Jamdani Weaving Tradition of Burdwan Part I

Page 1

Jamdani Weaving Tradition of Burdwan

This is a student craft documentation undertaken in partial fulfilment of the Master of Design programme in Textile Design at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

Documented by: Anahita Ginwala, Shreya Kanoi M.Des - Textile Design (2013 - 2016)

Guide: Vijai Singh Katiyar


First and foremost we would like to thank our guide Mr. Vijai Singh Katiyar. He guided us right from the start when we were deliberating which craft to chose, down to the last page of this document. We started with a blank slate. At the onset of our journey all we had was the little research we had done prior to the actual field work. We began by getting in touch with various persons and institutions involved in the craft. Each person guided us one step further by suggesting another person we could talk to. In this manner, we gathered a wealth of information and more importantly – understanding. Through these various people we were finally able to identify the right clusters for us to conduct our field research. We would like to thank Jadabendra Da and his whole family who took us in and treated us like a part of their family. The few days we spent in Ghoranash were incredibly fruitful and it was a testament to his hospitality that our research is even as thorough as it is. We thank Jyotish and Raju Debnath, a father and son whose work in Jamdani is awe-inspiring. To us they were like finding the Holy Grail, when we had almost given up hope. Despite our repeated visits and the hoard of questions we asked, they remained patient with us.

The beauty of a journey like this is the varied and unique perspectives one becomes acquainted with. Here, we would like to mention Ms. Thinley Rhodes. She has worked with Indian textiles for some time now and also developed samples for the V&A Museum which she was kind enough to share with us. It was through her that we were able to find our cluster in Kalna. She almost naturally understood the kind of weavers we were looking for. We would like to thank Mr. Soumitro Mondal, who was kind enough to put us in touch with weavers in Ghoranash. LC Basak, assistant director of weaving at Weavers Service Center, Kolkata, helped immensely by putting us in touch with several persons from cooperative societies in Burdwan who could help locate jamdani weavers. We thank Mr. Bappaditya Biswas and Ms. Rumi Biswas who shared with us extensively the history of jamdani weaving in Bengal and helped fill in the gaps. Mr. Santanu Das and Mr. Chirag Gandhi also provided us with leads to various persons and organisations working with Jamdani. We thank them for giving us time and valuable information.

Ms. Darshan Shah gave us access to the Weaver’s Studio Archives where we were fortunate enough to see jamdani saris and jamas from the 19th century. Mahinder bhai’s inputs were helpful while putting the document together. We thank Sahil Thapa for accompanying us to one of the clusters and for capturing moments on camera that we overlooked. We extend our gratitude to Mr. Chinmoy Basu (proprietor - Meera Basu), Mr. Anil Basak (proprietor - RMCA Basak), Mr. Sukhendu Debnath (our guide at Kalna), Mr. D.N Sen (senior weaver - Weavers Service Center, Kolkata) and Mr. Gour M. Kapur (chairman - INTACH, Kolkata chapter) for their time and guidance. We extend our gratitude to the NID community for always being an inspiration. Our parents, friends and family have been there for us constantly, supporting and encouraging us throughout the process. We cannot thank them enough.


“The growth of crafts in society was the sign of the cultivation of sensitivity and the stirring and mellowing of humanism. It stood for man’s endeavor to bring elegance and grace into an otherwise harsh and drab human existence. In fact, man’s elevation from the gross animal existence is marked by his yearning for something beyond the satisfaction of mere creature comforts and needs, which found natural expression in crafts.” (Chattopadhya, 76-81) Crafting objects is innate to Indian culture. Within the villages in India evolved a culture of handcrafting everyday objects and in turn, an entire life. Humans began by creating creating objects revolving around the three basic needs of shelter food and clothing from the indigenous resources available to them. NID encourages students to undertake the holistic study of a craft to understand the several aspects involved in the practice. The study of a craft brings tremendous and typically diverse learning together as we study the geographical region, socio-economic and political factors as well as the culture and traditions surrounding the craft. When we were first deliberating which craft to document, most of us suggested crafts we were already aware of. Jamdani was then added to the list. It soon became apparent that everyone had either negligible understanding or drastically

different ideas of what Jamdani really was. The concept of Jamdani patterning on the loom seemed almost too simple. It then dawned on us that its beauty lay within its simplicity. Within this simplicity was immense potential for elaborate and complex patterning. Our initial attempts to understand the craft were slow and it took a lot longer for us to process all our research and start making connections between the then and the now. This was in one word preconception, based entirely on what we had read. Names like bafthhawa, woven air and abrawan which translates to running water, conjured images of beautifully textured, translucent white fabric. It was challenging to reconcile current jamdani textiles with those of the past. This very fact informed our process and field research immensely - our choice of cluster, process of documentation and direction. To meet weavers who have been handed down this legacy from their forefathers, generation after generation was simply awe-inspiring. Another interesting part of documenting jamdani was understanding its evolution during different periods in antiquity. This documentation is our attempt at creating a context for the craft as we introduce it anew in a contemporary light.

