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Sold Archive: African & Asian Textiles & Costume

Wrap-resist-dyed turban cloth
Indian (Rajasthan), ca. 1870
588 x 6 in. (1493.5 x 15.2 cm)
This exuberant turban cloth (pagri), with its dazzling thirty-two pattern changes, illustrates the rich array of designs and hues seen on the tie-dyed muslins produced in Rajputana (modern-day Rajasthan) from the seventeenth century, and which reached their zenith in the mid- to late nineteenth century. The labor-intensive and complex technique used to produce these cottons is termed lahariya, from the Hindi lahar for "wave," which describes the distinctive zigzag pattern formed during the dyeing process. The cotton is folded lengthwise once or more, tightly wrapped at intervals, and dipped in successive dye baths, with only the untied sections accepting the dye. Untying the cloth, re-wrapping it along the opposite diagonal, and dyeing it again produces a secondary pattern: the checkered effect known as mothara (Hindi for "lentil"). Before the importation of synthetic dyes into India towards the end of the nineteenth century, the vibrant rainbow of colors used for dyeing these cloths would have come from the natural world: for instance, turmeric to produce yellows, safflower petals for the array of reds and pinks, and indigo for blues and greens, when mixed with turmeric.

Such a cloth would have been prohibitively expensive and reserved for Maharajas and members of the wealthy merchant class, especially given the need to re-dye the cloth when the plant-based pigments had faded.

Turban cloths of similar extravagance to the one at right are in the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum (2010.26.1) and Victoria & Albert Museum (05735a b, c).

For more information on this turban, see the Cora Ginsburg Summer 2019 catalogue.

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