History & Culture

The timeless beauty of Baluchari

A Baluchari weaver at work   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It’s sheer poetry in fabric — the Baluchari weaves — woven in Baluchar, a village in Murshidabad district, between the 17th and early 20th centuries.

Comprising saris, shawls and rumals, this textile is probably the only woven narrative in India. Every piece holds an interesting story in its folds — the lavish lifestyles of Nawabs and European sahibs and bibis.

Though much is not known about its origins and also why the tradition stopped, over the years an effort has been made to revisit and revive Baluchari.

The timeless beauty of Baluchari

Darshan Shah, founder of Weavers Studio in Kolkata and passionate about hand-crafted textiles, has been tirelessly working for the cause of craftsmen. “I was determined to do something for the exquisite Baluchari textile and its weavers. The first exhibition was held in Kolkata in 2016 with the help of the Government bodies with a major portion of the exhibits from TAPI (Textiles and Art of the People of India). This time the exhibition has a number of pieces from the National Museum which have been restored for this event. There are also several pieces from the Craft Museum. The exhibition tries to pair the theme presented in the sari with a painting or other material depicting the same. We also have pieces from the personal collection of several people. We recently discovered two woollen Baluchari shawls woven and signed by Dubraj Das (the last known weaver from Baluchar whose saris were great pieces of art). This was bought by a private collector and will be displayed at the National Museum Exhibition. It is the first time that we have come across woollen Baluchari shawls.”

Dr. B. R. Mani, Director General, National Museum says, “The museum has mounted several textile exhibitions in the past (Traded Textiles, Malaysian Textiles, Pichhwai, Mudmee and so on). The Baluchari exhibition is another such. The exhibition does not focus on saris alone, but looks at the social, cultural and economic conditions of the Eastern region in the 18th-19th century period. Thirty pieces are from the National Museum collection.”

The timeless beauty of Baluchari

Talking about her involvement, Darshan explains that in 2015, when her daughter was getting married, she happened to visit the exhibition by TAPI in Mumbai. “I was fascinated by the saris and wanted to present my daughter one. It is sad that most Bengali brides wear Benarasi and their mothers, Jamdanis from Bangladesh. So I wanted a quintessential Bengal sari for her. When I tried to find one, I couldn’t get the kind that were woven in the past. Thus began a fascinating journey to document, collate, collect, curate and revive the tradition.”

The sari is divided into three parts – the elaborate pallav with gorgeous nakkashi, the border that carries forward the theme of the pallav and the body has motifs. The pallav usually has the kalka motif in the centre — the paisley motif is stylised and there are umpteen versions of the same. Another novelty of the Baluchari saris is that several of them are signed by the weavers. It is rare in Indian textile tradition where a weaver has signed his creation.

The weaving of fine Baluchari stopped with the passing away of Dubraj Das in 1903. A master Nakshaband or maker of jalas, with him this fine craft also disappeared. His pupils were not successful in taking forward his brilliance. Several old saris are signed by him as also by weavers such as Yajneshwar Kar, Baneswar Das, Goshta Bihari, Khudiram Biswas and Goshna Kariokor. With him the weaving of Baluchari saris on jhala loom stopped.

The traditional Baluchari sari used low twisted silk for the warp, no twist silk for the weft and the colourful bhutis were woven using untwisted floss silk.

Shubho Tagore, the first Director of the Regional Design Centre in Calcutta of the All India Handicrafts Board revived Baluchari weaving at Bishnupur. The weavers here worked on jacquard loom and the motifs were drawn from purana and Vaishnava tradition. This is the Baluchari that one usually sees today.

The timeless beauty of Baluchari

Points out Darshan, “Along with the revival, we have initiated the process of research, documentation, archiving, curating, publishing and working with Weavers Service Centre, supported by MSME & T (Micro and Small Scale Enterprises and Textiles), Govt of West Bengal, through Tantuja . The design repertoire has evolved and the weavers are getting a good price. The Tantuja shop dedicated to Baluchari is supporting the initiative and buying back the revived collections from the weavers, who are motivated to revisit the old designs . But the jala system for weaving has not seen a revival because it will require a lot of effort. Also a facilitation centre at Bishnupur for procurement of raw material, making the design on graph, punching cards by computerised systems will make the process better and enable the quality and design to be of a higher standard.”

For this exhibition, there are several pieces on display from the collection of the National Museum, several from the Weavers Studio Collection, some from TAPI, private collection of Pushpa Kejriwal, Jharna Bose, Siddhartha Tagore, Anjan Chakravorty, Crafts Museum, New Delhi/ The display includes cocoons, drawings of loom, jala loom, punch cards, graph and patterns. There is a beautiful sari from the National Museum, which shows Europeans seated on a steamboat. Pacha pele saree.

Dr. Mani adds, “In addition to the exhibition, lots of activities including, seminar, gallery walk, activity sheets, discovery kit have been planned . To explain the technical aspects, the visitors will also get to see the raw material and weaving techniques.”

“In this exhibition we have different sections. There is one section on the signed Baluchars, one on the Namavalli textiles, another on the loom and how the weaving is done and the contemporary creations . Greater awareness will mean better chances for the Baluchari to survive. I will only say, please come and see the exhibition,” says Darshan.

Treasure trove

Baluchars: The Woven Narrative Silks of Bengal, edited by Jasleen Dhamija and brought out by Niyogi Publications, is a richly illustrated book. Jasleen Dhamija’s involvement with Baluchari’s revival at Benares under the guidance of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay led to many interesting events related to the tradition. The book has chapters by textile experts, closely associated with Baluchari. There is a wonderful piece by Siddhartha Thakur, the son of Shubho Tagore. B. B. Paul shares an interesting facet about how the sari is woven reverse side facing up and the weaver uses a mirror to see the reflection of what he is weaving. Eva Maria Racob’s relentless research and attention to detail is evident in the chapter by her. The book is a treaure trove of information.

The Benares Connection

When the Baluchari was being revived in the 1950s, the jala could be made only at Benares, where there were still nakshabands practising the trade. Kalloo Hafiz alias Ali Hasan came up with a reproduction of the original Baluchari. So beautiful were his creations that Jasmeen Dhamija says in the book that connoisseurs were unable to spot the difference between the old Baluchari and these replicated pieces. Naseem Ahmad, the great grandson of Kalloo Hafiz, continues the tradition. The family is the descendant of the nakshabands who trace their origin to the Sufi saint Bahauddin Nakshibandh of Bokhara. Naseem has for this exhibition replicated two old Baluchari, using malda silk yarns (low twist malda silk for warp and no twist malda silk for weft) on the jala loom. He is setting up a small jala loom at the exhibition

Baluchars, the woven narrative silks of Bengal, an exhibition by Weavers Studio Resource Centre and National Museum, New Delhi, will be held from today till March 20 at the National Museum.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 7:09:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-timeless-beauty-of-baluchari/article26203192.ece

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