Apart from being a land of deep-seated culture, with colorful festivals, rich literature, varied languages and dialects, and an unparalleled heritage of classical music and dances, India is also a land of expert craftsmen and master weavers, who literally weave magic on the looms!
One such magical weave is that of the Jamdani, which is historically referred to as ‘muslin’. It is considered to be a great technical achievement of the Indian weavers, for the ethereal delicacy of the weave, and the intricate patterns that are created using the unique technique of ‘loom-embroidery’. Typically, Jamdani is a very fine, losely woven fabric with ornate patterns such as florals, mango, peacock, the tree of life etc. The craft is employed to create gorgeous stoles and sarees in cotton and silk that exude a charm that’s almost sensual.
A craft that finds its origin in the Dhaka district of Bangladesh, it flourished under the patronage of the Mughal emperors who were besotted with its beauty. It is said that on one occasion, Emperor Aurangazeb gave his daughter Princess Zeb-Un-Nissa a severe dressing down for wearing skimpy clothes. She retorted that on the other hand she was fully clothed, with her seven jamas, or garments on her pencil slim body! So sheer were the fabrics that she wore, that they were deceptive! The Jamdani muslin was, and still is, the most celebrated and sophisticated woven textile, worn mostly by the discerning and the affluent.
The airiness and transparence of the cotton fabric, combined with the beautiful woven patterns lend an enchanting quality to the sarees. Textile connoisseurs have often compared the beauty of Jamdanis to ‘running water’ or the ‘sensual quality of moonlight’.
But behind the effortless grace of a single six-yard beauty is the painstaking work of a weaver who invests long hours for weeks, sometimes months at a stretch to complete it. This hard work fetches them meager monitory returns which leaves them very disheartened.
The craft received international recognition when UNESCO declared it ’an intangible cultural heritage’. In the past few years a lot of fashion and textile designers have also done their bit by ‘stylizing’ the craft, to make it more popular with the masses. The growing global interest in traditional handicrafts will hopefully ensure that the craft and the craftsmen get the recognition that they deserve.
So, the next time you lose your heart to a dainty Jamdani, you know that a set of nimble fingers have been constantly on it, unknowingly weaving in the weaver’s thoughts, emotions, and a slice of his lifetime!
Image sources: thehindu.com, www.shelf3d.com, Aula Anand via flickr, Russel John via flickr, sareedreams.com, indianyarn.wordpress, bangladeshtextileresidency.wordpress