Jamdani – The Heritage Weave
The delicate and fine muslin of undivided Bengal can be classified into three varieties: Plain, Striped, and Textured or flowered. The flowered garments of the finest muslin are Jamdani that originated in Decca (presently Dhaka). It is a loom-embroidered or loom-figured fabric initially woven with diaphanous Decca muslin achieved from the indigenous cotton; Photi Kapas or Gossypium Neglectum. The craftsmanship of weavers added finesse to the design, while the dexterous fingers of young spinners prepared the threads by tightly compressing the thick and smaller numbers of silky filaments of the cotton wool.
Exquisite Jamdanis were produced exclusively for the Mughal Durbar (court). James Taylor wrote in his book A Descriptive and Historical Account of the Cotton Manufacture of Decca in Bengal, “The empress Noorjahen greatly encouraged the country’s manufactures, and under her patronage, the Decca muslin acquired great celebrity.” The delicate figured muslin was even compared to the ‘Webs of Woven Winds’.
The Muslim weavers of Sonargoan (in Bangladesh) are still practising the age-old technique of Jamdani, which Mughal rulers introduced. Today, Jamdani is woven on both sides of Bengal, i.e., Bangladesh and West Bengal. However, the majority of Hindu muslin spinners have moved to West Bengal post-partition. It was no more possible to make fine muslin which undivided Bengal produced before 1820 with country threads, as by then Bengal started importing mill spun twisted yarns from Manchester.
J.Forbes Watson, in his book, The Textile Manufactures And The Costumes of The people of India, wrote, “The manufacture of the finer Jamdanee muslin was long retained as a monopoly in the hands of Government (Mughals)- the weavers, being forbidden, under pecuniary and corporal penalties, to sell to any person exceeding the value of 72 livres, or about three guineas. “
At Katwa in West Bengal, the Jamdani weavers now mostly use semi-automatic Chittaranjan loom, which helps roll the woven cloth onto the cloth beam. It has replaced the traditional loom, ‘Thokthoki‘, where weaver had to release the tension of the warp time and again. The Jamdani weavers of West Bengal are now mainly based at Purba Bardhaman and Nadia districts. Most of the families have migrated to these districts from present-day Bangladesh. The native families in these two districts weaving coarse cotton and wild silk have learned the skill of weaving Jamdani from the migrant Bangladeshi Hindu weavers who migrated from Tangail after the liberation war (Mukti Juddho) in 1971 and settled in these parts of West Bengal.
In Bangladesh, the traditional weaving technique of Jamdani is retained by the Muslim weavers. Two weavers sit on a pit loom, the weaver who sits on the right side of the loom is the master (Ostad), and his helper is on the left. They work in unison to add texture to the plain base with two small bamboo splinters (Kandur) used as needles with which extra threads of the weft interlace with the warp to form patterns.
It is rare to find a Bengali woman without a Jamdani saree in her wardrobe. Usually, Jamdani sarees are sold by the sellers as Dhakai Jamdani, irrespective of their weaving location. Mostly the weavers of Dhaka are weaving Jamdani on cotton count from 40 to 80; however, there are ongoing attempts by both private and government organisations to manufacture Jamdani on high count fine cotton yarns. Reviving the famous delicate muslin Jamdani will be nothing less than re-living a glorious segment of the history.
Sweta Mukherjee’s gallery of photographs: visits to weaver villages, family and recreational times while wearing Jamdani.