The rich textile tradition of Bengal that finds a mention in the British Museum website recounting listing a range of fine textiles like the fine muslins, printed chintz, cotton and silk ginghams and embroidered quilts purchased by the East India Company in 1730’s and its rich weaving history of course backdating before that, continues to strive because of periodic efforts by acclaimed designers like Sabyasachi from this region. Today, we take you on a saree trail through the finest Bengal Handloom Sarees of India to help you understand the tough conditions of handloom weavers and weaving societies along with the technical expertise of weavers and the exquisiteness of the weaves.
Here’s a quick overview on the different types of handloom sarees from West Bengal:
Bengal Tant: A cotton handloom saree with a light and airy texture, tant sarees are characterized by a thick border, a decorative pallu and dainty patterns on the body. These saris bear different traditional patterns and motifs with the floral, “buti” and “gamcha” designs dominating the scene. However, these days as the ace designers have brought in a lot of innovation, many geometric and quirky patterns have also become quite famous. Light, bright and transparent, these saris are the most desired in hot and humid climate.
Jamdani: Originally made in Dhaka before partition, a jamdani saree often called ‘dhakai jamdani’ or simply ‘dhakai’, is a feather-light, finely woven saree. Originally woven in pure cotton and muslin, there is a variant in silk and cotton blend today for a rich finish. These sarees are characterized by intricately designed motifs that appear to float on the surface of an almost transparent, ultra-fine fabric, giving it an ethereal look.
Murshidabad silk: Silk sarees that hail from Murshidabad is a district in West Bengal whose history of silk saris backdates to the 18th century when the East India Company set up two factories to produce silk and is known for weaving silk of very good quality. Fine, light-weight and pure silk, these sarees come in vibrant colors and myriad designs that range from floral to stripes to geometrical and other quirky patterns.
Baluchari: Baluchari sarees from Bengal are one of the most gorgeous silk sarees of the country. Characterised by exotic borders and elaborate pallus that showcase intricate weavings depicting scenes from ancient epics and religious texts, they are sarees that stand out in contrast colored, gold and silver threads against the mute toned silk base of the saree. The most opulent silk sarees, they are apt for special occasions like weddings and religious ceremonies.
Tussar: Although Tussar is produced in many areas in India, more than 40% of it is produced in the Malda district of West Bengal. A more textured one than the cultured mulberry silk, it aids in the making of numerous types of saris in Bengal.It has a natural, pale golden sheen to it and comes in shades of beige, cream, honey and tawny that is often dyed into more vibrant colours. The simple Tussar silks sarees, in traditional Bengali “buti” and “pata” design is famous among women of all ages.
Kantha: Characterized by the ‘running stitch’, Kantha a style of embroidery that originated in the Bolpur-Santiniketan region of West Bengal is widely used to pattern sarees in all kinds of fabrics. Embroidery done by hand, it uses myriad coloured threads, and can form very elaborate and intricate patterns. The beauty of kantha work is best featured on pure silk and tussar silk sarees.