Story Behind Nakshi Kantha – A Traditional Bengal Art
Dating back to as early as the 1st and 2nd centuries, the use of kantha stitch first began with stitches on old layered cloths for the purpose of making the Bengali quilt also known as kantha. The tradition whereby different designs are stitched on to a kantha to portray floral motifs, birds, animals, and even the daily activities of common people and rural artisans gives a sense of extensiveness and uniqueness to this piece of clothing. The nakshi kantha saree design has a number of mythological explanations associated with it including the myths of Lord Shiva swallowing poison and that of the Samudra Manthan. Those myths, however, have their own story to tell.
The tradition of nakshi kantha saree is deep-rooted in the land of Tagore – Bolpur Shantiniketan located in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. A little stretch of this Bengal handloom can also be found in Orissa and certain districts in Bangladesh. Shantiniketan is the proponent of the nakshi kantha stitch embroidery and also the traditional kantha stitch that is a symbol of the artistic and cultural values of Shantiniketan to a considerable extent.
Spread of The Nakshi Kantha Embroidery Pattern
As time passed and there was greater exposure to the outer world with the embroidery pattern gaining popularity among different people from different parts of the world, nakshi kantha stitch came to be presented in a more convenient pattern. This is no longer restricted to various forms of home décor such as asanas, quilts, or pillow covers but have gained immense popularity as a design for handloom saree, especially the nakshi kantha saree. These gorgeous pure silk sarees can be found mostly in the towns of Murshidabad and Bishnupur. The silk sarees of the very best quality typically bear this design while it is also popular on various forms of Indo-Western dresses, dupatta, salwar kameez, and comfortable handloom and cotton sarees. Designers with international acclaim including the foreign designers today experiment with this century old legacy from Bengal for selling nakshi kantha saree online.
Dorokha Kantha – Two-Sided Nakshi Kantha
When talking about the Bengal handloom and nakshi kantha saree it is impossible to miss out on the Dorokha Kantha. This refers to the “two sided” nakshi kantha saree design where the same design can be found on both sides of the saree, making it difficult to distinguish which is the right side up. However, if you take a closer look you will realize that one of the sides bears the original design while the same has been repeated on the other side. This Dorokha kantha design can be seen mostly in the Khulna, Jessore, and Rajshahi districts of Bangladesh and Birbhum and Bankura in West Bengal.
Nakshi kantha traditionally belonged to a feminine world with very little participation in the entire process from men. From choosing the cloth, deciding on the type of thread to be used, setting the pencil and charcoal designs, and then eventually stitching, all of the work was done by the womenfolk.
Nakshi kantha Fabric
A whole and one half of an old dhoti or sari is typically used for making a nakshi kantha in rural Bengal. The entire fabric is done up as four-folds and the ends are tied together with the help of pins. The fabric is then smoothed to iron out the wrinkles. The ends of the cloth are finally stitched together before the pins are removed.
Nakshi Kantha Threads
Once the ends of the threads are secured, pencils or charcoal is used for drawing the design outline. Subsequently, the embroidery work is started. A lotus or some other form of alpana design is embroidered at the center before hand-embroidery is applied along the remainder of the vacant spaces. Though there is no apparent connection between the designs, it is ensured that there is no loss of symmetry.
Nakshi Kantha Motifs
Nakshi kantha reflects the life, culture, and aspirations of the Bengali village women. The motifs used in this handloom saree design hold a special place in the folk art traditions of India especially where rural women wish to express their feelings through folk art. Water, animals, rose, lotus, the sun, and the moon are some of the motif patterns commonly used. Water is central to most religious beliefs and is reflected in the saree design.
There is a deep connection between the nakshi kantha design and lives of the people of Bengal. This is often highlighted through the works of Sanskrit and Bengali literature while many Sanskrit slokas have also found expression from the kantha. It is one of the finest examples of a strange contradiction observed in Bengal since its creation is an effort at saving by transforming old clothes into rare arts of beauty.