Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art and Design



February 2-June 4, 2022

Vibrant textiles have long been synonymous with Indian culture. Their distinctive abstract, floral and figurative patterns have inspired countless variations. Featuring masterworks from The Textile Museum Collection and the private collection of Karun Thakar, this major exhibition and accompanying publication showcased court weavings, folk embroideries and other fabrics from the eighth through the early 20th centuries. 

About the Exhibition

The Indian subcontinent is home to some of the world’s most ancient and illustrious textile traditions. Over the centuries, Indian textile artists have developed an enduring design vocabulary – from simply woven stripes to floral motifs to complex narrative scenes. Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art and Design presented a stunning array of fabrics patterned with India’s most distinctive designs: abstract, floral and figurative. 

Some of the region’s oldest known textiles feature abstract patterns such as circles, stripes and zigzags. Examples in the exhibition range from a fragment of a block-printed cloth traded to Egypt around the 15th century to intricately embroidered dresses made in present-day Pakistan’s Swat Valley in the 1800s and 1900s. 

Floral patterns in Indian textiles became increasingly widespread in the 13th century, and artists excelled in adapting them for global markets. Embroidered caps from Bengal, for example, were fashionable “at home” wear in 18th-century Europe; a man would often don one in the evening after removing his wig. 

Figurative patterns provide a window into different religious beliefs across South Asia. A 15th-century narrative cloth from Gujarat depicts deities and other figures central to the Jain religion. A shrine cloth from Uttar Pradesh honors Sayyid Salar Mas’ud, a Muslim warrior-saint venerated by Muslims and Hindus alike.

Indian Textiles is accompanied by a gallery guide and a catalog.

About the Catalog

The limited-edition catalog Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art and Design is available for purchase ($80). The hardcopy book includes essays by leading historians of Indian textiles, including Rosemary Crill, Steven Cohen, Avalon Fotheringham and Sylvia Houghteling. You can order a copy through the museum's Artisans Gallery at 202-960-5311 or [email protected].

Project Sponsors

Lead support for this project was provided by The Coby Foundation, Ltd., Alastair and Kathy Dunn, Roger and Claire Pratt, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Major support is provided by Bruce P. and Olive W. Baganz, the Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection Endowment, Tina M. deVries, Helen K. King, Norma and Ted Lonoff, The Markarian Foundation, Edwina M. Nelon, Mary Jo Otsea and Richard H. Brown, David M. Sloan and an anonymous donor. Additional support was provided by Corinne M. Berezuk, Sylvia Bergstrom, Joe Rothstein and Marin Hagen, Cynthia R. Boyer, Sheridan and Richard Collins, K. Burke Dillon, Grace and David Pratt, Jay M. Schippers and Soane Britain.


Ceremonial cloth, coastal southeast India, late 18th or 19th century, Karun Thakar Collection, London

Fabric depicting stylized male figure and plants in red

Hanging, southeast India, 17th/18th century, Karun Thakar Collection, London


Red sari with complex pattern

Sari, Gujarat, 19th century, 6.63


Square textile with black border, red center ground and golden figures

Shrine cloth, Uttar Pradesh, early 20th century, Karun Thakar Collection, London

Green shawl with decorative ends

Shawl or waist-cloth, Maharashtra, early 18th century, 6.315

Textile with bold tulip pattern

Fragment of chintz (detail), coastal southeast India, made for the Dutch market, 1700-1730, T-2864


Black tunic with pink embroidered designs

Woman's shirt or tunic, Swat Valley, Pakistan, late 19th/early 20th century, Karun Thakar Collection, London


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