Bengal has always been the epitome of some extraordinary patterns and techniques of weaving. It is a part of Bengal’s rich cultural heritage. When we say weaves of Bengal, it includes the ones that originate from both East Bengal now Bangladesh and West Bengal in India. Over the years these weaves of Bengal have not only gained local importance but garnered worldwide recognition.
A pure cotton starched taant saree is what I prefer to wear at work. Since the past seven years, I have been in this teaching profession and saree is mandatory to wear at work. Over the years I have learnt the art of wearing saree, now I can run a marathon draping it.
Among so many heritage weaves of our country, the most common ones that you can see in my closet are the weaves of Bengal. The reason they are easily available here in Assam, being West Bengal and Bangladesh being the immediate neighbour. You have so much variety that from office wear to wedding sarees Bengal has it all.
After the partition of India, many weavers migrated from East Bengal and settled here in West Bengal popularising the weaving techniques and expanding the handloom industry. They started using the same weaving method here and so many of the weaves of Bengal that originated in East Bengal are now easily available in different parts of India.
The history of the handloom saree or handloom industry dates back to the 15th century and it began to flourish during the Mughal Rule in Bengal. Shantipur in the Nadia district of West Bengal was the main hub of handloom sarees. There are different regions and villages in West Bengal which are famous for their specific weaves. We shall discuss in detail about each of these weaves of Bengal and where they are mostly weaved.
When we talk about weaves of Bengal the most popular ones that immediately comes in my mind are the “taant” or handloom sarees and Dhakai jamdani with its various floral and geometric patterns. These are also the most popular weaves of Bengal that ladies have at least one or two in their closet. Though the list doesn’t end here. There are a lot more popular weaves of Bengal and over these years the textile industry has popularised it through various means, social media being one of them.
1. The Jamdani Saree
The Jamdani saree is one of the most popular ones among ladies and can be draped for any occasion. The Jamdani saree is a symbol of grace and elegance and weavers take great pride in this traditional form of weaving art that is thousands of years old. No matter how many sarees you have, a Bengali woman’s closet is incomplete without a Jamdani.
The weaving technique of Jamdani is one of the finest and it flourished under the royal patronage of Mughal rulers. It’s popularly called as Dhakai Jamdani as the weaving tradition originated in Dhaka, Bangladesh. During the Mughal rule, the emperors brought their own artisans for this specific weaving technique.
Basically floral motifs and geometrical patterns also golden threads are woven that are more than a thousand years old. During the Mughal rule, Jamdani was the muslin cloth was on which various decorative motifs are woven. But with the gradual passage of time, it was seen that the original muslin Jamdani is too expensive to purchase by the common people. Thus a cheaper version with a more contemporary look are available these days in the market. But it cannot be denied that the sentiments attached remains the same.
The Muslin Jamdani is the most exquisite and expensive of all, available in the shops in Dhaka. In 2017 the traditional weaving art of Jamdani was included into Unesco’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
2. The Baluchari Saree of Murshidabad
Yet, another rich and heritage weaves of Bengal that was popular even in ancient times. Baluchari is the most exquisite silk saree of Bengal with grand designs and weaving method. Baluchari sari originated in Murshidabad district of West Bengal.
If we look into the history of the weaves of Bengal, Baluchari comes next to the muslin. Initially, the Baluchari sarees were woven in a small village named Baluchar in Murshidabad. Due to natural calamities such as floods, the weaving industry shifted to Bishnupur in Bankura district of West Bengal. The weaving technique flourished under the patronage of the Nawab of Burdwan.
The Baluchari sarees are famous for its intricate designs where stories from epics such as Mahabharat and Ramayana and other mythological motifs are woven with excellent craftmanship and artistic genius. There are two patterns the Meenakari Baluchari and the Swarnachari sarees. In the meenakari baluchari, meenakari work is done in another thread colour and in Swarnachari which is the most gorgeous one golden threads are used to brighten up the entire work. The Swarnachari sarees are sometimes worn by Bengali brides on their wedding day due to their granduer and majestic look.
Generally for a weaver, it takes around one week to complete a Baluchari saree. Among all the patterns in the Baluchari sarees temple designs can also be seen. These influence of temples is quite popularly seen in the walls of the terracotta temples of Bishnupur where various mythological tales are common. It’s a unique blend of culture, heritage, tradition and weaving technique.
