Girija Shankar and Niraj Selot have been keeping the tradition of Jamdani alive

Jamdani, a traditional weaving technique unique to undivided Bengal, was a thriving practice in the later half of the 19th century. A labour-intensive technique, it has beautiful and intricate flowered and figured motifs. This weaving practice faced a decline. However, thanks to the efforts of people such as Girija Shankar of Benaras, the technique has been revived. Shankar continued the tradition of weaving Jamdani saris begun by his grandfather. His initiative, Nilambari saris has been recognised by the Government of India, having won several National Awards. “The Government was impressed with the quality of our products,” says Shankar’s son Niraj Selot, who was in the city recently for an exhibition at Vermilion House. “My father revived it and I have been running it for the last 20 years,” says Niraj. In these last few decades, Niraj says they have been true to the traditional weaving technique. “The Dhaka technique is very different from that of West Bengal; it is neater and more intricate. We have stayed true to it.”

Between the 1960s and 1980s, Jamdani hardly received patronage. It was only after 1983 that this weaving technique came to be slowly recognised. “A major exhibition Vishwakarma organised by the Government of India gave an impetus to Jamdani,” says Niraj. He contends though the decline of Jamdani should be attributed to other factors as well. “The children of weaving families, are choosing other, more profitable careers. Jamdani weaving technique is a highly specialised skill. It requires painstaking effort and is time consuming.”

Nilambari’s journey has been of one struggle and triumph. Niraj and his father have built their business from scratch, starting with five to six weavers to more than 1,000 weavers now. One sari, Niraj says, takes three to four months to complete by three workers. Initially, to ensure the smooth running of the business, Niraj and his father kept the prices high to accommodate labour costs.

He adds that his weavers work enthusiastically as their skills are recognised and well paid. “I decide on the designs and the weavers execute them. Also, while I oversee the work, the weavers train each other.”

The reticent Niraj adds that the real challenge to weaving techniques now is a lack of awareness. “There is no sari fashion these days. Everything has become westernised. We must be proud that such techniques are exclusive to our country.”