Come summer and we think Yellow! Ever wondered about the inspiration & meanings drawn from this king of fruits in the visual world?
By Pratyancha Puri
It’s summer and it’s hot like never before. The one thing that we really love about summers is mangoes1. Yes! mangoes found in different shapes, sizes, colours, and their significance in the vast culture of India and around the world. Well, wondering why I am giving all this gyan2 on a mango that which we already are aware? I am not going to talk about mangoes and its benefits or how good a fruit it is in reality. This article talks about its significance in different cultures and how one of the most familiar motifs that we see around us has a much deeper meaning.
A mango look alike motif composed of two or three concentric compartments, embellished with flowers and other organic elements are called ‘Paisley’. Its name is derived from a town in west
Scotland, Paisley, hub for textiles where Paisley designs were first used, so much that there is a Paisley Museum3embellished with paisley’s first ever used artefacts & paintings.
The symbolic ‘kairi’4 shaped motif, known internationally as paisley continued its appearance in the Indian sub continent even during the fourth period culture or the age of foreign invasion 500 BC – 500 AD. People from west brought their diverse culture and with their culture came Paisley, which later became popular in Kashmir5 and wove its way into the Pashmina6 shawls. Inspired by Persian7 art, the Mughal8 emperor Humayun9 brought in Paisley as a vibrant piece of art & design, which is still seen embedded within different crafts around the Indian sub continent.
Paisley in Art & Design
Wood handstamp for textile printing traditional paisley designs, Isfahan, Iran.
An ancient art still being practised in different parts of India witnesses the use of Paisley vividly.
Chikankari – Lucknow10
The word Chikankari has been derived from a Persian word Chakin or Chakeen, which means creating delicate patterns on a fabric and creating cloth, shaped with needlework. Paisley is common to block prints and Lucknow embroidery.
Kalamkari – Rajasthan11
Kalamkari is an ancient style of hand painting done on cotton or silk fabric with a tamarind12 pen, using natural dyes. The word Kalamkari is derived from a Persian word where ‘kalam‘ that means pen and ‘kari‘ refers to craftsmanship. Motifs used in Kalamkari vary from flowers, peacock, Paisleys to sacred characters of Hindu epics like Mahabharata13 & Ramayana14.
Kantha – Bangladesh
This type of embroidery is done on old saris stacked on each other and hand-stitched to make a thin piece of cushion & bed covers. Well I guess, that’s what inspired traditional handcraft artisans to come up with furnishing solutions with elegant mango shaped paisley patterns layered onto the fabric.
Handcraft in India is vast. The use of paisley is seen everywhere from Kashmiri Pashminas to Amritsiri Phulkari15 toJuttis16 in Punjab to Khandi17 printing in Nepal. If one notices it is clear that the extensive use of Paisley in Indian art & design is inspired by the Persian culture, and Mughal influence played a big role in introducing paisley to the Indian culture, so much so that we don’t even notice its presence in our day to day life. I am sure I have missed a few but you see, Paisley has so extensively proliferated across the Indian sub continent that it’s not easy to cover everything in one article. I just have one more fascinating story about Paisley to share.
Paisley became popular with the gypsies & hippies in the mid and late 1960’s under overt influence of The Beatles18. The style was popular during the Summer of Love 1967. Also, Fender Guitars made a Pink Paisley version of their guitar. Prince19 paid tribute to the Rock & Roll history of Paisley when he fashioned Paisley Pack Records and established Paisley Park Studio, named after his song Paisley Park 1985. Paisley’s significance with growth, fertility and ‘ The Tree of Life’ is probably why it is associated with travel, spirituality & psy, made popular in the 1960’s. The decade moved culturally towards a Rock & Roll swag in terms of fashion and also music, sparking the love affair of Paisley with The Beatles travels during their travel to India with the Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi 20 - with John Lennon21 famously having his Rolls-Royce painted all over in Paisley.
Filming a sequence for “I Am the Walrus”
elecaster in Pink Paisley
Cover art for the single Paisley Park by the artist Prince.
The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, Paisley Park, or the graphic artist(s). Prince & The Revolution “Paisley Park” single 1985.
John Lennon’s 1965 Phanton v
Rock the Paisley
The famous 1986 revolution was an avalanche of this tremendous fashion trend and Hippies created their own counter culture founded on psychedelic rock and the Hippie dress, which they believed was part of the statement of who you were, included brightly colored, printed ragged clothes, tie-dyed t-shirts, beads, sandals (or barefoot), and jewellery, all of which served to differentiate them from the “straight” or “square” mainstream segments of society.
So next time you see someone wearing this leaf-like ‘ambi’ as we all call it, decorative colorful pattern, take a moment and think about its rich symbolism and rebellious aura which has kept the charm of this mango look alike motif prevail through the generations and making a strong impact on the culture (more like counter- culture). But the secret behind Paisley s journey through the centuries is its rebellious attitude and its diverse interpretation in our culture and around the world.
References & Notes
1. Mangoes is the plural for Mango, a tropical pulpy fruit
2. Gyan, Indian, noun, meaning knowledge, esp. spiritual or religious knowledge
3. Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, High St, Paisley PA1 2BA, UK (Renfrewshire)
Kairi is unripe mango, Indian reference, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairi
5. Kashmir, Region in the northern part of India
6. Pashmina is a shawl made from fine quality goats wool
7. Persian, relating to ancient Persia or modern Iran or its people, culture or language
8. Mughal, belonging to Muslim dynasty of Mongol origin founded by the successors of Tamerlane, which ruled much of India from the 16th to the 19th century
9. Humayun was the second emperor of the Mughal empire
10. Lucknow is the state capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India
11. Rajasthan, a state in western part of India
12. Tamarind, the tropical tree which yields tamarind pods, cultivated throughout the tropics and also grown as an ornamental and shade tree or used in Asian cooking
13. Mahabharata, an India epic
14. Ramayana, an Indian epic
15. Amritsari Phulkari is embroidery technique from the Punjab region of India
16. Juttis is a type of footwear common in North India and neighboring regions
17. Khandi, coarse cloth from Nepal region
18. The Beatle are an English Rock Band, 1960’s
19. Prince, Rogers Nelson, American Singer, song writer, dancer
20. Mahesh Yogi, the guru who introduced the Beatles to transcendental meditation
21. John Lennon was an English singer and songwriter who co-founded the Beatles
· Handemade In India- Aditi Ranjan/ M P Ranjan
Ashwini Deshpande, Mayuri Nikumbh, Meenakshi aka menu, Nayantara aka billo, Book- Handmade In India- Aditi Ranjan/ M P Ranjan
PRATYANCHA PURI is an alumnus of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore and is a Graphic Designer at Elephant, a multi disciplinary Design Consulting firm. The views expressed in this article are her own and supporting material provided by her for this blog article.