Light as a feather, and arising from an exotic concoction of Mughal patronage with ancient Hindu traditions, Jamdani (or Dhakai Jamdani) sarees represent one of the finest and most ancient forms of weaving that originated in Bengal. These sarees are characterized by intricately designed motifs that seem to float on the surface of an almost transparent, ultra-fine fabric, giving it a mystical charm that is hard to find elsewhere.
Background of Jamdani
The word ‘jamdani’ is believed to be of Persian origin, derived from 'Jam' (meaning flower) and 'Dani' (meaning vase). While there is some mention of this term in the literature from the 3rd century BC (in Kautilya’s ‘Arthasharshtra’) and during the Gupta period (4th – 6th century AD), it is during the Mughal rule (16th - 18th centuries) that the weavers of Dhaka (in present day Bangladesh) who had been weaving this fabric for centuries, received extensive royal patronage. The finest varieties of muslin fabric were produced during this period with fabulous floral and figured motifs. This was the golden age of dhakai muslin when the skill of weaving rose to an art par excellence. With the decline of the Mughal dynasty and the subsequent British conquest of India, the trade continued to flourish for a while and enormous quantities of jamdani muslin were exported to Europe. However, by the nineteenth century, cheaper industrially manufactured yarn from Britain were being imported into India which eventually led to the collapse of the jamdani weaving industry in Bengal.
Yet, the jamdani weaving tradition has survived into modern times, adapting to changing tastes and trends. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, many Hindu weavers from Bangladesh migrated to India and were rehabilitated in West Bengal. This was the start of jamdani weaving in present day India. Over the last few decades, the art of jamdani weaving has witnessed a revival due to support from the governments and non-government organizations in both India and Bangladesh.
Jamdani sarees are woven on the brocade loom. This is a supplementary weft technique of weaving, where the artistic motifs are produced by a non-structural weft, in addition to the standard weft that holds the warp threads together. The standard weft creates a fine, sheer fabric while the supplementary weft with thicker threads adds the intricate patterns to it. Each supplementary weft motif is added separately by hand by interlacing the weft threads into the warp with fine bamboo sticks using individual spools of thread. The result is a myriad of vibrant patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface. What’s remarkable in this weaving technique is that the pattern is not sketched or outlined on the fabric. Instead, it is drawn on a graph paper and placed underneath the warp. Needless to say, jamdani weaving is an extremely skillful, laborious and time-consuming process and it could take anywhere from a month to a year to complete a saree.
Types of Jamdani
Jamdani sarees can be classified based on the type of motifs or the region where they are produced.
Popular motifs include panna hajar (thousand emeralds), kalka (paisley), butidar (small flowers), fulwar (flowers arranged in straight rows), tersa (diagonal patterns), jalar (motifs evenly covering the entire saree), duria (polka spots) and charkona (rectangular motifs).
Regional variations in jamdani include:
Dhakai Jamdani (Bangladesh) - These are the original and the finest of jamdani sarees with the most elaborate workmanship. One such saree could take from 9 months to a year to weave.
Tangail Jamdani (Bangladesh) – Woven in the Tangail district, these jamdani sarees have traditional broad borders featuring lotus, lamp and fish scale motifs.
Shantipur Jamdani (India) – Woven in Shantipur, West Bengal, these jamdani sarees are similar to Tangail jamdanis. They have a fine texture and often, elegant striped motifs decorate the saree.
Dhaniakhali Jamdani (India) – With its origin in Dhaniakhali, West Bengal, these jamdani sarees have tighter weave compared to the Tangail and Shantipur varieties. They are marked by bold colours and dark, contrasting borders.
The original jamdani sarees in Dhaka were woven in pure cotton. The finer the weave, the more soft, light and expensive was the resulting cotton fabric. Today, modern versions of the jamdani are also woven in a blend of cotton and silk, and sometimes, even in pure silk. More vibrant colours including gold and silver coloured yarns are used to make contemporary designs. These sarees have a glossier finish and are worn by women all over India, to make a style statement in traditional jamdani.
Two of the current favourites in jamdani styles are featured here:
Self-coloured style: where the weavings are in the same colour as the base fabric, imparting an ethereal look to the saree
Half-n-half style: where the inner and outer halves of the saree are in complementary colours, giving a playful look to the saree
Jamdani. In Wikipedia, Retrieved 12 February 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamdani
"Traditional art of Jamdani weaving", Retrieved 12 February 2015, from UNESCO Culture Sector
Sihare, Manjari (16 December 2012). “Jamdani: A Tribute to the Bangladeshi Weaver”. SAFFRONART Blog, Retrieved 12 February 2015
“Jamdani”, Retrieved 12 February 2015, from www.weaversstudio.in/techniques/jamdani/
“Jamdani Saree”, Retrieved 12 February 2015, from www.westbengalhandloom.org/htm/h_jamdani.html
Kumar, Selva. “Various Types of Jamdani Saris Patterns”, Retrieved 12 February 2015, from http://style2designer.com/fashion-designers/various-types-jamdani-saris-patterns/