Silks of Bengal were much acclaimed the world over, since
ancient times. The most well-known Bengal Silk saree, which carry its legendary
name, is the Baluchari saree - a product of exquisite design, and fabulous
weaving technique. A revival in recent times of both the Baluchari and yet
another outstanding, traditional Bengal Saree, the Daccai, has led to
nationwide and worldwide popularity and renewal of interest in Bengal silks.
Like silk, cotton sarees are also woven in a fascinating and exquisite range.
The Daccai 'Jamdani' is a fabric on which the designs are raised in inimitable
style. The 'Batik' prints originating from Javanese wax-designing, revived in
Santiniketan. Floral forms circular 'kalka' shapes, pyramidal and variations of
geometric designs are typical. Handloom still remains the great employer in
rural Bengal. Today hand-painted scrolls also silk-screened and printed are
quite popular as wall hangings etc. Shantipur in Nadia; Begumpur, Rajbalhat and
Dhanekhali in Hooghly; Kenjekura in Bankura; Fulia, Guptipara and Samudragarh
in Nadia and Burdwan - are the homes of these legendary weavers.
Delicate silver needles, flashing fingers, moving dexterously on
cloth - it's a bewitching world. The 'Kantha' of Bengal, somewhat in the class
of the English quilt, is an all-purpose wrap, superbly stitched together from
pieces of garment: for use as bedspreads (Sujni Kantha), mirror-wraps
(Arsilata) and the like. Multiform designs fill every segment, pocket and
compartment. They run along the borders, illuminating the edges. Except for the
straight kantha stitch, it is customary to represent illustrations from
well-known epics such as the Ramayana or Krishnalila, and also legends evolving
from folk-rituals of Bengal (Vratas). The results are products of
art-consciousness and creative aptitude in symbolic communication. Figures or
complexly stitched and bespectacled with colour, the lotus as the central point
in the kantha from which the design spreads - all are redolent with meaning.
Most importantly, the 'kantha' is a creation of the essential
female - the mother, the wife, the sister and the loved one. It is her eye, her
emotions, her skill that gives us this exotic example of needlework and
embroidery rolled into one.