Sarasa-Exuberant cotton fabrics with vibrant foils and flowers; Masterpieces from the Museum Collection

Exhibition period:

July 30 (Tue) – October 20, 2019 (Sun)
* Changes of exhibits will be carried out during the exhibition period.


Cultural Exchange Exhibition, Hall 9


Sarasa, or chintz, refers to pattern-dyed cotton fabrics that originated in India. These Indian mordant-dyed and resist-dyed cotton products in vivid madder and deep indigo are noted for the vivacity and vigor. These cotton products must have fascinated anyone who took the fabrics in their hands. Sarasa is well-loved and used not only in India, but also all over the world such as Southeast Asia, Persia, Europe, and Japan. Sarasa was exported in a variety of motifs and colours, which inspired new designs for foreign markets. Sarasa rode the waves of cultural exchange during the Age of Exploration and have been transmitted as an essential item today.
This feature exhibition highlights masterpieces of sarasa fabrics that the Museum has actively been collecting. We hope that you will explore the process in which Indian sarasa was first exported to many parts of the world and then locally produced in many different regions. Enjoy the mesmerizing world of this wondrous textile to your heart’s content!

Exhibition Layout and Main Exhibits

Part 1: It All Started In India

The tradition of producing pattern-dyed fabrics in India has a very long history. These beautiful, dyed textiles were already known to ancient Romans by the beginning of the Common Era. The textiles were exported very early on. During 16th to 17th century, they were known as “sarassa” or “saraça”. In Japan, they came to be known as “sarasa”.

Hanging cloth for temple, design of Krishna stories, sarasa with gold embellishment

Coromandel Coast, India; 18th century
Exhibition period: July 30 – September 8, 2019

Ceremonial cloth, design of ladies on an indigo ground

Gujarat, India / Sulawesi, Indonesia; 15th – 16th century
Exhibition period: September 10 – October 20, 2019

Part 2: Sacred Sarasa Fabric Handed Down As Family Heirloom

This section introduces Indian sarasa inherited among the Toraja, an ethnic group indigenous to Sulawesi, a mountainous island in Indonesia. The Toraja highly treasure their own hand-made dyed textiles as well as imported Indian sarasa fabrics, and use them in sacred rituals.

Ceremonial cloth, design of hunting on a madder ground

Gujarat, India/Sulawesi, Indonesia; 18th century
Exhibition period: July 30 – September 8, 2019

Ceremonial cloth, design of linked medallions and geometric-flower patterns on an indigo ground

Gujarat, India/Sulawesi, Indonesia; 16th – 17th century
Exhibition period: September 10 – October 20, 2019

Part 3: Various Designs From Different Cultures That Crossed The Seas

Indian sarasa became widely exported to all parts of the world during the Age of Exploration. A wide variety of these textiles were created to meet the demands of different markets. The sarasa design introduced in this section are fabrics intended for Indonesia, Siam (Thailand), and Europe, but some designs were widely popular regardless of the regions.

Palampore, design of a standing-tree design with flower-and-tree on a white ground

Coromandel Coast, India/Sulawesi, Indonesia; 18th – 19th century
Exhibition period: July 30 – September 8, 2019

Ceremonial cloth, design of landscape with pine trees and cranes on a madder ground

Coromandel Coast, India/Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia; 17th – 18th century
Exhibition period: September 10 – October 20, 2019

Part 4: Sarasa That Fascinated Japanese People In The Edo Period

Indian sarasa was exported to Japan in the latter half of 16th century. They were made as kosode (old-style kimono) which became extremely popular. Sarasa was also used to wrap boxes containing tea ceremony utensils. However, when roller printing and chemical dyes were invented in Europe in the 19th century, European sarasa with even brighter colours was created. As a result, these fabrics replaced a majority of Indian sarasa imports.

Kake-fukusa, square cloth with a design of arabesque flower on a red ground

Europe; end of 19th century
Exhibition period: July 30 – September 8, 2019

Tea-utensil mat, design of lion and arabesque on a madder ground (one part)

Woven and dyed in India; outer: 18th century, lining: 17th – early 18th century
Tailored in Japan; 19th – 20th century
Exhibition period: September 10 – October 20, 2019

Part 5: Batik, A Blooming Sarasa Culture In Java

Indonesian batik (Java sarasa) has diverse patterns. Traditional Javanese patterns were combined with foreign designs, creating an original pattern. In Sumatra, a zigzag pattern along the edges of batik is preferred. This pattern was introduced to Indonesia through Indian sarasa, showing a deep relationship between both countries.

Sarung, skirt-cloth, design of flower-and-bird on a ground dyed in red and green with gold embellishment

Dyed in north coast of Java, Indonesia; embellished with gold in Sumatra, Indonesia
Early 20th century
Exhibition period: July 30 – September 8, 2019