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Large, flat, rectangular bag or dowry sack, constructed from two pieces of embroidered textile which are stitched together on three edges with blanket stitch; the fourth edge is roughly finished and left completely open. The bag is made of off-white cotton muslin and is lavishly decorated with bold, multicoloured embroideries on both sides. The two sides are very similar to each other but are not identical. The central motif on each side is a scene representing a tree of life; on one side this motif is surmounted by images of two women bearing water pots, while on the other side the tree of life is surrounded by images of peacocks. On both sides are representations of temples, door hangings and wall hangings. The central images are surrounded by square and round geometric designs embellished with mirrors. Borders on three sides of the central motif are embroidered with round geometric patterns and large mirrors on strips of black and red cotton muslin. The embroideries are underlined with a heavier off-white cotton textile which is pieced together.

History Of Use

Part of a bride’s traditional dowry. Used by a bride to carry items of her dowry to her husband’s home village. Dowry sacks are emblematic of a nomadic tradition.

Specific Techniques

satin stitch; interlacing stitch; elongated chain stitch; Romanian stitch; close herringbone stitch; running stitch; blanket stitch; buttonhole stitch

Cultural Context



Purchased by Milton and Beverly Israel while traveling in India.

Iconographic Meaning

Many of the motifs and auspicious scenes on this dowry sack are symbolically appropriate for a wedding celebration, such as the central image of the tree of life. The peacock is revered as a noble bird, the embodiment of good, and its image may be used as a metaphor for a bridegroom who comes to claim his bride from her parents; therefore, peacocks are frequently used in objects associated with weddings. Women carrying pots of water on their heads are part of the ceremonial welcoming of guests from other villages. Some of the embroidered motifs represent temple domes and refer to the religious sanctions of marriage. Images of wall hangings and doorway hangings call to mind the decorations that adorn the bride’s home at the time of her wedding.

Item History

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