Muslins of West Bengal
Jamdani is a fine muslin cloth on which decorative motifs are woven on the loom. The origins of Bengal muslins are more than a thousand years old. Once a symbol of luxury, it was the first export that introduced Bengal to the world. Created on a brocade loom and rich in motifs, Jamdani is one of the most time and labour-intensive forms of hand loom weaving, producing the most artistic and finest of cloth.
Jamdani weaving is somewhat like tapestry work. The pattern for this weaving technique is not outlined on the fabric. Instead it is drawn on graph paper and placed underneath the warp. It is a supplementary weft weaving technique where beautiful motifs are formed by a non-structural weft, in addition to the standard weft that holds the warp together. The standard weft creates the beautifully fine and sheer base fabric whilst the thicker threads of the supplementary weft add the intricate pattern. These weft motifs are added separately by hand by interlacing the weft threads into the warp with fine bamboo sticks, using individual spools of thread. The result: intricate and vibrant patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface.
In 2013, the traditional art of weaving jamdani was declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and in 2016, Bangladesh received Geographical indication (GI) status for Jamdani sari. It was the first GI status given to any Bangladeshi products.
Over time the Bengali jamdani and muslin industries began to decline due to competition from machine-made products, and the lack of support to weavers, and insufficient market promotion. West Bengal produces nearly 55% of the muslin made in India. But out of thousands of muslin weavers that were once engaged in this craft, just 800 remain. However, in more recent years the production of jamdani and muslin has experienced a revival in Bangladesh. With the help of the Government of West Bengal and the Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles, a revival package called Project Muslin has been created. Its primary object is to revive the industry and ensure that the artisans get remunerated and also appreciated for their unique skills.
The weavers are being supported in numerous ways from skills development to marketing support, but more importantly it is the encouragement of the rural young to take up the craft that will in turn keep this intricate and fascinating artisanal skill alive for generations to come.
Bengali jamdani hand-loomed saris have gained prominence across the globe for originality and beauty. It’s because of the multitude of fabrics and techniques that make up this draping marvel—the six-yards of elegance, femininity and grace—that the sari plays an important roll at every occasion in the country of its origin, India.