Crafts in India

“In India, the decorative arts reflect something fundamental in the traditional way of life; certainly more than the mere wish to be gay and sociable No one who has been among the colorful crowd in Indian villages and market towns can ignore this impression. Costume and jewellery are not the only clues. It is expressed in the way even the poorest farmer will find a fitting moment to ornament his bullocks horns with silk tassels, and in the ubiquity of the flower-garland as a symbol of dedication. India is perhaps the only country in the modern world to support a large profession of garland makers. The spontaneity and instinctive good taste which characterize the old way of life cannot, of course, be considered apart from the tradition of handicraft on which it is based. Accustomed as we are to a sentimental view of handicraft as a reaction from mechanization, we must remember that in India this tradition survives – however precariously – in its own right. We are too late to stem the tide of mechanization; but we still have time to develop a better understanding of the way of life the handicraft represents” (Irwin 4).


1. Introduction


2. Historical Context of Jamdani 2.1 Cotton and India 2.2 Costumes in the Mughal Imperial Court 2.3 Jamdani 2.4 Fables and Anecdotes on Muslin

14 15 18 20

3. Area of Field Study 3.1 West Bengal 3.2 Burdwan Handloom Cluster 3.3 Journey to the Cluster

24 26 27

4. Area of Study I: Kalna 4.1 Introduction 4.2 Weaving Tradition 4.3 The Legacy of Jyotish Debnath 4.4 Khadi, Muslin and Handloom 4.5 Other Jamdani Weaving Setups 4.6 Weaver Profiles

30 34 36 44 46 50

5. Area of Study II: Katwa 5.1 Introduction 5.2 Ghoranash: A Weaving Community 5.3 Jadabendra’s Setup 5.4 Material Culture 5.5 Indigenous Practices 5.6 Weavers in Ghoranash 5.7 Jamdani in Ghoranash

56 58 64 72 86 96 102

6. Tools and Equipments 6.1 Pre-loom Accessories 6.2 The Loom 6.3 Parts of the Loom

112 114 116

7. Making of a Jamdani 7.1 Sizing 7.2 Winding 7.3 Warping and Beaming 7.4 Drafting and Denting 7.5 Weaving 7.6 Extra Weft Patterning

122 125 127 130 131 132

8. Design Language of Jamdani 8.1 Traditional Design Language 8.2 Contemporary Design Language 8.3 Tangail Jamdani 8.4 Motif Vocabulary

136 142 147 148

9. Market Study 9.1 Introduction 9.2 Local Market 9.3 Government Initiatives 9.4 Design Studios Engaged With Our Clusters 9.5 Designers working with Bengal Jamdani 9.6 Design Perspectives on Jamdani

170 171 174 184 190 197

10. Conclusion 11. Glossary 12. Works Cited

13. Photographs Cited

200 202 204 206

1 Introduction Jamdani was and remains one of India and Bangladesh’s most renowned crafts. Because West Bengal and Bangladesh make up a continuous geographic, cultural and linguistic zone, the traditional textiles are essentially the same for both. We chose to document Jamdani due to its immense historical significance and cultural relevance. It is a canvas depicting the political and cultural history of India.

muslin jamdani. This typically emphasized three characteristics in the fabric and its making: the use of hand-spun yarn, lightweight translucent fabric and hand interlacing of the weft without the use of any loom attachments. Jamdani also has a very distinct visual language which still prevails in Bengal handloom. This was as much a critical point of our study as the above mentioned three. Jamdani designs were “geometric representations of plants and flowers skillfully adapted to the weave of the fabric. (Ghuznavi 37).

Jamdani was originally a product of the Dhaka loom in present day Bangladesh. This region not only had the best cotton in the world but the skilled Dhaka women were also adept at spinning fine yarn from this cotton which the weavers would then weave into fine muslin fabrics. Jamdani was one such figured muslin which emerged from the Dhaka looms.

Our journey led us to a remote village in Kalna, West Bengal where we finally found an old weaving family that has been practicing jamdani weaving for five generations and is today headed by father and son, Jyotish and Raju Debnath. Their approach to this woven fabric is exacting and their processes and designs are still a reflection of traditional jamdani. Historically this fabric was woven for the royal court and other elite. This aspect was as much a part of jamdanis identity as are its various other tangible qualities. This has occurred naturally as each product is handcrafted with such stringent attention to detail and thus, their products may best be described as niche.

