The Motifs of the Baluchari Sarees

The Motifs of the Baluchari Sarees

geographical indication (GI) is a name or sign used on products which correspond to a specific geographical location or origin. The use of a geographical indication may act as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin.

The Baluchari sari has been granted the status of geographical indication in India. This saree originated in Murshidabad but is presently woven in Bishnupur in West Bengal.

What makes this traditional silk saree different is the socio-cultural motif it carries on its pallu. Weaving the designs or motifs on the pallu of these traditional silks took as much as 16-18 weeks before the introduction of jacquard weaving and presently take up to two weeks to weave.

When the sarees were woven in Murshidabad, they used traditional jala looms. Jala is the prototype design, making which was an elaborate and intricate process. During the revival of the baluchari, artist Subha Thakur introduced the jacquard technique of weaving where the design is made on cards after being drawn on graph paper. Weaving Baluchari through these stitched board designs can take as long as two weeks to make, but they are not as intricate as the designs of jala woven Baluchari.

The motifs used have immense socio-cultural significance, which is what makes the saris so different and priceless. Before the revival of these saris, they were commissioned by the first Nawab of Bengal and contained courtly scenes of revelry - with men and women in repose smoking from hookahs and having feasts.

As the weavers during that era sold their skills for patronage, the sarees were based on themes related to the Nawab’s life. This is also where the minute details became a ritual. Each noble would be identifiable in the scenes, the dresses, carpets chairs, and thrones would all be historically accurate.

The best weavers would even sign their names in their saree designs like on a canvas, and owning these pieces, therefore, is a bit like owning art.

The weight of that tradition carried forward into the revival of the Baluchari post-independence. After its revival, the Baluchari was traditionally worn by upper-class Brahmin women during important religious festivals. The transformation in the motifs reflects this change of patronage. Now, these heavy silks have motifs from traditional Hindu religious texts and folk-tales. The most commonly drawn scenes are from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. One of the most popular type of Baluchari designs is a scene from the Bhagvat Gita, with Krishna and Arjun on the chariot on their way to the battlefield.

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