Bengal Handlooms

 

 

Over the years, the distinctive patterns have merged as weavers started experimenting with various combinations of design and yarn, so much so, it is now difficult to distinguish between the various styles, unless one is an expert on texture.

Kantha Embroidery

The kantha embroidery of this state is famous all around the globe. The old Kantha designs are rare possessions and are now flaunted on sleek shawls and other items of costumes. The village woman spends many a months on a single piece, covering it with intricate folk motifs by a simple running stitch.

Muslim

Cotton fabrics spun by Bengali weavers are known for their fine textures and lightness. Known as muslin or mul mul, the featherweight textiles are known worldwide as the 'woven wind' and the 'wonder gossamer'.

During the Mughal rule the township of Dacca (now in Bangladesh) became the centre of production of muslin. The fabric was so fine and transparent that, as the legend goes, once Emperor Shahjahan expressed his displeasure towards the inadequate and indecent dress worn by Princess Jehanara even though six folds of muslin covered her!

The marvel of muslin however ended in the 18th century when the British East India Company seized the control of Bengal. It is said that to protect the interests of the textile mills of Manchester, the muslin weavers of Dhaka were persecuted and coerced to stop weaving. The art of fine weaving thus remained crippled for nearly 200 years.

The departure of the British saw many skilled weavers of Dhaka settle in West Bengal. With government aid and other incentives, these talented weavers soon revived their ancestral occupation and the art of exquisite weaving once again flourished. Today, finely woven feather-touch textiles and saris in exotic designs and colors are being produced in the vast weaving belt of Shantipur, Phulia, Samudragarh, Dhatigram, and Ambika Kalna-each center producing superb fabrics in its own unique weaving style. Dhatigram produces jacquards and jamdanis while Kalna is famous for tangails and gorgeous jamdanis. Phulia and Samudragarh specialize in a combination of jacquard and jamdani work while Shantipur is known for superfine dhotis and jacquards. The produce is marketed through cooperatives and various undertakings. The Kalna Chamber of Commerce and Industry organizes weekly sari haats (markets), offering the weaving industry as well as individual weavers opportunities to come into direct contact with customers. Every Saturday, weavers from different centers and distant villages assemble at Kalna Sari Haat. This unique market dealing exclusively in saris is worth a visit. Ambika Kalna is 82 kilometers from Kolkata and can be reached by train in three hours. The weekly bazaar sits in a large square under a roof near the town hall. The haat is a kaleidoscopic display of the finest saris available at the most reasonable prices.

Baluchari

Traditional styles from South India and Benaras have by and large overshadowed styles from other regions of India. However, one silk tradition that continues to fascinate is the Baluchari, named after a village situated on the banks of Bhagirathi, 14 miles from Berhampore town in Murshidabad district. This tradition dates back to the 7th century A.D., and since then it has undergone several changes in style and technique. Murshidabad was a thriving trade center in silk in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, catering to French, British, and Dutch demand for this inimitable fabric. The Baluchari tradition of weaving reached its pinnacle of excellence during the reign of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, who extended his lavish patronage, but decreed that it can be adorned only by royalty and nobility. The most distinctive feature of Baluchari is the use of human brocade figures that adorn the borders and pallu. Kings and noblemen seated on howdahs (seats) atop elephants and notch girls in graceful postures were recurrent themes during this period. However, when Dubraj, the last of the master weavers of Baluchari died at the beginning of last century without imparting his skills to anyone, the glorious tradition ended with him.

Subsequently, several schemes were launched to revive the Baluchari tradition. The craft, in its much-diminished glory is now being recreated in Bishnupur of Bankura district. The intricately carved terracotta temples of Bishnupur provide ample inspiration for the weavers who reproduce whole epics on the pallu of the sari. The ground colors range from sober beige to resplendent blues and reds with contrast borders, all on fine mulberry silk. While the present-day Baluchari may not be as grand as its ancestor, it still has a unique appeal, making the wearer stand out in a crowd.

Baluchari is an exception in the Bengali scheme of preferences for silk. All the rest are usually the muted Matka or Tussar, not Mulberry. Other Murshidabad silks are usually hand printed with vegetable and synthetic dyes.

Stone Carving

Stone Craving is an art form, which is in the process of extinction in the State although the hereditary talents of Bengal stone carvers continue to live and prosper.


Handicrafts Trade
Trivia
Suggested Reading