Many clusters have since formed in different parts of India. Some clusters developed in West Bengal directly after the partition. Different clusters in India have adapted Jamdani and created for it an alternative identity which emerged organically as an expression of the weaver and his world. We undertook the study of the Burdwan district in West Bengal. We selected this area due to its geographical proximity to Bangladesh which is where this craft originated. The direction for our study developed very early on as we began our search for weavers still practicing khadi

In direct contrast to our first discovery in Kalna, as we went further into the district to Katwa, we 10

found not one family, but a whole weaving village; a multitude of looms making beautiful jamdani fabrics, some khadi and some not. This obvious disparity contradicted a lot of our previous findings and simultaneously gave us a much

better understanding of our topic of research. It is because we were able to observe both sides of the same coin that we are able to put forth a sound, balanced and most importantly real perspective of this craft and what it is today.

Back side of a traditional jamdani sari rolled on the loom at Weavers Service Center, Kolkata.


2 Historical Context of Jamdani

2.1 Cotton and India “There is no record of a time when the people of India did not grow cotton, weave and dye cotton cloth and wear patterned cotton garments. A fragment of a madder-dyed cotton cloth has been found at Mohenjo-Daro, establishing knowledge of cotton weaving and the process of mordant dyeing five thousand years ago. It was in cotton that the genius of the Indian weaver, printer and embroiderer was to find its richest and boldest expression. The manner in which this genius expressed itself was determined by the configuration of the land itself.

To discover the sources of their inspiration and to comprehend the inherent significance of the vast field of Indian fabrics, they should be seen in context, against the social and historical background from which they have emerged and on the dark-toned bodies of the people for whom they were made. For in India, textiles have rarely been concerned with fashion or individual separateness and uniqueness: rather, garments have always been only one part of a complex ritual of life, one aspect of a preordained milieu in which man is born, grows to stature, and dies� (Jayakar 17-18).

Use of bow instruments for carding cotton from early 20th century India.


2.2 Costumes in the Mughal Imperial Court There were many grades of muslin, determined by their fineness. The finest of all the muslins was the King’s Muslin. This muslin could not be woven for or worn by anyone other than the King. Other fine muslins were fashioned into clothes for the females of the harem which they discarded ritually. The following excerpt from the book Muslin by Sonia Ashmore illustrates how completely the entire muslin industry, its weaving and ornamentation by embroidery, was in control of the royal court.

it is on the person you see all the skin as though it were uncovered. The merchants are not allowed to export it, and the Governor sends all of it for the Great Mogul’s seraglio, and for the principal courtiers... the sultans and the wives of the great nobles make themselves shifts and garments for the hot weather, and the King and the nobles enjoy seeing them wearing these fine shifts and cause them to dance in them.” The French physician Francois Bernier (1620-88) made similar, possibly over-excited observations about these transparent garments, and described the system of workshops at this time: “Large halls are seen in many places, called KarKanyas [karkhanas] or workshops for the artisans. In one hall embroiderers are busily emploted, superintended by a master...in [another], manufacturers of silk, brocade and those fine muslins of which are made turbans, girdles with golden flowers, and drawers worn by females, so delicately fine as frequently to wear out in one night. This article of dress, which lasts only a few hours, may cost ten or twelve crowns, and even more, when beautifully embroidered with needlework.”

“Mul Mul Khas, Kings’s Muslin, formed part of the annual tribute presented by the rulers and later British Governers of Bengal to the Emperor at Delhi – usually 500 pieces. Mul Mul Khas had between 1,800 and 1,900 threads in the warp and a length of 22 yards by one yard. It could take six months to make and, the like the finest muslins, could be made only during the rains when the air was moist enough to prevent the fibres from becoming brittle and breaking. The weavers would mark the completion of a length of this particular muslin: a horn was sounded and the cloth was packed into a special container and paraded through the streets of Dacca before it was sent on to the Emperor’s court at Delhi.”

The Venetian Niccolao Manucci (1639-1717) was a self-taught physician whose travels took him to the Mughal Court in Delhi, where he remained until his death. In his account of the household of the Emperor, he mentions the relationship of

The French trader Taverneir (1605-89) visited Dacca twice, noting that the finest muslin was reserved for the court: “There is also made... a description of muslin which is so fine that when 15

shows through. They call these cloths siricas, and others malmal. Ordinarily they wear two or even three garments, each weighing not more than one ounce, and worth from forty to fifty rupees each. This is without counting the [gold] lace they are in the habit of adding. They sleep in these clothes, and renew them every twenty-four hours, and never put them on again, but give them away to their servants. “

dress and climate, describing the habits of women of the harem, who coloured their hands and feet with henna ‘in such a way that they took as if they had on gloves. They do this because they can wear neither gloves nor stockings on account of the great heats which prevail in India’. Mannuci additionally commented on the wearing of muslin, and on its afterlife: ‘They are also obliged to put on such exceedingly thin raiment that their skin

An angarakha in cotton, brocaded with white cotton in jamdani work. Norther India, possibly Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh.


A jama in cotton, white muslin, brocaded with white cotton in jamdani work. Norther India, possibly Delhi or Uttar Pradesh. The fabric is from Dacca.


