Introduction and etymology

Belonging to a region where exemplary craftsmanship seems to be the norm, Jamdani stands heads and shoulders above other comparable forms of textiles. One of the finest and most celebrated examples of Mughal brilliance in art and craft, Jamdani is an exquisite and laboriously weaved form of muslin whose earliest origins are still shrouded in mystery. Ethereal in its appearance, the textile derives its name from two Persian words; ‘Jam’ meaning flower and ‘Dani’, a vase. Traditionally weaved in the Bengal canton of erstwhile undivided India, it was originally called Dhakai, referring to its industrial centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Known for its thin, gossamer-like appearance with ornate and embellished patterns, the textile requires painstaking effort of skilled artisans that makes it expensive and a sign of opulence.
In 2013, the craft was inscribed in UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, making it yet another reminder of the Indian subcontinents’ fabled and distinguished textile industry, and carving a niche for one of the finest examples of artistic brilliance.

History

Jamdani finds fleeting mentions in pieces of literature as ancient as Arthashastra (3rd cen. BC), and also occupies space in accounts of travellers & traders from China, Arabia and Italy who noted its unparalleled finesse and delicacy. The birth of Jamdani however is unclear, but it enjoyed patronage from Jehangir, an artist himself. It was during this period when the Bengal region, one of the richest provinces of Mughal Empire, became a hub for Jamdani’s weaving industry. Jehangir’s patronage elevated Jamdani to a status of royalty and a sign of luxury, and was much admired by visiting European dignitaries and ambassadors who were enamoured by its intricacies and quality.

 

Descent and Decline

“Just like the empire itself, the industry gradually fell into disdain. “
By the mid-eighteenth century, Jamdani along with other genteel fabrics saw a rapid decline. With the Mughals plagued by infighting and political turmoil, Jamdani lost its strongest benefactors it was ordained with.
With the advent of mills in Manchester and rise of colonial powers in the subcontinent, Jamdani fell behind its power loom competitors as it required strenuous labor and copious amounts of money to keep the industry running. By the end of 19th century, the industry was all but lost in oblivion and the once bustling and fabled mills of Dhaka fell into disuse and neglect.

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Weaving

The production of Jamdani requires a high degree of skill and sophistication, making it quite expensive and time-consuming to produce. Weaved on a brocade loom, its weaving is similar to other handloom weaving techniques, wherein every supplementary weft motif on the sari is added separately by hand using small bamboo or tamarind wood shuttles. The delicate motifs are drawn on a graph and are superimposed with the warp. Because of its onerous embelishment, a Jamdani sari may take anywhere between a month and a year to complete.

 

Varieties

Jamdani is popularly classified on the basis of its motif’s design or by its region of origin. The popular motifs are Panna Hajar (thousand emeralds), Kalka (paisley), Butidar (small flowers), Fulwar (rows of flowers), Tersa (diagonal patterns), Jalar (motifs across the expanse of the sari), Duria (polka dot) andCharkona (rectangular motifs).

Dhakai Jamdani is the finest and most elaborate example of all Jamdani saris. Produced in Dhaka, it is renowned for its eclectic designs and intricate workmanship. Tangail Jamdani (Bangladesh) features the traditional broad borders with motifs that mimic ‘meenakari’ effect. A little closer to home, the Shantipur Jamdani (India) is known for its delicate checks, stripes or a texture made by coloured threads or a mixture of fine and thicker yarn. Dhaniakhali Jamdani (India) is known for its tighter weave, bold dark colours and contrasting borders.
Despite a gradual demise, Jamdani muslin has re-emerged and is thriving by adapting to changing tastes and trends. By simultaneously keeping the wonted designs and techniques intact and adapting itself to suit contemporary styles and tastes, the cherished fabric has reinvented itself and achieved the status of prestige it once enjoyed.

Source : parisera