The starting price range of a Baluchari saree begins from 8k to 10k and goes higher depending on the work. Though you can source one at 6k if you can buy one from the weaver directly when you visit Murchidabad.
3. The Traditional Taant Saree
It’s the traditional Bengali saree and one of the most popular among all the weaves of Bengal. From Dhaka, Tangail, Narayanganj of Bangladesh, to Assam’s Barak Valley, to Nadia, Hoogly, Murshidabad district of West Bengal taant saree is popularly woven everywhere. Tangail sarees are the most common ones available in the local market and quite affordable and easy to carry.
It is a daily wear saree and very easy in terms of maintenance. The sarees have a beautiful border with woven geometrical patterns, floral motifs, Kalka or paisley patterns, etc. Generally, the sarees are starched and become soft only after wearing once or twice.
But there is a certain dignity and elegance in starched taant saree. I have seen my mother gracefully draping one to her work almost every other day during the hot and humid summer season. I dreamt to have a collection like her but ended up with just a few. Though I know most of the sarees she has are now in my closet.
4. The Begumpuri Saree
It was only 4-5 years back that I came to know about this Begumpuri weaves. All thanks to social media and the numerous Facebook saree groups. The Begumpuri sarees are light-weighted and has distinguished contrasting borders generally in bright colours.
Figured motifs or geometric patterns such as stripes, small triangles are the most popular ones weaved using dyed cotton yarn. Generally, the simplest of these sarees takes 10-12 hours to weave and the more intricate ones can take up to 4-5 days.
The most popular colour combination available in the market are black and pink, red and yellow, red and green, purple and maroon, a combination of the grey coloured body with yellow and black motifs in the border looks absolutely elegant and one is yet to be added in my wardrobe.
5. The Dhaniakhali taant saree
Dhonekhali or Dhaniakhali as it is popularly called is yet another pattern of cotton taant saree that is made is Dhaniakhali in Hoogly District of West Bengal. Compared to the other weaves of Bengal it is coarse and heavier in texture.
Generally, the sarees come in pastel shades and are quite affordable. Since it is made of pure cotton it is best for the summer days and can be worn at homes too with great ease. These days in the contemporary market Dhonekhalis can be seen with a lot of different motifs like fish motifs or round geometrical patterns, checks, etc.
6. The Handwoven Phulia cotton sarees
The Phulia or Fulia sarees originated in a small town in Shantipur that come sunder Nadia district in West Bengal. As a result of the partition of Bengal, many weavers from Bangladesh settled here making Phulia a hub of weavers with amazing weaving skills. The original weavers of Phulia came from the Tangail subdivision of East Pakistan which is now a district in Bangladesh after partition. The sarees woven by them are known as the Tangail Sarees.
The phulia sarees are not just affordable but loved by all as it is very easy to carry and comfortable to wear. They may not be as fine as the Jamdanis but has a soft feel when touched and mostly comes in soothing pastel and earthy colours. Phulias sarees are woven both in cotton and silk, while the price range of the silk may be a little higher. The weaving technique has been handed down from one generation to another. You can Read this article HERE for more additional information on the weavers.
7. Kantha Stitched Saree
Kantha is a popular weave of Bengal of embroidery basically done on pure silk or tussar silk or cotton sarees by womenfolk of West Bengal. The Kantha stitch is basically running stitch which is one of the easiest patterns in embroidery. The patterns or motifs as seen in the Kantha sarees are various florals designs, birds, geometrical patterns, scenes from every-day life or various rituals like marriage, dancers, generally village scenes etc. The traditional method of Kantha embroidery was done on old cloths such dhotis or sarees or handkerchief to give them a new look.
When a baby is born older women or grandmothers used old sarees or pieces of cloths and layered them with Kantha stitch and made Kantha or quilts. I too had a few which probably my mother had kept in store along with my other dresses when I was 1 or 2 years old. Who knew that in the present times it would be a rave in the fashion industry. This tradition of Kantha stitching is passed on to the daughters by the mother in rural areas.