2.3 Jamdani “It is curious that although cotton muslins were indigenous to India from ancient times, they came to be known by their Persian names in historical documents instead of retaining their original ones; perhaps this was because the names were acquired from traders” (Ghuznavi, 43).

designs to be of Persian origin while Percy Brown alluded to them as being strongly Persian in feeling and conception. This view is not surprising considering that rulers like Mohammad bin Tughluk brought in some hundreds of Persian weavers to work with their indigenous counterparts. This interaction of artisans was further strengthened by the Mughals, under whom muslins and Jamdanis reached unprecedented standards of excellence” (Ghuznavi, 44).

“Jamdani muslins were the most expensive and exclusive muslins and had a distinctive style of discontinuous supplementary weft work woven into the fabric” (Lynton, 1995). The meaning of the word Jamdani has been debated over however it is strongly believed to be derived from the Persian word jam-dar meaning flowered or embossed. Even in various historical accounts the visual identity of the Jamdani has been considered to be typically Persian in nature.

The reason for this was not simply that there was a religious ban on silk but that the fabric itself was so enchanting. Weavers began weaving exclusively for the royal court and their inventory of patterns evolved through this patronage. The Mughal Empress Nur Jahan and other prominent personalities such as Princess Zenun-Nissa, daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb were instrumental in the development of these woven fabrics.

“The patterns and motifs were floral and geometric and believed to have a strong Persian influence. George Watts considered jamdani

Facing page: A contemporary jamdani design, very geometric in form, seen at Artisana, the retail store of the Crafts Council of West Bengal.



2.4 Fables and Anecdotes on Muslin “None among the wonderful cotton fabrics was more famous than the exquisite closely woven muslin with such graphically descriptive and poetic names as Abrawan, which translates to “running water”, Bafthhawa or Bafthma, which means woven air, Sharbati which is sweet as sherbet, and Shabnam which is evening dew – names so sweet sounding and so apt of the loveliness of the warp and woof that went to make India’s Mulmul Khas – ‘King’s Muslin”. It is said that so filmy-fine were the muslins of old India that they could be almost invisible, as the Ab-iRawan was when under water - and thereby hangs a tale” (Mehta 4).

the one that Aurangzeb’s daughter was said to have been immodestly clad in, was the second quality muslin. Shabnum, circar ali and tunzeb followed as the third, fourth and fifth in quality. Of the other muslins of Dhaka, jungle khassa, nyansook and nilambari were also of considerable beauty” (Ghuznavi 305). There are also numerous anecdotes in historical literature where we glean references to Jamdani. “One such anecdote which clearly illustrates the finesse of Dacca muslins is the story of Princess Zen-un-Nissa, who was observed by her puritanical father Emperor Aurangzeb apparently clad in nothing. On being severely reprimanded for desecrating the high dignity of the royal court, the princess calmly replied that she was fully clad; she had on not one but seven Jamahs” (Mehta 4). Another such anecdote is Draupadi’s never ending sari. In fact, the Mahabharata is said to have several references to the Jamdani.

“The fascination of the world with India’s cotton is well known and has been well documented. Most historians are aware of Pliny and his famous complaint that the economy of Rome was being ruined in the early first century by the import of too much expensive Indian cloth. In the Periplus, coarse-printed cotton from India’s western coast are listed, as well as the much finer cotton cloth from the Gangetic plain, known to the Roman’s as ‘...nebula, “mist”, “vapour” or “clouds and venti textiles, “woven winds”, closer parallel of names still used in Dhaka 1800 years later.

“Very fine, sheer fabrics have always been highly, prized in India. Sanskrit poetry often describes womens bodies being revealed through the fineness of their clothes. A passage in the seventhcentury AD Harshacharita by Banabhatta, for instance, describes the goddess Lakshmi as wearing a garment ‘so thin and fine [it] shows her limbs... almost as if she is coming out of it’ ” (NEED TO ADD)

In his account, John Forbes Watson lists the muslins in sequence of superiority. Mul Mul Khas was the finest quality and was proven to have been superior to the finest European fabric. Abrawan, 20

Portrait of a woman from 17th century Mughal period wearing a jamdani muslin.

3 Area of Field Study

3.1 West Bengal Influences that Shaped the Culture, Aesthetics and Craft Heritage of Bengal

West Bengal, in its proximity to Dhaka (in present day Bangladesh) is home to some of the oldest Jamdani weaving families. They say a craft cannot be seen in isolation as it is as much a product of its geographical landscape and people as it is of the material and skill with which it is created. In antiquity Dacca not only had the best weavers but the land itself had the best cotton in the world. The jamdani patterned muslin fabrics produced in Dacca were incomparable. Even to date, after the separation in 1951, several weaving families that migrated to West Bengal continue to pass down this tradition generation after generation.

