For saree lovers, the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh is most famous for the exotic jamdani sarees that have been produced here over the last 500 years. In fact, the term ‘dhakai jamdani’ or just ‘dhakai saree’ is often used to denote any jamdani saree, irrespective of where it is woven now. This is often a matter of annoyance to the people of Bangladesh, who rightfully assert their claim to the dhakai jamdani. Let us look at the reasons why this region became the birthplace of this prized handloom saree.
The history of cultivation of fine cotton and textile weaving in the Dhaka region can be traced back to the 3rd century BC, and has been well documented by traders and travelers over the years. It reached its peak during the Mughal rule in India, under the royal patronage provided by the Mughal emperors to the Muslim weavers (also called ‘julaha’) in Dhaka.
Various factors played a role in the development of the region around Dhaka to produce jamdani sarees of unparalleled quality and beauty.
The type of cotton (called ‘kapas’) cultivated in this region produced very fine, long and soft cotton fibers that were woven into the finest of fabrics. The region around Dhaka, between the Old Brahmaputra, Meghna and Shitalakhya rivers was very fertile and suitable for growing this cotton. The water in these rivers was rich in minerals and the soil in the river banks contained sufficient moisture and heat, all of which aided the cultivation. The river water was used to dye and clean the cotton, and its mineral content gave a glaze to the cotton fabric. The network of rivers was useful to transport the raw cotton to the weaving centers and to distribute the finished products to the local markets as well as to the ports for overseas trade. And finally, many of the designs used in the jamdani sarees were inspired by the local ecology. Motifs derived from the plants, flowers and animals found in the region are depicted in these sarees even today.
All of these factors together resulted in the flourishing textile industry of Dhaka for several hundred years. Several attempts were made to cultivate this variety of cotton elsewhere, but without much success. Migration of jamdani weavers to India and to other parts of Bangladesh has spread this weaving tradition; yet Dhaka continues to be home to the best of jamdani weaving on the finest of cotton fabrics today.
"Protection of Jamdani". www.thedailystar.net. The Daily Star. 13 July 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
"The delicate material that takes months to weave by hand". www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30447229. 14 Dec 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2016.