The state of Bengal thrives on heritage and tradition. The fashion consciousness of the region has remained intact for centuries. There are certain staples which can be found in any Bengali wardrobe. One such example is the Jamdani. Its origin lies in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and hence is also called the Dhakai jamdani. It is known to be one of the finest varieties of handwoven muslin made from cotton. These age-old methods of weaving finds its mention in Chanakya’s Arthashastra, tracing it back to the third century BC.
The weave flourished under the Mughal era. Its Persian influence can be inferred from the name itself. Jamdani is a word of Persian origin where ‘Jam’ means flower and ‘Dani’ means vase, and is indicative of the extensive floral patterns found on these fabrics. The glorious past of Jamdani was not without some turbulence, particularly during the British era.
During this period, fabrics were machine made and a cheaper yarn was being exported from Europe. The production of the Jamdani fabric thus saw a decline and many artisans started moving to the city in search of better livelihood. The Partition brought many Jamdani artisans to West Bengal, which marked the beginning of the Jamdani revolution in India.
Jamdani is placed on a pedestal in the market and rightfully so. The process of crafting a Jamdani is laborious. There are remote villages in Bengal which are solely involved in the craft. Artisans, weavers and dyers have formed communities to carry out this extensive process. Usually, unbleached cotton yarns are procured from the market. They are then dyed by hand. The yarn is delicate and needs careful handling as water treatments reduce its strength. It is then reeled onto the spools of charkhas or ‘spinning wheels’. The yarn may be strengthened before this process by soaking it in rice starch water overnight. The winding process is usually completed by 9 am as the increasing heat of the day makes the yarn difficult to handle.
The reeled yarns on the spools are then sent to be warped or drummed on a large wooden wheel called drum or beam. Next, the yarns undergo a process called healding. Here, threading of yarns takes place through needle-like healds and is then passed through the reed (a comb like structure to beat the weft in place at the time of weaving).
Finally, the yarn is turned into a fabric using the fly shuttle of a traditional pit loom. It takes immense skill and patience. The piece is then finished by knotting and fringing the edges. The fabric is washed to remove the starch and is then ironed.
To fit the modern market scenario, the jamdani weave has undergone many changes in terms of design, fabric and style. Karomi, an organisation which works with over a hundred rural and urban artisans across Bengal, have given a new and modern identity to Jamdani without taking away from its traditional essence. They experiment with colours, compositions, techniques and innovations and gently push the artisans to realise the true potential of their loom. It is efforts like these which make sure that textile traditions like the Jamdani survive the onslaught of modern technological advancements of the textile industry.
To know more about Karomi Crafts, log on to their website- https://www.karomicrafts.com/