Ashdeen: Embroidering Surreal Parsi Dreamscapes

Few things are as beautiful or have such a convoluted history as Parsi Gara – the gorgeous embroidery which came to India by way of Persia and China through the Parsi traders dealing in opium in China. These traders who journeyed to China in the 19th century discovered distinct hand-embroidery and carried it back to India.

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Noted designer, author and curator Ashdeen Lilaowala who is Parsi, has spent almost a decade traveling to Iran and China to trace the back story of this fabulous embroidery which is a fusion of Parsi, Indian, European and Chinese crafts and aesthetics. Ashdeen has become a major name in the fashion world in India and his embroidery has been seen at the Lakme Fashion Week as well as on stars like Madhuri Dixit, Hema Malini and Sonam Kapoor.

Recently Ashdeen  was on his  first trunk show in the US and first showed in Los Angeles at the Zoroastrian Association of California.  In New York and New Jersey his shows were organized by the Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York (ZAGNY).  At the reception at DAG Gallery in Manhattan, he gave a fascinating illustrated talk through which he  took the audience back to British times, back to pre-Independence days when enterprising Parsis went to Hong Kong and China and created the special embroidery known as Parsi Gara.

The Parsis, a vibrant and unique community in India, are descended from the Zoroastrians who fled religious persecution in Persia 1200 years ago and found a warm and welcoming home in India. The womenfolk adopted the sari when they landed in India in keeping with their promise to the local ruler that they would wear the traditional clothes of the land.  Old photographs show them wearing the heavily embroidered silk saris with the distinctive work known as Parsi Gara. As Ashdeen notes, the Parsis inherited this legacy only after they started the trade with China. These special embroideries are not found in other Indian communities and were embraced by the Parsi community to create their own identity.

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