“Bengali culture has transformed with every major historical event or invasion that has taken place. It has incorporated the many cultural traditions and art forms that came into being during various historical periods such as the Aryan invasion in the first millennium BC, the Mauryan period in the third century BC, the Pala dynasty and so on. During the rule of different dynasties major geographical and therefore cultural changes occurred as well. During the Pala Dynasty of AD 750, Bengal, Odisha and Bihar were brought together. It was during this period that the arts and other traditions of Buddhism flourished. The British Raj also began by the consolidation of the villages of Kolkata, Gobindapur and Sutanuti in the 1690’s, which was the birth of the city of Calcutta, present day Kolkata. Calcutta was the capital of the British Raj and even today one sees extensive colonial architecture all over the city.

West Bengal lies in the Eastern part of India and much like any state in India, has a rich history of folk art and craft traditions all its own. It is the delta formed by the Ganga and Bramhaputra rivers. It is flanked by the Himalayas on the north, and the hills and wetlands on the south. To study West Bengal in its totality was as much part of our research as was the field work we conducted. We visited various museums and places of interest in Kolkata such as the Indian Museum, Ashutosh Museum, the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Tagore’s house cum museum at Jorasanko, and the Marble Palace, trying to gather a holistic idea of the place and what shaped its cultural heritage and traditions into what it is today. That corroborated with the secondary research is what we present in this sub-chapter.

“Vedic literature and Sanskrit were already rooted in classical culture, until they gave way to Muslim influence when the Turks and Afghans began to take hold of northern India. Bengal eventually became a Muslim state in 1707. The folklore of rural Hindu Bengal and the refined classical traditions of Muslim art merged 24

effortlessly to give Bengal a rich cultural tradition, most suited to the sustenance of art and aesthetics in a variety of forms.

raw materials such as clay from the river banks, bamboo, grass, shola pith and wood, enables craftsmen to flourish.

Bengal is host to numerous festivals all year round, enabling its people to use the products and artefacts of its artisan community in full measure. ‘Baro masher teroparban’ (thirteen festivals in twelve months) is how the locals describe the cultural life of their beloved state” (Jaitley 234).

A unique feature in Bengal is the large variety of artisanal communities such as chitrakar(painter); kumbhakar(potter); kansakar (metal workers); sutradhar (wood or stone carver); tantubay (weaver); and sankhakar (conch shell engraver). With its natural beauty which has inspired poets and writers for ages, West Bengal has been a home of many traditional crafts like the making of Baluchari and Jamdani saris, terecotta sculpture and pottery, and dhokra objects” (Ranjan 240).

“Bengal has seen the rise and decline of Buddhism, hegemonic Brahminism, the Bhakti movement, Islamic rule, the Colonial era, and finally the Partition and independence of India, 1947 when the eastern part went to Pakistan and eventually became Bangladesh. Bengal has ageold folk traditions preserved among the tribals and villagers such as Chhau mask dance, Baul singers and dhokracasting. The easy availability of

We see the craft of Jamdani against this rich and complex backdrop of folk art, craft, religion, festivals, mangroves, mountains and rivers. All of these factors have in some way played an important role in its evolution.

‘Baro masher teroparban’ (thirteen festivals in twelve months) is a phrase used to describe the cultural life of Bengal. Here we see an artisan painting the eyes on Goddess Durga’s sculpture before Durga Pujo at Kumortuli which is the potter’s hub where all the clay idols are made. Durga Pujo is the main festival of Bengal and celebrated with a lot of pomp and enthusiasm.


3.2 Burdwan Handloom Cluster “The Burdwan cluster holds a significant place in the Bengal handloom industry. Its two main subdivisions are Kalna and Katwa. The weaving community is largely concentrated at Ketugram, Ghoshhat, Panuhat, Musthali, Tamaghat, Kamalnagar, Mertala, Purulia, Serampore, Vidyanagar, Hatsimla, Nasratpur, Goalpara and Dhatrigram areas.The main products of the Burdwan Cluster are the cotton Baluchari, Tangail

and the Jamdani sari with jacquard designs along with coarser varieties of products such as lungi, gamcha and so on” (National Handloom Development Corporation Ltd., 3). Along with these traditional woven products, commodities for export such as scarves, dress materials, home furnishing yardages and shirting fabrics are also being produced.

Map of Burdwan (aka Barddhaman) district indicating it’s main subdivisions, roadways and river systems.


3.3 Journey to the Cluster When we first began researching our area of study, it was too vast to cover in totality. Our district had a lot of different blocks, all of which we had some vague idea about. We had not been able to track down any definite leads or sources. So understandably we decided to go in blind. We made a visit to the Weavers Service Centre in Kolkata and from there we were put in touch with someone who would show us around Kalna. Our train departed at about five am and we arrived at the Ambika Kalna station at about seven thirty.

minutes and arrived in Ghoranash. After two days of field work in Katwa I, we were able to go on foot to Katwa II and briefly document the weavers in about a 2 km radius.

