Mukaish Badla is a form of embroidery that reached its peak in 18th century Lucknow. The art form travelled to different parts of the world, but is now restricted to a few narrow lanes of the old city.

It was introduced by the Nawabs to beautify chikankari but Mukaish became an independent style. It initially used precious metals like gold and silver to make metallic wires. The artisans are the Badlas who insert thin gold and silver wire into fabric, eventually twisting it to create intricate patterns.

Sabir Hussein, 75, who has practised this craft for 65 years says they make just 200 rupees from a ten-hour day. Lucknow once had more than 3,000 badlas, but now the number has come down to 20-25, all elderly and declining in health.

These artisans are one of the unknown treasures of the Indian craft world but unless they find a way to pass on their life’s work they are in danger of becoming a footnote in the history of Lucknow.

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Some of the last remaining practitioners in their workshop in Hussainabad, Old Lucknow.
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Badla artisans recite verses from the Quran before starting work.
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The wives lend a hand in a Sadatganj workshop during their free time.
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An example of the handmade paper designs which were used for reference at the defunct Chowdhary Garaiyya workshop in Old Lucknow.
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Eighty-year-old Taqi working in the Sadatganj workshop.
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Eight-year-old Ruqsana with an intricate piece of Mukaish embroidery she made in her family workshop in Lucknow’s Deorhi Agha Meer.
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Zeenat unfolds her Mukaish garment cast out of gold and silver wires. These garments are kept as an archive of the royal craft.
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Children and grandchildren of the artisans straighten the completed fabric after the final wash.
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Ruqsana peeps through a broken window of her house in Deorhi Agha Meer.
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Two women observe Bobby, owner of the Sadatganj workshop, as he inspects a piece.
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Raeesa, wife of an artisan, works in her house as her daughter Farheen, 15, watches at Deorhi Agha Meer.
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A worker takes a short break from his back-breaking toil.
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An onlooker observes two elderly artisans at work in their Hussainabad workshop.