When one thinks of Bengal, one of the first things to pop up in our mind, right after the fish and sweets, is its thriving saree industry. Sarees form an integral part of every Bengali woman’s wardrobe and one of the most popular textiles that boast of a rich history and heritage is the Jamdani saree. Popularly known as Dhakai Jamdani or simply Dhakai, this art of textile weaving has its roots in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Considered to be one of finest variety of muslin that is handwoven from cotton, the art flourished under the Mughal patronage. Even the name, Jamdani, is of Persian origin and comes from the word “jam” meaning flower and “dani” meaning vase. The name is suggestive of the beautiful floral motifs on these sarees.
Origin and history
The name Jamdani is of Persian origin and is strongly suggestive of Mughal influence. It is a compound word wherein “jam” means flower and “dani” means vase. The name is suggestive of the beautiful floral motifs that adorn these gorgeous sarees. The Bengali version of the name, Dhakai, comes from the place of its origin — Dhaka in Bangladesh. Interestingly, the earliest mention of Jamdani sarees can be found in Chanakya’s Arthashastra, dating back to the 3rd century BC! The book refers to it as some fine cloth from “Bangla” and “Pundra” region. Significant mentions of Jamdani can also be found in the book of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, besides the accounts of Arab, Chinese and Italian travellers and traders. In the first half of the 19th century, James Taylor described the flowered Jamdani. The late 19th century saw the Anglicization of rooted Indian concepts and consequently, TN Mukharji referred to this fabric as Jamdani muslin.
Though Jamdani has enjoyed immense popularity right from the beginning, the art form bloomed during the Mughal period. However, colonisation by the British saw a decline in the production of this fabric. Export of cheaper yarn from European countries in the 19th century was one of the primary reasons for the decline of Jamdani. Also, with the decline of Mughal rule in India, producers of Jamdani were deprived of their most influential patrons. Villages like Madhurapur and Jangalbadi, once famous for the intricate Jamdani industry, faded into oblivion. Post the partition, many weavers migrated to present day West Bengal, and that marked the beginning of the art form in India.
The base fabric for Jamdani is unbleached cotton yarn and the design is woven using bleached cotton yarns so that a light-and-dark effect is created. The process is extremely time consuming as it involves a tedious form of hand looming. The making of Jamdani involves the supplementary weft technique along with the standard weft technique. With the latter, the base sheer material is made on which thicker threads on used to create designs. Each of the supplementary weft motif is then added manually by interlacing the weft threads with fine bamboo sticks using individual spools. This process results in the vibrant patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface, which is a feature unique to Jamdani sarees.
Jamdani weaving is somewhat like tapestry work, where small shuttles of colored, gold or silver threads are passed through the weft. Designs range from the “butidar”, where the entire saree is scattered with floral sprays, to diagonally-striped floral sprays or the “tercha” and a network of floral motifs called “jhalar”. Today, however, price constraints have forced weavers to simplify their designs. The most remarkable part of this technique is that the pattern is not sketched or outlined on the fabric. Instead, it is drawn on a translucent graph paper and placed underneath the warp. The fabric is not just limited to sarees; scarves, handkerchiefs and dupattas made out of this fine muslin are also extremely popular.
One of the most laborious forms of handloom weaves, it’s no surprise that it is considered to be one of the most prized fabrics in the world. Jamdani weaving is time-consuming and labour-intensive because of the richness of its motifs, which are created directly on the loom using the discontinuous weft technique. Threads of gold and silver are usually woven together with these sarees to create a variety of patterns and motifs on a brocade loom. It has the supplementary weft technique along with the standard weft technique. The standard weft creates a fine, sheer fabric while the supplementary weft with thicker threads adds the intricate patterns to it. Each of the supplementary weft motif is manually added by interlacing the weft threads with fine bamboo sticks using individual spools. It gives an illusion of the designs floating on a shimmering surface, a characteristic of Jamdani weaves.
Though originally made in a variant of contrasting bright colours, many Jamdani sarees are now coloured, and even the half and half Jamdani variety is extremely popular. The two current favourites in Jamdani saree are the self-coloured style where the work is in the same colour as the base fabric and the half and half style where the inner and outer halves of the saree are in complementary colours. The designs and colors also changed with time. Originally, the motifs used to be made on grey fabric. Later on, fabrics of other colours were also used. In the 1960s, Jamdani work on red fabric became very popular.
