One of the many diverse art forms that lie relatively undiscovered in Bihar is the Sujini or Sujani embroidery. The earliest known examples of Sujani embroidery date back to the mid 1920s. Women hand embroidered these masterpieces in the confines of their homes. Sadly most of these early pieces are lost.
The word Sujani is a combination of su (meaning ‘good’ or ‘easy’) and jani (meaning ‘birth’). Women made quilts for babies by stacking together old soft sarees. A simple running stitch was used to decorate these quilts. Then using black, white or red threads drawn from the borders of old sarees, motifs from daily life would be embroidered all over. These motifs would be filled with coloured threads using simple satin stitches.
There are two deep rooted beliefs in Bihar behind Sujani. The first is that no new clothes are bought for a child before he or she is born or until the 6th day. It is considered inauspicious. It might have to do with high rates of infant mortality in those days. And people invoke the blessings of Chitiriya Ma or the Goddess of Tatters. It is symbolic of reminding you that all parts belong to the whole and must return to it. So babies are always covered with old or used clothes. It is a tradition we follow to date.
The second, of course, is that the delicate skin of the new born must not be chafed by the starch in new clothes. And what better than soft clothes which smell of mummy and remind you of her embrace.
The motifs used in Sujani are purposeful. The life giving forces (the sun, clouds and moon), fertility symbols, sacred animals and scenes from the kitchen or courtyard where women lived made their way into the embroidery. (See here)
There is a difference between Bengal’s kantha embroidery and Bihar’s Sujani embroidery. While kantha stitches define the outline, Sujani involves filling the motifs too with coloured thread.
Eventually these women were encouraged to explore the use of Sujani in more economically viable areas such as sarees, kurtas and bedcovers. Bhusra village in Muzaffarpur district is seeing a revival in this craft. The Sujani Mahila Jeevan organization is helping a dying tradition survive by getting together around 400 women who know this craft and helping them to market their creations (See here). These days Sujani themes are more contemporary and explore social issues such as female infanticide, dowry, domestic violence, environment and education of the girl child.
It took me many months to find a saree which showcased the beauty of this craft in a justifiable manner. This masterpiece in purple silk has red birds embroidered in Sujani style all over.