Even during the journey we would look out the window and often catch a glimpse of a small house with a loom outside. We were certain if we went deeper into the district we would find more weavers. During our time in Kalna, his son Raju Debnath took us to meet a family that lives in Kalna II where we were shown the traditional process of starching the fine yarn used to create muslin. After concluding our first cluster study, we decided to go and meet a designer in Kolkata. He had been working with a weaving family in Katwa for some years now. This family had an expertise not only in cotton jamdani weaving but also in khadi silk. After some deliberation he put us in touch with a mahajan in Katwa. We got on the same train except this time we travelled for four long grueling hours before we reached the Dainhat Station. We travelled by road for fifteen

Map of West Bengal indicating our route of travel from Kolkata to Kalna and Katwa.


4 Area of Study I: Kalna

4.1 Introduction to Kalna Geography


Kalna is a small township in Burdwan about 90 km northwest of Kolkata situated on the western bank of the Bhagirathi. Though part of the Burdwan district, it is located near the border with Nadia and Hooghly District. “The Kalna subdivision consists of Kalna municipality and five community development blocks: Kalna–I, Kalna– II, Manteswar, Purbasthali–I and Purbasthali–II. The five blocks contain 47 gram panchayats and six census towns” (Wikipedia). We conducted our field research in Baruipara which is in Kalna I. This was a small village which was slightly developed in pockets.

Being situated at the junction of three districts (Burdwan, Hooghly and Nadia), Kalna has a well-developed transportation network. The main mode of local transport is cycle rickshaw and auto rickshaw. The town can be accessed by rail or road. By rail it is connected on the loop line route from Howrah towards Katwa (also in Burdwan district). Ambika Kalna, 81 km from Howrah, is the main railway station. There are several local trains as well as express trains, on the route and almost all of them stop at the Ambika Kalna rail station.

Agriculture Kalna being located on the agriculturally rich alluvial plains between the Bhagirathi, Ajay and Damodar rivers, an agriculture based economy is flourishing here. Lush paddy fields surround Kalna, along with fields of potato, jute and foodgrains. There are several rice mills and cold storages here.


Outside a weaving workshed in Kalna.

Landscape of Kalna.


A portrait of the men and women folk of Kalna: The photo spread below paints a photo of life in Kalna. Clockwise from top on this page: Sukhendu da, our guide to the town talking in an animated manner as the other person looks on; a woman carrying the tray used for extraction of jaggery around town; the playful girl we met who followed us around for quite a long time; a woman wearing a saree in a drape typical to this place. Facing page, clockwise from top left: General mode of transport within the town is the bicycle; the typical cotton saree going limp and being tucked around the waist by women during work; man on the bicycle sporting the bengal gamchha; an old man seen fishing to secure food for the day.



4.2 Weaving Tradition A Brief History

or moved out in search of better opportunities. Even those stationed in Kalna and still continuing to weave are barely seen weaving traditional jamdani. Most of them have started weaving plain fabrics, tangails or cheaper imitations of the jamdani on jacquard or those where the work is not at all as intricate as before.

A steady flow of refugees from East Pakistan flooded this region during the partition. Of them, many skilled weavers of Dhaka came and settled in this region around Shantipur (in Nadia district) and Kalna, both traditionally renowned centres for hand woven fabrics. The weavers who migrated from Bangladesh came from a place called Tangail. They brought with them the style of weaving practiced by them back in Tangail, and handed it down over the years - this is how the 'Tangail' sari - widely woven in Kalna and popularly worn by women all over West Bengal - came to be known. Over the years, several cross breeds of the Tangail with the jamdani have come up, giving rise to different variations of the original, so much so that the traditional Tangail and traditional jamdani have gotten lost somewhere in the midst of this jumble. We shall discuss this at length in the coming sections.

In our search for a setup where we could witness the weaving of authentic jamdani, we spoke to several entrepreneurs working with the craft. Through interactions with them we got to know about master weaver, Jyotish Debnath, who is leading the revival of authentic Jamdani weaving with the aid of Crafts Council of West Bengal.

The Intervention The Crafts Council of West Bengal (CCWB) is a non profit organisation affiliated with the Crafts Council of India led by octogenarian, Ruby Palchoudhuri. She has taken up the challenge of reviving the traditional form of jamdani weaving. During an exchange with her on our visit to Artisana, the retail store and office of the Crafts Council of West Bengal, she shared with us her deep penchant for jamdani. She spoke about the craft being endangered and how it needs to be rescued for it to survive. Acknowledging that jamdani is undoubtedly an extremely cumbersome process, she laid stress on the fact that authentic jamdani is khadi jamdani - wherein both the

