Origin: Sujani is a form of embroidery originating from the Bhusura village of Bihar in India. Sujani is said to have begun around the 1920s and was only practiced by the Rajput women for personal use. It began as a form of quilting wherein patches of old sarees and dhotis were sewn together with simple stitches to add newness to them. Even the threads used to do the stitches were drawn out from the threads pulled from sari’s edges. Prepared at the time of childbirth, the purpose of using an old cloth was very specific – to wrap the newborn, to allow it to be enveloped in a soft embrace, resembling that of its mother. In fact, the word “Sujani” is derived from the words ‘su’ which means facilitating and ‘jani’ meaning birth.
Process: The process begins with tracing down the outline of the design on to the cloth. Then the entire background is filled by fine running stitches in the same colour as the base cloth. Chain stitch (usually black or red) is used to outline the motifs, and the motifs are are filled in with tiny running stitches in coloured threads. Materials required for Sujani stitch include a needle, frame, scissors, threads of various colours, inch tape, tracing sheet, tracing wheel, pencil, rubber, blue chalk and kerosene.
Traditional designs and motifs: Sun and cloud motifs signifying life-giving forces, fertility symbols, sacred animals, fantastic winged creatures for protection against destructive forces, and other motifs to attract blessings from the gods. Different colored threads were also symbolically used, such as red, signifying blood, a life force, and yellow for the sun.
Beliefs associated with Sujini: Ritually, Sujini invoked the presence of a deity, Chitiriya Ma, the Lady of the Tatters and stitching together these disparate pieces symbolically embodied the holistic Indian concept that all parts belong to the whole and must return to it. The second purpose was to wrap the newborn.
Creating a new design vocabulary: Sujini stands out for its transformation from a traditional craft into a means for expressing contemporary social and political messeges. A typical quilt is divided into two parts. One side seeks to portray the harsh realities-a drunken man beating his wife; a man giving dowry; men cloistered in a village meeting and women in purdah. The other side seeks to express a vision – a woman selling her produce in the market; a woman addressing a meeting; a woman judge, and power! The embroideries also collectively express the injustices of everyday life-of dowry burning, female infanticide, rape, and feudal persecution. The women depict not only the familiar religious iconography but also their own suffering and discontent. This process has allowed them to develop a new vocabulary. The embroidery done on the quilt represents agony and the aspirations of women in the male-dominated world.
Present Status: The production of Sujani embroidery is done in about 15 villages of India. The rural women of Muzaffarpur district of North Bihar now continue to embroider in the Sujuni tradition, using a combination of a fine running stitch with the chain stitch. Practicing this art form acts as the prime source of earning a livelihood for rural women who are not allowed to work outside their homes. Through this art, they add to their family’s income.
Recognition: Sujani Art was given the Seal of Excellence by UNESCO in 2019 which is also known as the Seal Award.