folk embroidery of the state is often neglected. Kasuti embroidery is an intricate folk style generally developed on regional sarees and clothes. There have been instances where this style has used more than 5000 hand stitches. This embroidery is generally made on Ilkal, Ravike and Angi sarees of North Karnataka. Kasuti is one of the art forms that has linked the region’s villages.
Kasuti embroidery is one of the oldest Indian practices, and its history dates back to the Chalukya period. The word Kasuti originates from two words; Kai, meaning had, and suti, meaning weave. This art form was initially practised by women courtiers of the Mysorekingdome and was to be done by women only. At present, too, women form the core of this practice.
It was a recreational and domestic art practice for the region’s women. The mother would generally train her daughter from an early age and the women of the family passed on this art form. In older days, there was even a custom of giving the bride a Chandrakali black saree embroidered with Kasuti.
The women looked into their surroundings and developed motifs that depicted their religious, cultural and domestic values. The motifs are intricate, and elements like Gopura, chariots, palanquins, flora and fauna are used. The embroidery is inspired by rural styles and gives a three-dimensional appearance of the mythological stories, ceremonial processions and the architectural elements of South Indian temples. The embroidery is generally done by light-coloured threads on a dark-coloured hand-woven cloth and is an unusual display of contrast.
Embroidering Kasuti patterns requires time and is laborious. It is one of the few art forms that involve counting each thread that is stitched. The patterns are stitched without knots using running stitches to make sure both sides of the cloth look alike. This process ensures that the finished work has a gorgeous look. The desired motif is created using different stitches like gavanti (double stitch), murgi (zig zag stitch), neygi (darning stitch) and menthi (cross stitch) to create vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. This is also one of the art forms where designs are never traced and embroidered directly with precision.
The colours of threads used are generally orange, green, purple and red. An important feature of Kasuti embroidery is the harmonious blending of the multi-coloured threads.
The art form was endangered until recently. Efforts were made by the Department of Social Welfare of the Government of Karnataka to protect it in recent years. A Kasuti Centre is set up in Hubli to encourage the art form and provide a roof to the women practising it. However, the art form is still suffering from poor patronage and is not taken seriously by most people.