This dying art of Kantha was revived by the Kala Bhavan Institute of Fine Arts of Bishwa Bharati University on a global scale in the 1940s in Shantiniketan, West Bengal. The Kantha Stitch sarees available in Bolpur, Shantinikan are of exquisite designs and bright colours. They have a variety of these Kantha stitched sarees in silk and also in cotton. The Cotton Khesh Kantha stitch sarees are unique to Shantiniketan.
Not just sarees you have Kantha stitched dress materials, dupattas, bed-sheets, stoles, etc. In rural Bengal, women carry out this process of Kantha stitching. When I visited Bolpur Shantiniketan I was determined to purchase almost every variety. But I bought the unique ones, I purchased a Kantha stitched diary/journal, dupattas and sarees.
A cotton Kantha Stitch saree generally ranges between Rs1200 to Rs1500 and the starting range of the Pure Silk Kantha sarees are from 8k and goes higher with the intricacy of designs and patterns.
8. The Khesh Sarees of Birbhum
Khesh sarees originates in Birbhum district of West Bengal. It is a traditional technique of weaving sarees with old used saree fabrics and one of the most popular weaves of Bengal. The weaving technique is very simple. The weavers buy used only cotton sarees in bulk, wash them and tears them in thin strips to use them in weaving new ones.
The female weavers are generally employed in the tearing process and one old saree generally yields 80-90 strips. After the weaving is completed the old sarees brings a striking contrast when blended in the new woven fabric. This technique of weaving new fabric with pieces of old sarees was popularised by setting up of a vocational training centre by Rabindranath Thakur in Sriniketan.
When in Birbhum especially in Bolpur where the Shonajhuri market is full of all kinds of Khesh items– from bags to trousers, Kurtis, wrapper skirts, sarees you have them all. With the increase in demand these days khesh is used in bed covers, cushion covers, etc. Bolpur is the best place for buying various kinds of Khesh items. Khesh sarees are now a piece of a fashion statement and is loved by women of all ages and taste.
9. The Gamcha cotton checks
Yet another popular contemporary trend is the cotton Gamcha checks. Gamcha is a piece of traditional cotton used as a towel and is weaved in a checked design. Gamcha checked sarees, Kurti, shirts and other wearable fashion pieces are quite a in trend these days. It is very comfortable and summer-friendly. It is found traditionally in various parts of India and each region or state has its a unique variation of checks and designs.
The red and white gamcha checks produced in Bengal is very popular as a fashion trend. The gamcha fabric is now used to stitch into various other pieces of clothing like shirts, kurtis, dhoti pants, haren pants, jackets, bags, purses and what not.
When we talk about weaves of Bengal I had to mention this gamcha checks because its trending and gamcha is something that dates back centuries. The way a traditional weaving of a piece of cloth is being used and given a new dimension by our contemporary designers is indeed worth mentioning.
10. Traditional Bengali Garad saree
Pronounced as ‘Gorod’, this is a traditional weave of Bengal woven in silk with the whole body in white and the border in red. The main body is sometimes white or off-white in colour but the border usually comes with zari in red with small paisley motifs. Mulberry silk or Tussar silk is used for weaving the garad sarees and it is not dyed to retain the purity factor of these sarees.
Garad sarees are thus worn by Bengali ladies during any special occasion, rituals, holy ceremony, etc. The garad sarees are quite expensive and were popularly used by ladies belonging to royal families or families of zamindars during special occasions. Every Bengali woman definitely owns either a Garad or Laal Paar saree in her closet. The garad silk sarees are generally starched but after multiple uses and ironing these sarees become more comfortable while draping.
That was all for weaves of Bengal and you must one at least one of all these weaves. Some of my favourite stores from where I like to sarees in Kolkata are -Adi Mohini Mohan Kanjilal , Byloom, Adi Akshay and Co. And one of my favourite online boutique BOLPUR VIBES run by my friend Gargi who sources most of her sarees from Bolpur Shantiniketan. Also, the shops in Gariahat area (Near Basanti Devi College) in Kolkata are perfect for purchasing popular weaves of Bengal at a reasonable price.
These weaves are part of Bengali culture and tradition. Many contemporary trends are coming up where these spectacular weaves of Bengal are now used to make other forms of wearable and sustainable fashion.I have tried to include all the popular weaves of Bengal. Let me know in the comment section below. Do Like and share this post with your loved ones.
PIN FOR LATER