In the month of October, 2017, two lovely young German Sustainable Fashion Designers approached me to take them on a tour to show them the crafts of Bengal. Given that we had only one day at hand, I thought the best craft to see would be the UNESCO certified Jamdani weave and the ancient craft of weaving the diaphanous Muslin cotton. Muslin is the fine fabric that once used to epitomize the dexterity of Bengal’s weavers and was highly coveted by the lovers of finer things in life.
Early in the morning we left Kolkata with the two Designers, myself and our very resourceful driver. The journey took us away from the hustle and bustle of Kolkata into the long stretch of the highway and the abundance of Kash flowers which bloom only in the Fall. Bengal had just finished celebrating the largest and most important festival of Durga Puja, the worship of the Goddess of Power (Shakti) and the pace was slow in the towns we drove through.
The ladies enjoyed some local sweet delicacies and the "bharer cha" (milk tea in a clay cup)! By the time we reached closer to our destination of the first village, it was time for lunch. Now, the town we were in, didn't really have any good restaurants that had amenities suitable for tourists. So, we had to take the help of a very nice traffic policeman who made a few calls and told us of a place that we could use for food and an hour of freshening up in safety and comfort!
A home cooked meal of rice, dal and vegetables was served which we enjoyed immensely and headed out to the village of Jamdani weavers. Jam (flower) and Dani (vase) is a Persian word that came to Bengal with the mixing of various cultures, migration, rulers, etc. The intricate weave takes meticulous precision, attention to detail, and very skilled hands, where the pattern in woven on top of the base fabric, all in simultaneous precision! Starting their work at 5:30/6:00am and ending at 6:00pm, the weavers can weave up to 4-5m of fabric a day! With monsoons every year, their homes that hold the looms, get flooded and disrupt work. Still, they persevere and continue the craft they inherited from their ancestors!
As we entered the village, all we could hear was the click-clack of the looms in action throughout the village. It was quite relaxing. We stopped by a few homes to learn more about the yarn, the fabric, the history and see the weaving in action. Muslin, is Hand-woven from an uncommon and delicate yarn, and it was found in Bangladesh and Bengal and was exported to Europe for much of the 17th and 18th century. Noble ladies in Europe and the Royalty in India, all favored Muslin as the fabric of fashion! It is said, that the finest quality of Muslin is so light and fine that a 6 yard fabric can pass through a finger ring!
After a very productive and immersive experience, and an entourage of villagers saying farewell to us and our guests, we returned to Kolkata in the evening, while discussing possibilities of working with these weavers in the future.