Ok! Let me start this write-up by asking a question.
Did you know that since 2013 Jamdani is declared as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO? I bet several of you reading this didn’t know of this fact (I didn’t) and we may have been wearing, gifting, or dealing in Jamdani sarees in one way or the other for the last several years without knowing this.
This is what UNESCO said then: "Jamdani is a time-consuming and labor-intensive form of weaving because of the richness of its motifs which are created directly on the loom using the discontinuous weft technique. Weaving is thriving today due to the fabric's popularity for making saris, the principal dress of Bengali women at home and abroad. The Jamdani sari is a symbol of identity, dignity and self-recognition and provides wearers with a sense of cultural identity and social cohesion." When you talk of West Bengal it brings to your mind many things sweet and festive - Rashogullas, Sondesh, Durga Puja and Sarees.
West Bengal has a very rich tradition of handloom weaving and is a part of not just its cultural heritage but also that of the country. It's textile products have attracted not just national but also worldwide attention and bear the timeless legacy of our rich cultural heritage.
The specialty of Bengal Handloom is that it keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter making it one of the finest fabric materials to choose from. The making of this fabric involves two steps - converting the fibre into yarn and then weaving the yarn to get the final product which is the fabric.
‘Jamdani’ and ‘Tangail’ are the two pioneer sarees in the field of heritage handloom products of Bengal Handloom. The name, Jamdani, is of Persian origin and comes from the word “jam” meaning flower and “dani” meaning vase. The name is suggestive of the beautiful floral motifs on these sarees. The earliest mention of Jamdani sarees can be found in Chanakya’s Arthashastra, dating back to the 3rd century BC. The book refers to it as some fine cloth from the “Bangla” and “Pundra” region. It also finds significant mentions in the book of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, besides the accounts of Arab, Chinese and Italian travellers, traders, and writers.
'Tangail' sarees originated from a district of the same name in present-day Bangladesh. Previously it was known as "Begum Bahar" and silk warp and cotton weft were used. The weavers were mainly from the 'Basak’ community who later migrated from Tangail and settled in 'Katwa' Dhatrigram, Tamaghata, and Samudragarh in West Bengal.
Handloom today still remains a big employer in the rural sector in West Bengal. As per the latest available data, 3.5 lakh handlooms exist till date in West Bengal with several lakhs employed in the sector in one way or the other. Also, there are several other industries and businesses which are associated with the sector and benefit from it. Santipur, Fulia in Nadia district, Dhaniakhali, Begampur in Hooghly district, Samudragarh, Dhatrigram, Katwa, Ketugram in Burdwan district, Bishnupur in Bankura district are the main handloom concentrated areas in the state.
Bengal Handloom sarees indeed deserve all our love and support possible.