Known as the ‘Kota queen’, with a deep understanding of the weave that was developed over the last 16 years, Vidhi Singhania sees herself as a revivalist of the Indian handloom first, and then as a designer. She has been a member of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) for the last eight years. Her love for Rajasthani art and culture began as a child and culminated into her store in New Delhi. In a first-person account, Singhania takes MARWAR through the years.
Some of my most beautiful memories as a child are from when my family and I watched the performance of folk musicians from Jodhpur, which my father Mahendra Sanghi would specially organise for us. Their soulful melodies, along with the sound of the sarangi and kamaycha, surnai and dholak, would enchant my mother Manju Sanghi and I, and we would start dancing the ghoomar. I think that’s where it all began—my love for art, its power to influence the decisions I make and the person that I am today.
The lure of Rajasthani culture
Having been brought up in Mumbai, there is bound to be a lot of influence from the city, but Rajasthan’s vibrancy and culture has always lured me. Even as a child—whether it was sitting through the colourful Gangaur Puja with adoration and devotion for Goddess Gauri, or noticing how my father was particular about wearing a beautiful saffron safa during family weddings, or seeing my mother look graceful in the gorgeous French chiffons then worn by the royalty—I gave my heart to Rajasthan’s culture, tradition and heritage, in all its history, splendour and grandeur.
As life would have it, I got married into a family from Singhana, a part of Marwar in the Shekhawat region, but was based in Kanpur. I was moved by the profound Marwari traditions, such as giving chunris with rich gota to women on the most significant milestones in their lives (on her marriage, birth and mundan of her child), seeing marvelous temples being built and maintained by my husband’s family, worshipping the holy Ganga, and the aesthetic decorations during Diwali.
An idea is born
When life sent me to Kota, I never imagined it would be in this small city of Rajasthan that I would spend the most beautiful years of my life. Personally, I have my fondest memories with my husband and children here. Back then, Kota didn’t have much scope for fun outside home, for which I’m selfishly grateful as it allowed me to bring the fun home. Professionally, by default I started working with Kota karigars. Since there were limited stores to shop from, I decided to develop a few ideas using the Kota fabric as part of corporate gifting. My inner aesthetics and interpretations, combined with the artisans’ skills and ability to translate my ideas, gave birth to the artistic Kota.
Weaving is a household profession, passed on from one generation to the next. Graph making, yarn dying and finishing can be done in-house, but most weavers often do not get access to an evolved market. It saddened me deeply when skilled karigars wished their children would take up some other profession, as being a Kota artisan wasn’t a lucrative option. I realised that this was the story of all handlooms; although the art was established, it needed a platform. I took it upon myself to infuse that energy to translate Kota into an avant-garde style statement and to be that textile revivalist who ensures the protection and survival of this heritage craft. This gave birth to the brand VIDHI, with the logo being the exact replica of the way my father writes my name. This way I know his blessings are with me, always.
Expanding the business
After working with the weavers in Kota it only felt right to extend my work to Varanasi, as my mother hails from Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi is truly the Mecca of weaving, and it allows us to work with Kataan Silks, Satins, Gheecha, Koras, Organzas and Georgettes. The intricate work makes each piece an heirloom that ought to be passed down generations. In fact my most prized possession is my mother’s real zari Benarasi sari that she wore during one of her own wedding functions.
Many of my designs have been inspired from Rajasthan, like the bandhanwar (the traditional auspicious door hanging), the chattars in ancient temples, and the kalasha harping on the prominence of the water bearer. The four coloured thali covers used by royal families looked beautiful on the palla, while the royal elephants that came in as the motifs of the ‘Gajanand’ collection and the ‘Sada Saubhagyawati Bhava’ chant from the Gangaur Pooja became a graceful print. The Mughal jaal design I incorporate is synonymous to the marble baraderi and carvings in the palaces. Even the colours I use—haldi yellow, kumkum red, mehendi green, kesariya orange—reek of Rajasthani influences in my life. I blend my fondness for the Garas and Paithanis of the Maharashtrian culture, Sanjhi work of Vrinadvan, Kashmiri paisley, our lovely florals—champa, lotus and marigold—with the architectural patterns for the most beautiful motifs. I juxtapose them with the contemporary palate of blacks, indigos, charcoals and ivories. The fusion of so many elements creates a perfect blend of art and fashion, history
A sense of fulfilment
When I started, I could never imagine that my small endeavour to make a difference in the lives of the weavers would turn into something so beautiful. My current portfolio includes hand-woven and embroidered Benarasis, Kotas and Georgettes, bridal and trousseau ensembles, blouses and potlis and the Vidhi Home Collection comprising cushions, trays, coasters, table mats, napkins, and woven paintings.
The Indian weaving industry has conventionally been one of the most promising sectors of employment, second, only to the agriculture sector. There are over 40 million people weaving in different pockets of the country [Indian Mirror Analysismm—2010 Statistics]. I have a total of about 1,000-1,200 weavers, including the master weavers. However, that’s just a drop in the ocean. The handloom sector in our country is an indigenous ‘Make in India’ segment, much on the lines of our Prime Minister’s vision. The art is rich with an earnest narrative and we need to protect, promote and propagate this art form, which are heirlooms of our eclectic Indian culture.
When I see the play of destiny in my life—my father is from Rajasthan, so is my husband, and when I chose to start something of my own, it had to do with Rajasthani artwork—it makes me wonder how surreal the connection is. My children say that each time someone mentions ‘Rajasthan’ I have a smile on my face, and they are correct. Rajasthan reminds me of my lineage, of who I am today and what the Almighty has in store for me. Rajasthan is a part of me. While it gave me the roots to stay grounded, it also provided me wings so that I could soar high and achieve my dreams.