Unfurled Vibrancy: Leheria of Rajasthan

When Mark Twain described India in his travel writing as “the land of dreams and romance…of splendor and rags…” there is no doubt that amidst the visual cacophony of colorful spices, sculptures and textiles, leheria was one of the treasures that caught his eye. A distinctively-patterned and strikingly vivid traditional dyeing practice, leheria is a simple yet easily recognized method whose variations are as plentiful and diverse as the land from which it originates.
Leheria is a craft native to Rajasthan, the largest state in India, bordering Pakistan along the Northwestern Sutlej-Indus river valley. This “Land of Kings” has been a center for commerce, conquest and culture for thousands of years; as such, it can boast a unique cosmopolitanism and a rich artistic and artisanal heritage. From this context comes leheria, which gets its name from the Rajasthani word meaning “wave,” as its zig-zag striping is reminiscent of ocean shores.
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It is a process in which thin cotton and silk are rolled, tied at intervals and treated with a series of dyes and washes. Classically, natural dyes and indigo preparations were favored especially because repeated dyeing and washing was able to create subtle shades of blue mimicking the sea. These motifs remain popular but contemporary artisans also take advantage of the variety of tints available today.
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Likewise, uni-directional motifs are the baseline of leheria, but artisans also customize their methods of tying and dyeing to create one-of-a-kind patterns. For example, one common variation is the two-step mothara, wherein the tie resists are removed after the first wash and the fabric is rolled along the other diagonal and re-tied for a second dyeing. The finished product is a checkered fabric with small symmetrical undyed spots across the surface.
These swaths of fabric, with their undulating and vibrant bands of color, are a signature textile in the region. In recent centuries, turbans made from leheria became a standard of Rajasthani men’s business attire. Today, it can be seen transformed into scarves, saris and other patterns, offering a surprising pop of color and sense of lightness, the unique signature of the craftspeople who have preserved this tradition.