A foodie would hail rasagullas and mishti doi as Bengal's most famous products. Ask the same question to a saree lover, and she will undoubtedly recall the cotton sarees from this region. Indeed, Bengal produces some of the best cotton sarees in the country and a large section of the rural population in the state is employed in the handloom weaving industry.
There are 4 major varieties of cotton sarees that are produced in Bengal:
1. Printed cotton sarees: These are the simplest variety of Bengal cottons, inexpensive and suitable for everyday wear. Plain fabric available by the yardage (or 'thaan') is printed with a variety of designs ranging from traditional motifs to contemporary ones. Originally, plain, white dhotis were dyed and printed locally to convert them into sarees for daily use. Today, there are several large brands of printed saree manufacturers who use finer fabric and modern techniques to make these popular sarees. These sarees are usually priced at a few hundred rupees.
2. Tant cotton sarees: These are the most common form of Bengal cotton sarees where the designs are woven in the fabric. In fact, the term 'tant' refers to the handlooms that are used to weave these sarees. They are light and airy, making them suitable for regular wear during the warm and humid Bengal summers. A tant saree typically has broad, decorative borders and pallav, while the body of saree is plain or dotted with small motifs. The price of these sarees depends on the quality of the cotton fabric and the intricacy of the woven designs, and can range from a few hundred to a few thousand rupees.
3. Jamdani cotton sarees: The jamdani sarees are another popular variety of Bengal cotton sarees. They can be in pure cotton or in a silk-cotton combination. Jamdani sarees are characterized by intricate motifs woven across the entire body of the saree. The motifs appear to float on the surface of a sheer, fine fabric, giving it a mystical look. A special weaving technique known as the supplementary weft is used on the brocade loom to get this unique texture of jamdani sarees. The price of these sarees depends on the intricacy of the woven designs, and usually cost a few thousand rupees.
4. Muslin cotton sarees: Muslins are the finest variety of Bengal cotton sarees. The fabric of the muslin sarees is so fine that it is almost transparent, ultra-light, exotic to behold, and is considered to be the ultimate in luxury. Delicate designs using the jamdani weaving technique further add to the subtle splendour of these sarees. The price of muslin sarees depends on the fineness of the fabric and the intricacy of the woven designs. They range from several thousand to even upwards of 1 lakh rupees!