Kalna Handloom Cluster Kalna as a handloom cluster is mostly known for its tangails and jamdanis. However, the size of the weaving community at Kalna has considerably reduced over the years. Rajib Debnath, son of master weaver, Jyotish Debnath says that in the old days one could find 20,000 to 30,000 weavers there but today one would have to hunt enough even to find 300. Weavers have either switched professions 34

warp and weft are hand spun. The quintessential jamdani is so because of its fineness, soft hand, and lightweightedness - which none other than khadi can impart. As Pupul Jayakar writes in her essay on Indian Fabrics in Indian Life, "It was in cotton that the genius of the Indian weaver, printer and embroider was to find its richest and boldest expression." The whole process of growing, spinning and weaving cotton in fine counts by hand and patterning with motifs of "rare elegance and sophistication" was what lent to jamdani its unrivalled flavour. It should also be noted that actual jamdani is extra weft after every pick. Ruby Palchoudhuri is believed to have a spectacular collection of this heirloom fabric handed down to her from the previous generations. She is striving to revive designs and motifs from old saris. In her effort to revive jamdani, she is providing financial aid and resources, to Jyotish Debnath and others like him.

This page: Rare specimens of pure khadi jamdani woven by master weaver Jyotish Debnath for a private collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, at the request of textile artist and enthusiast, Thinlay Rhodes. Thinley believes that Jamdani is not to do with the technique only, but the look, feel and touch as well. This comes across is the above specimen where we can see the beauty of handdspun yarns interlaced together to make fine muslin fabric, possibly of 500s count cotton. A rare sight to see nowadays, the jamdani patterning is after every pick here.


4.3 The Legacy of Jyotish Debnath Introduction Master weaver Jyotish Debnath, was awarded the national award for his craftsmanship and contribution to the development of jamdani in 2010 by the Ministry of Textiles, India. Hailing from Kalna, he began weaving at a very early age, taught by his father, the Late Krishna Mohan Debnath. His grandfather came to India in 1939 because of unfavorable circumstances in Bangladesh. They began with cotton and muslin weaving and gradually moved on to jamdani weaving. He belongs to the fifth generation of weavers in his family. Now, most of his business and marketing is looked after by his son, Rajib Debnath (Raju), who is a fashion design graduate from National Institute of Fashion & Design (NIFD), Kolkata. Jyotish Da is in charge of the design and technical part of weaving. He has been working on jamdani in khadi muslin for the past 35 years. In the quest to revive the almost forgotten technique of producing the finest home spun yarn as part of CCWB's Kalna project, Jyotish da began working to produce yarn of 300 to 500 counts which could be woven with intricate jamdani designs. His saris are exquisite one-off pieces which are part of West Bengal’s textile heritage. Top: Master weaver Jyotish Debnath receiving the national award for his craftsmanship and contribution to the development of jamdani from President Pranab Mukherjee; Bottom: The award certificate.


Workshop at Kalna

loom which is portable and can be carried around for demonstrations and exhibitions. The sampling loom is used by him to explore new designs. On one side of the unit one can see a few ambar charkhas lying around covered with a layer of dust. He says he has allocated the job of spinning the fine khadi yarn to several women residing in remote pockets in Bengal. They spin on the ambar charkha. He provides them with the raw material - cotton fibres that they source from Kerala - and they send it back to him after spinning and sizing.

He has about eight to ten units scattered in remote villages of Bengal which take care of his production for jamdani as well as khadi muslin weaving. The main sampling unit is in Baruipara, Kalna adjacent to where he resides, which we were fortunate enough to see. The sampling unit consists of eight pit looms, one jacquard loom, a warping drum and a setup for drafting and denting. He has also developed a smaller sampling

Top left: Entrance to Jyotish Debnath’s workshop. Top right: A sample loom for weaving jamdani which has been modified to this specific size and scale by Jyotish da himself. Right: A heritage jamdani sari in gold zari and fine cotton woven by Jyotish da years back. He has kept this piece as a specimen of the grandeur of jamdani.


Right: Khakha. This is a sheet where the design is drawn to scale and size and is used as a reference for jamdani patterning during weaving. Bottom: Rows of pitlooms lined one after another at the sampling workshop. Far bottom: A jamdani yardage on loom rests on the loom while the weaver is on a break. The thousands of extra weft threads swaying around the fabric, indicate the amount of intricacy, and consequently time that is going into making this piece of textile.


Top: Part of the workshop equipped with creel, warping drum and beaming setups for the pre-loom processes. Middle: Handspun yarn of various counts from 100s upto 500s cotton stocked here. Bottom: Jyotish Da weaving sample designs on his sample loom. Next page: Weavers working on their looms at the workshop.


Weaving of Muslin Jamdani

work hard in order to appease the yarn for it to function hassle-free and yield good results. Muslin yarn has a weather dependant nature. It can’t get too dried out, or it will get brittle and impossible to work with, and snap under the slightest tension. It needs to retain a certain quality of moisture which it naturally absorbs from the air.

The traditional handloom used to make Jamdani is very large. They made a lot of technical alterations to the loom to be able to weave Jamdani with muslin yarn. The looms they use for plain muslin weaving and that for jamdani, differ in dimensions and weight. The fine handspun muslin yarn needs to be handled with great care and historically was spun by younger women with good eye sight who over generations had developed skilled hands for such work.

