The geography of Karnataka, a large state in southern India, consists of a coastal region, a central hilly area, and a portion of the huge Deccan Plateau, the flat tableland that dominates much of southern India. One-fifth of the land is forested. Some of the most important and powerful rulers and empires of ancient and medieval India ruled this area. Karnataka is home to a diverse population of both linguistic and ethnic minorities including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and others. Bangalore, the capital, is now known for its economic and technological development, but Karnataka is still home to a variety of traditional handicrafts.
The Banjara are a colorful, well-known ethnic group in Karnataka. Their name probably means “wanders in forests.” About 60 percent of the 5.6 million live in Karnataka and the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. The actual history of the Banjara (and their approximately 24 sub-groups) is unclear, but their customs, dress, and language indicate they were originally from Rajasthan and migrated south for trade and agriculture. They are often called the “gypsies of India.” They are known for their colorful and beautiful costumes decorated with small mirrors and coins. They enjoy wearing jewelry including silver rings, coins, chains, and decorations in their braids. Their textile work is usually in red, blue, and muted gold or brown coarse cloth and is characterized by many small, close, embroidery stitches and embellishments of shells or mirrors. Most of the textiles pieces are small: bags, belts, pillows, or purses.
The Siddi are another populous ethnic group in Karnataka. They are descended from African slaves, servants, sailors, and merchants who came or were brought to India between the 12th and 19th centuries.
Click images below to view larger and read more information about some of the quilts included in the exhibit.