Jamdani – The Pride of Bengal
When you think of Bengal, among the first things that typically come to the mind after the fish and sweets is the thriving saree industry. Sarees form an integral part of every Bong lady’s wardrobe. Among these, the jamdani saree has the honor of possessing a rich history and heritage, and is also one of the most popular textiles ever to grace a woman. Better known as Dhakai jamdani or Dhakai, this art of textile weaving originated in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Regarded as one of the finest muslin varieties ever to be handwoven from cotton, jamdani weaving flourished under Mughal patronage. The very name “jamdani” is of Persian origin, derived from the words “jam and “dani” which together means “flower vase”. This name is suggestive of the beautiful floral motifs typically seen on a handloom jamdani saree.
History and Origin
Early mentions of jamdani saree from Bengal can be found in the book Arthashashtra (book of economics) by the ancient economist Kautilya and this dates back to 300 AD. Literary works from the early and late 19th century also have numerous historical references by James Taylor and T.N. Mukharji who refer to it as muslin jamdani with figure and flower motifs. At a global level, it was one of the finest muslins man (or, in this case, woman) had ever known. As early as the 9th century, Arab geographer Solaiman makes a reference to this fabric in his book Sril Silat-ut-Twarikh, speaking of its production in what is modern day Bangladesh. Dhaka muslin had its golden age during the Mughal rule in the 17th century. Jamdani trade started to thrive in Iran, Armenia, and Europe. The Mughals and Pathans jumped in and resham jamdani came to be regarded as a royal favorite.
Post the mid-19th century, jamdani saree witnessed a steady decline with cheaper, inferior European yarn being imported which also coincided with the decline of the Mughal Empire. The weavers were forced to sell their work at lower prices before the East India Company took it upon itself to buy textiles directly from the weavers. Dhaka muslin exports gradually fell from a high of Rs. 3 million in 1787 and came to an end in 1817.
One of the most interesting aspects about the jamdani motif used in weaving the handloom jamdani saree is that these are not sketched or outlined on the fabric. Rather, they get drawn on to a piece of translucent graph paper which is then placed underneath the warp. Though the jamdani weaving technique is most famous for the production of jamdani saree it also finds application in the making of scarves, dupattas, and handkerchiefs, all of which uses cotton jamdani material. Some of the most popular jamdani motifs in use are the 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).
It is possible to categorize a jamdani saree based on the variations on offer from every region. Dhakai jamdani from Bangladesh is the original jamdani saree from Bengal and among the finest produces with elaborate amounts of workmanship. Producing one such muslin jamdani could take anywhere between nine months to a year to complete. Tangail jamdani is popularly worn in the Tangail district of Bangladesh. These are traditionally fitted with broad borders that feature lotus, lamp, and fish scale jamdani motifs.
The Shantipur jamdani is a cotton jamdani originating from Shantipur in West Bengal and is similar in produce to the Tangail jamdani. They are characterized by a fine texture and often possess a decoration of elegant striped motifs. The Dhaniakhali version of resham jamdani features a tighter weave as compared to what is seen in the Shantipur and tagnail variants. With its roots in Bengal, most of these sarees have motifs that bear an intricate association with Bengali culture. Often, the pallu tells a popular tale or is a simple pictorial representation of simple village life.
Identifying a Jamdani Saree
- Jamdani sarees are made from high quality muslin jamdani which is extremely soft and thin, making the saree light and airy when worn
- Jamdani sarees have characteristic eye-catching ornamental motifs woven onto the fabric. These intricate motifs are characterized by a thicker thread that seems to float on the surface of what is otherwise an ultra-fine fabric
- Floral motifs are a standout feature of every jamdani saree. Diamond shapes, paisleys, fish, lamp, and lotus are some of the common designs based on where the saree was manufactured
- If you are buying a genuine jamdani, you cannot get it for anything less than Rs. 2500
The be-all-and-end-all when it came to aristocracy and regality, there is enough reason to call jamdani one of the finest muslins ever produced. So, if you don’t own a jamdani saree from Bengal yet, this would be the best time to invest in this piece of heritage. With the world of fashion once again embracing this gorgeous weave, would you want to be someone who was left out of this fashion Renaissance?