Marco Polo, as long ago in the 13th century, wrote about this type of mirror work embroidery. Its origins can be traced back to Persia – traders and travellers then brought shisha to the Mughal courts of Afghanistan and North India. This style of work was quickly embraced by local Muslim artisans who began to use mirrors in many of their traditional Islamic designs. They reasoned that the mirrors helped to trap or blind the evil eye, reflecting bad luck and so keeping the home or the wearer safe.
Similar religious beliefs also moved in to both Hinduism and then Jainism where Torans (the traditional cotton door decorations) would be covered with mirrors to ward off evil spirits and keep the threshold secure.
The craft of shisha work was, and is still, mainly practised in the northern Indian States of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana but this technique can be found in many other parts of the country too. As an example, the Garari Jat community use the tiny mirrors to embellish their dress yokes, whereas in Gujarat they use the mirrors to highlight embroidered animal’s eyes and the centres of flowers.
Each State, and each community, has evolved its own style of mirror work… so hundreds, maybe thousands, of years of history lie behind each cushion!