Baluchari Tradition Of Weaving


Silk weaving of Baluchar continues to be an important landmark of Bengal's handloom tradition.

Skills from South India and Banaras have by and large, overshadowed styles from other regions of India. However, one silk tradition that continues to fascinate, is that of Baluchar, a village situated on the banks of the Bhagirathi, 14 miles from Berhampore town in Murshidabad district. The tradition dates back to the 7th century A.D and since then it has undergone several changes in style and technique in the intervening ages.

Murshidabad was a thriving trading center in silks in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, catering to French, British and Dutch demand for this inimitable fabric.

Pinnacle Of Excellence

The Baluchari tradition of weaving reached its pinnacle of excellence during the reign of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, who extended lavish patronage to the art. The most distinctive feature of Baluchari is the use of human brocade figures to adorn the borders and pallu. Kings and noblemen seated on howdahs atop elephants and nautch girls in graceful postures were recurrent themes during this period. The motifs were entirely in silver zari and the fabric was a gorgeous affair. However, when Dubraj, the last of the master weavers of Baluchari died at the beginning of this century without imparting his skills to anyone, the glorious tradition ended with him.

Subsequently, several schemes have been launched to revive the ancient Baluchari tradition. The craft, in its much-diminished glory is now being practiced in Bishnupur in Bankura district, where Baluchari styles have been superimposed on an existing silk weaving tradition. 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, and very reasonably priced.