Handloom Jamdani – Pure Fine Muslin Sarees

 Jamdani is a vividly patterned, sheer cotton fabric, traditionally woven on a handloom by craftspeople and apprentices around Dhaka. Jamdani textiles combine intricacy of design with muted or vibrant colours, and the finished garments are highly breathable. Jamdani is a time-consuming and labour-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. The weavers develop an occupational identity and take great pride in their heritage; they enjoy social recognition and are highly respected for their skills. A few master weavers are recognized as bearers of the traditional Jamdani motifs and weaving techniques, and transmit the knowledge and skills to disciples. However, Jamdani weaving is principally transmitted by parents to children in home workshops. Weavers – together with spinners, dyers, loom-dressers and practitioners of a number of other supporting crafts – form a closely knit community with a strong sense of unity, identity and continuity.

Dhakai Jamdani Handloom Sari from Bengal with Woven Leaves and Flowers All-Over

Jamdani was originally called Dhakai, after the city of Dhaka from East Bengal, now Bangladesh, where it was exclusively hand-woven for centuries. In its truest form, Jamdani denotes muslin, a fine cotton fabric, with geometric or floral motifs woven on handlooms by skilled weavers from Rupganj, Narayanganj, and Sonargaon around Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. Muslin was deemed worthy of clothing statues of goddesses in ancient Greece, countless emperors from distant lands, and generations of local Mughal royalty. So enamoured with this masterfully finished fabric, they affectionately named it in Persian after the floral patterns found in the Dhakai textile, ‘Jam’ meaning flower and ‘Dani’ meaning vase or container, offering its weavers extensive patronage.

Red and Black Jamdani Handloom Sari from Bangladesh with Woven Bootis All-Over

Sulaiman, a 9th-century Arab traveller, wrote of cotton fabrics made in the kingdom of Rahmi (erstwhile undivided Bengal) which were so fine they could pass through a signet ring. Around the 12th century, Islamic influences infused the fabric with countless motifs and colours. And through the magic of one inlaid thread—added discontinuously onto the loom—it turned into a surface for mesmerising patterns. The technique created motif-rich fabrics that bore poetic names like Shabnam (morning dew), Ab-i-rawan (flowing water) and Baftnama (woven wind). It was during the Mughal emperor Akbar's reign that the art blossomed into its most exquisite form—the flowered muslin, Jamdani. However, there was also a mention of Jamdani sarees at Chanakya’s Arthashastra. It was during the 3rd century BC. Even during the Mughal reign, there was huge popularity and demand of Jamadani saree. It was during the British rule when the industry experienced a great set back. Apart from this, the export of cheap yarn from European countries was also another main reason for the decline of Jamdani industry. Madhurapur and Jangalbadi were the two famous villages that produced Jamdani sarees.

Caviar-Black Jamdani Sari from Bengal with Woven Bootis and Striped Border

The base fabric for Jamdani is unbleached cotton yarn and the design is woven using bleached cotton yarns so that a light-and-dark effect is created. The process is extremely time consuming as it involves a tedious form of hand looming. The making of Jamdani involves the supplementary weft technique along with the standard weft technique. With the latter, the base sheer material is made on which thicker threads on used to create designs. Each of the supplementary weft motif is then added manually by interlacing the weft threads with fine bamboo sticks using individual spools. This process results in the vibrant patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface, which is a feature unique to Jamdani sarees.

Rasberry-Sorbet Jamdani Sari from Bangladesh with Temple Border and Florals Weave All-Over

Jamdani weaving is somewhat like tapestry work, where small shuttles of colored, gold or silver threads are passed through the weft. Designs range from the “butidar”, where the entire saree is scattered with floral sprays, to diagonally-striped floral sprays or the “tercha” and a network of floral motifs called “jhalar”. Today, however, price constraints have forced weavers to simplify their designs. The most remarkable part of this technique is that the pattern is not sketched or outlined on the fabric. Instead, it is drawn on a translucent graph paper and placed underneath the warp. The fabric is not just limited to sarees; scarves, handkerchiefs and dupattas made out of this fine muslin are also extremely popular.

Ivory Purbasthali Handloom Sari from Bengal with Woven Border and Pallu

Jamdani fabrics can easily be distinguished by seeing the extra weft which is usually inserted in the ratio of two ground thread and one design thread. Bulging effect is seen at the design portions of the fabric since design thread is coarser than ground thread. The extra un-cut weft is interlaced with warp threads to form the design from left to right and vice versa in such a way that it cannot be pulled off. Turning of design thread from left to right and vice versa is clearly seen in the back side of the fabric. Jamdani and Banarasis go a long way together. One simply cannot miss the Jamdani and brocades of Banaras. The silk Jamdani is a technical variety of brocade traditionally woven in Banaras. It may be considered to be one of the finest products to come out of the Banarasi loom. Here silk fabric is brocaded with cotton and rarely with zari threads. As you all know, the specialty of the Banarasi saree lies in its use of zari or rich gold and silver-colored thread work on motifs and brocades. Added to this, with the intention to improve the aesthetic appeal, modern-day Jamdani takes the form of cotton and gold thread weaving to create motifs of geometric patterns and floral designs in colorful hues. Jamdani's hand weaving has become a necessary accompaniment of Banarasi Silks today. Banarasi artisans use the weft technique of weaving, where the artistic motifs are produced by a non-structural weft, in addition to the standard weft that holds the warp threads together. It takes almost a year to weave a Jamdani Saree.

Brocaded Uppada Sari from Bangalore with Zari Woven Peacocks on Border

The decline of the Bengali jamdani and muslin began when the Indian subcontinent came under the British Raj. It eventually lost out to the cheaper mill-produced European textiles such as Manchester cotton. By the early 20th Century, Dhaka muslin quietly vanished from every corner of the globe, with the only surviving examples stashed safely in valuable private collections and museums. However, in 2013, UNESCO declared the traditional art of weaving Jamdani an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. In 2016, Bangladesh declared the Jamdani as its first GI product. The Jamdani Festival organised by the National Crafts Council of Bangladesh and the Bengal Foundation in 2019 helped revive interest in this weave and efforts are on to restore the Jamdani to its original excellence and bring back the glory of this legendary textile tradition.

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