You can be sure that with every baluchari saree you add to your wardrobe, you are in fact bringing home and eventually draping around yourself seven yards of India’s complex and rich history. Balucharis are among the most exquisite silk sarees from Bengal, defined by gorgeous borders and pallav, that depict tales and scenes from ancient epics and religious texts. The opulence of baluchari sarees make them apt for wearing at festivals, weddings and grand functions.
While there isn’t a lot of variation in the type of silk or method of weaving used today, balucharis can be broadly categorized based on the threads used in weaving the patterns:
Baluchari (resham): the simplest balucharis have resham threads in a single colour to weave the entire pattern
Baluchari (meenakari): these balucharis have threads in 2 or more colours with attractive meenakari work that further brightens the patterns
Swarnachari (baluchari in gold): They are the most gorgeous balucharis, woven with gold or silver coloured threads (often with meenakari work in another colour) that illuminate the patterns to a much larger extent.
The cost of these threads and the intricacies in the patterns determine the resulting price of a baluchari saree.
The earliest recorded history of baluchari sarees goes back over 200 years to the 18th century Nawab of Bengal, Murshidkuli Khan, who brought this art from Dhaka (in present day Bangladesh) to a small village named Baluchar on the banks of the river Bhagirathi in Murshidabad (in West Bengal). Baluchari derives its name from ‘balu’ (meaning sand) and ‘char’ (or river bank). This first era of baluchari weaving had themes that revolved around the lives of the nawabs, and featured women smoking hookahs, nawabs driving horse carriages, and even featured European officers of the East India Company. The art was patronized in Baluchar, until the continually changing courses of the Bhagirathi river meant that villagers had to keep uprooting themselves and move along with the river. Eventually, a flooding of the Bhagirathi forced the trade to shift from Murshidabad to Bishnupur (in the Bankura district of West Bengal) in the nineteenth century. The trade then flourished for a while under the Malla dynasty there, until the British felt threatened by their inability to replicate this artisanship in the mills of England and forced financial sanctions that squeezed the poor weavers out of their craft and brought it to the verge of shutting down.
The revival of baluchari weaving in the mid 20th century was brought about by the artist Subho Thakur, who helped develop the technique of jacquard weaving that greatly simplified the process and reduced the time it took to weave a saree. This new era of baluchari weaving featured motifs from epics and religious texts, and is continued to this day by the weavers of Bishnupur.
The original baluchari sarees in Murshidabad in the 18th and 19th centuries were woven on the traditional jala looms, where jala refers to the reference design which is first made, and is used as the master design from which many copies can be made repetitively for weaving the sarees. The process was very elaborate, taking between 15-18 weeks to weave a saree and gave rise to a large variety of very intricate patterns. During the revival of baluchari weaving in the 20th century by the artist Subho Thakur, jala was replaced by the jacquard technique of weaving. Here, the design is first drawn on a graph paper and then punched into cards accordingly. These cards are then arranged sequentially, sewed together and finally fixed into the jacquard machines. The jacquard technique is simpler and faster, reduces the weaving time to 1 or 2 weeks, but is not as flexible as the jala technique and cannot produce patterns with as much diversity or intricacy. This is the technique that is used in modern times to weave baluchari sarees.
The style of draping is after all a personal choice. Still, we recommend that you wear your baluchari in a manner that displays the beauty of the pallav as much as possible (i.e. do not add pleats to the pallav). Here are a couple of suggestions …
Baluchari Sari. In Wikipedia. Retrieved 7 February 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baluchari_Sari
Balasubramaniam, Chitra (14 January 2012). "Recreating the age-old Baluchari magic". The Hindu (Chennai, India). Retrieved 7 February 2015.
Pawar, Yogesh (30 November 2014). “Invoking the magic of a lost weave: A Baluchari sari exhibition in Mumbai”. DNA. Retrieved 7 February 2015.