Silken depictions

Silken depictions

Those familiar with Baluchari saris would know that they are exquisite works of art woven in silk that take pride of place in the handloom collection from Bengal.

Their borders and pallus are embellished with motifs that are mostly inspired by the epics, mythology, traditional texts, scenes of court life during the Muslim era and other individual patterns. Bishnupur was once the capital of Malla dynasty, terracotta temples being one of their spectacular achievements.   Baluchari saris depict a major influence of these temples, and you would find several mythological representation and motifs from the temple walls woven into these saris. Each panel tells a timeless story.

Baluchari saris have continued to enchant people for generations. It has the feel and look of a Banarasi sari or a Kanjeevaram, except for the fact that Baluchari saris are worked totally in silk, and there is no zari, golden or silver. The pallus and borders have intricate designs that are both beautiful and striking. The fabric is fine and transparent, usually made of Murshidabad silk that has a soft drape.

History

The history of Baluchari can be traced back to 18th century to the regime of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan. The word ‘Baluchari’ means ‘belonging to a sandy river bank’. The sari originated in a tiny village named Baluchar on the bank of River Ganga in Murshidabad. Many believe that the concept of Baluchari sari is derived from the Jamdani saris of Dhaka. Murshid Quli Khan, the then nawab of Bengal, was a patron of this rich weaving craft and was said to have brought these weavers from Dhaka to Baluchar village, where it flourished.

Later, when the village of Baluchar was submerged under water due to floods, the weavers moved to Bishnupur in Bankura district. There are clusters of weavers who continue to create these enchanting saris.

Producing a perfect Baluchari sari includes several steps that start with the cultivation of silkworm cocoons, which is the main raw material used for producing silk. The cocoons are then turned into fine silk yarn by boiling them in a solution of soda and soap and then dyed in acid colour according to the requirement of the sari. The yarn has to be stretched from both sides in opposite directions using force. This makes the yarn crisp and strong. It is then reeled into special reeling devices.

Art of precision

Creating motifs for pallu and border is an intricate process and requires elaborate planning and execution. Each sari is made by two expert weavers, working on it by turns. Originally, a master weaver doing it the traditional way took nearly a month to complete weaving one . Later, scientists of the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute in Durgapur developed a new weaving technique and a special loom called Jacquard Card Punching Machine, which has reduced weaving time to just 10-12 days.

These saris are now hand-woven on jacquard punch-card looms. The design is drawn on graph paper and then punched on cards. The cards are then placed in a sequence and fixed to a jacquard machine. These coded and punched series of cards control the movement of the warp on loom for creating finely woven details in silk. One can also weave the latest computerised designs using this loom.

Reflecting mythology

Most of the designs worked on Baluchari saris illustrate mythological stories as depicted on the temple walls of Bishnupur and Bankura. Distinguished for their elaborate borders and fabulous pallus, many have kalka motifs or butis (dots) and a series of figures woven diagonally. The themes include episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, women riding horses, elaborate pleasure boats with lovebirds and striking structures, court scenes of the Muslim era and so on.

Motifs are interspersed with floral designs, stars, animals and birds. Some of the most popular colours of Baluchari saris include red, green, blue and yellow.

Our growing awareness of eco-friendly organic products has influenced Baluchari saris as well. These days, in addition, cotton kapas are spun with the fibre of banana plants and bamboo shoots. Dyes too are often made from fruits, flowers, leaves and vegetables such as pomegranate, jamun, mangoes, neem fruits and leaves, basil leaves, turmeric, marigold and so on. These ‘organic’ Baluchari cotton saris were first displayed by Rang Mahal, a forum of weavers from Nadia district.

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