What is Chunri?
The Chunri, a circular print or tiny dots that are spread on fabric like a wave-like pattern was traditionally a must for wedding ceremonies, but now a rare sight. Used during the wedding function in Hindu Brahmin and Kshatriya farmer’s hones, the chunri was used as an auspicious wrapping for the dowry gifts taken by the bride to her new home. The Sakya caste used the chunri fabric to wrap the nuts and other items in a brass bowl that was sent along with the bride. Originally, chunri was dyed by the Chippah caste, however, today, they are made and sold everywhere.
Chunri was known as dupatta, a long scarf like cloth usually worn by women in Southern Asia. The pattern of chunri was reserved for just dupattas as well. Commonly known as chunri, odhri, and chunni, dupattas were a symbol of modesty. Today the pattern of chunri dupattas is also made on the entire garment like Shalwar Kameez or saris.
In India, the print of fabric is known as Bandhani. Bandhani is a type of tie-dye textile decorated by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design. Earliest evidence of Bandhani dates back to Indus Valley Civilization where dyeing was done as early as 4000 B.C. The earliest example of the most pervasive type of Bandhani dots can be seen in the 6th century paintings depicting the life of Buddha found on the wall of Cave 1 at Ajanta. It is also important to note, that mostly cotton was used because the dye penetrates cotton so easily. Today, due to industrialization in Pakistan, Chunri (as they call it here) is done on cotton, and silks as well.
With the industrialization of textile market, it is rare to see chunri hand-done. Today, patterns of chunri can be made with machines or block printing (if you still prefer it hand-done). But, originally, the technique used was a wrap resist technique. The whole cloth is soaked in water to remove starch from the fabric. Then the cloth is rolled up and tied at intervals to form stripes and then at intervals tied with strings. Then the dye is applied. The method of tying determines the pattern of the chunri. When the cloth is rolled diagonally from one corner it forms a stripped patter; when the fabric is folded like a fan it produces a zigzag design. After the dyeing is completed and the fabric dried in the sun, the threads are opened to show the pattern created.
These patterns can get complicated based on color combinations as well. Re-tying the cloth in an additional or opposite diagonal pattern after the first dye bath results in pattern in the second color and so on.
Today, chunri is rarely seen and when it is seen it is usually donned by bridesmaids at weddings or the bride at one of her pre-wedding celebrations. Chunri dupattas and fabric is also used as traditional decorations in weddings. Nowadays, to make the chunri outfit more special, there is gold or silver gota work done. The end result is a very traditional outfit perfect for a dholki or mehndi. If you want to go really traditional you can get mirror work or bead work done as well. You just have to do your research.
Personally, I hope to see chunri make a comeback. I made a silk chunri outfit with gota work a few years ago and it was a big hit. I wore it for Eid and it was modest and traditional. Hope you learned something about traditional or heritage fashion of Pakistan today. Happy shopping!