The most remarkable part of about the Jamdani weaving technique is that the motifs are not sketched or outlined on the fabric. Instead, they are drawn on a translucent graph paper and placed underneath the warp. Though Jamdani technique is famous for sarees, it is also used to make scarves, handkerchiefs and dupattas. Popular motifs include panna hajar (thousand emeralds), kalka (paisley), butidar (small flowers), fulwar (flowers arranged in straight rows), tersa (diagonal patterns), jalar (motifs evenly covering the entire saree), duria (polka spots) and charkona (rectangular motifs).
Varieties of Jamdani
A Jamdani saree can be categorised by the variations that each region offers. Dhakai Jamdani from Bangladesh are the original and the finest sarees with the most elaborate workmanship. One Dhakai Jamdani saree could take anywhere between nine months and a year to weave. The Tangail Jamdani is woven in the Tangail district of Bangladesh. Traditionally, these Jamdani sarees have broad borders featuring lotus, lamp and fish scale motifs.
The Shantipur Jamdani from Shantipur, West Bengal, is similar to Tangail Jamdanis. They have a fine texture and these sarees are often decorated with elegant striped motifs. The Dhaniakhali version of Jamdani has a tighter weave as compared to the Tangail and Shantipur varieties. These are marked by bold colours and dark, contrasting borders. With its roots in Bengal, most Jamdani sarees have motifs that are intricately associated with Bengali culture. Many a times the pallu tells a popular tale or is a pictorial representation of simple village life.
Current state of the art
Despite all the plus points, the art form has seen a decline as the weavers don’t find the profession as rewarding anymore. In an attempt to revive this art, a Jamdani Palli has been established near Dhaka. Besides, organisations like Radiant Institute of Design, Shanto Mariam University of Creative Technology, National Institute of Design (NID) and others are helping designers create new Jamdani designs. One of the finest and most expensive materials to work with, designers see endless possibilities with this beautiful weave and are taking a keen interest in it. Designer Gaurang Shah, one of the pioneers to have showcased the Jamdani weaves on the ramp, has worked extensively with this textile and aims at reviving the love for this beautiful fabric not only in India, but all over the world. He feels that Jamdani is the perfect expression of India’s elegant and detailed heritage. His intricate designs are brought to life with clever touches of Dhakai work that have stolen the limelight at many international shows world over. He doesn’t label his work as he believes that the ultimate credit for each creation goes to the weavers.
Such is the charm of this gorgeous weave, that celebrities like Vidya Balan, Rani Mukherjee, Kajol, Asha Parekh, Aishwarya Rai and many others have been often spotted wearing this weave on various occasions. The most notable appearance was however, made by Priyanka Chopra when she received the Padma Shri wearing a lime green Jamdani sari with intricate floral designs.
The simplest of cotton Jamdani sarees begin at approximately 2,500 INR owing to the intricate process. The prices vary depending on the use of silk thread, the work, zari and intricacy of the work. A bridal Jamdani can cost anywhere between 8000 and 10,000 INR and above.
- Jamdani sarees are made of high quality cotton muslin, which is very thin and soft, making the saree very light and airy.
- Jamdani sarees are characterised by eye-catching ornamental motifs woven onto the fabric. These intricate motifs in thicker thread seem to float on the surface of the ultra-fine fabric.
- Floral motifs are almost always present on Jamdani sarees. You’ll find paisleys, diamond shapes as well as lotus, lamp, fish etc depending on where the saree is manufactured.
- A genuine Jamdani saree will not cost less than Rs.2500.
The ultimate expression of regality and aristocracy, Jamdani is not called the finest muslin for no reason — this extremely skillful weave takes anywhere from a month to a year to complete a saree. A Dhakai Jamdani, however, takes a minimum of nine months to weave. So, if you don’t own a Jamdani saree yet, there is no better time to invest in this piece of heritage. With the world of fashion once again embracing this gorgeous weave, you would definitely not want to be left out, right?
It is best to dry clean your Jamdani saree. You can wrap it in a clean cloth and store it in a saree bag or a plastic bag.
|KNOW YOUR CRAFT: JAMDANI|
|Technique||Handloom||Distinguishing factor||Motifs appear raised on the sheer fabric|
|Place of origin||Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh||Materials used||Cotton yarn|
|Manufacturing hubs||Now made in Dhaka and West Bengal||Time taken to weave||1 month to 1 year (Dhakai Jamdani takes minimum 9 months)|
|Type of fabric||High quality muslin||Varieties||Dhakai, Tangail, Shantipur, Dhaniakhali|
|Colours||Earlier only in grey, now in a variety of colours||Price||Starts at 2500 INR|
|Motifs||Prominent floral motifs along with other motifs like paisleys, fish, lamp and lotus||Care||Dry clean, wrap in clean cloth and store in a plastic bag|
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