To keep the heat out in the workshops, they have built a three layer insulated type of roof. The first layer is made out of thatch, then tin, and below that comes the bamboo chataai. In summer they hang damp cloth over the windows to cut down some of the effect of the hot air.

Jyotish da says that while working with a yarn of such temperament, one has to work in accordance with it rather than the other way around. The weaver is at the mercy of the yarn and needs to

They also keep a lot of fans running. The floor of the shed has been left uncemented and pit looms dug in the mud so that the area is able to retain more moisture.

Clockwise from top left: A weaver at the workshop; when the warp is not in proper tension, little sticks of bamboo or polished wood lying around are slid in to make the tension accurate; a weaver’s handy tool kit lying around; very rarely do we find women weavers as they are

montly involved with pre-loom processes, but there were two women weavers int his workshop. Facing page: Full view of the sample loom setup by Jyotish da.



4.4 Khadi, Muslin and Handloom We thought it important to include this section to iron out any misconceptions that the reader might have, because the above terms are integral to our research.

standardizing the twist factor much as the mills do, except for the fact that instead of being electricity driven, it is handpowered.” Thus, the ambar charkha works as a counterpart to the mill spinning mechanism. The fabric developed through weaving of hand spun yarn is more soft, supple and absorbent.

What is khadi cloth? Khadi is, simply put: handspun, handwoven cloth. The whole process from fibre to fabric is carried out by hand, without the help of any machine. Cotton cultivated by farmers is spun by hand into yarn and woven on the handloom.

What is muslin? Muslin is khadi cloth woven from very fine, high count yarns. This lends to them a very soft, fine and delicate hand.

Desi Charkha & Ambar Charkha Khadi

What is handloom cloth?

Martand Singh and Rta Kapur Chishti, in their book, Saris of West Bengal & Bihar explain how khadi fabric is softer because of a low twist, high count yarn and finer in fabric structure because of a higher reed-pick count. In this regard, they remark, “the takli or spindle and desi charkha, traditional spinning wheel provide better results than the ambar, updated spinning mechanism. This mechanism is in fact streamlining and

Fabric produced on a handloom using mill spun yarn is called handloom fabric. Handloom fabric could also mean khadi since it too is woven on the handloom, but since there already exists a specific term for handspun handwoven fabric, ‘handloom cloth’ is taken to mean cloth woven on the handloom using mill-made yarn.


Right: An old photograph showing women spinning yarn on the ambar charkha in Jyotish Debnath’s workshop. Bottom: Handspun on the ambar charkha: 150s count cotton yarn (top) and 500s count cotton yarn (bottom). The fabric woven out the latter will be considered to be muslin due to the fineness of the yarn. Far bottom: A old photograph of Jyotish Debnath weaving on one of his pitlooms.


4.5 Other Jamdani Weaving Setups of the material (mill made/ synthetic), fabric construction, and designs - which they referred to as "dhakai designs" - these saris were substandard. They take about two days to manufacture one sari as opposed to the time consuming and laborious process of weaving an authentic jamdani sari which take a month or to weave depending on the intricacy of designs. The Samity has other few weaving facilities under its umbrella which are scattered around the area.

Of the few weaving workshops we visited in Kalna, Jyotish da's was the most noteworthy. We were happy to see something close to the authentic jamdani being practiced there. Spinning and weaving muslin jamdani with the fine handspun yarn is such a discipline in itself. Our first stop at Kalna was the Tantubaya Samabaya Samity Ltd., a cooperative society for weaving affiliated with the Weavers Service Centre, Kolkata. What we got to see there in the name of jamdani was rather disappointing. The workshop had three jacquard looms. By the use of jacquard mechanism they are able to imitate the look of the jamdani technique. With the back side of the sari facing the weaver, the localized extra weft designs of jamdani are duplicated by lifting shafts instead of needling by hand. These leave long floats which are clipped off once the sari is off the loom. Hence, they are locally referred to as the kaata sari. The beauty of the Jamdani, so often seen in the back with the rounded edges of the extra wefts is completely lost. Even in terms

On our way to Jyotish Debnath's workshop we encountered another weaving shed which had six looms of which three were operational at the time - two pit looms and one jacquard. We got to see the jamdani technique being practiced on the pit looms. However, the extra weft was inserted after every two picks instead of the traditional one pick. The weavers there said that it takes about seven days to a month or two months to weave one sari depending on the complexity of designs, with fifteen being the average number of days.


Outside one of the other jamdani weaving worshops in Kalna.

Jamdani patterning on silk.


Jacquard looms for replicating jamdani at the Tantubay Samabay Samiti in Kalna.

A close up of the back side of the jamdani made on the above loom shows the large amount of weft floats which are meant to be cut off once the sari is off the loom. Hence these are colloquially referred to as the ‘kaata’ sari. Kaata in bengali means something that has been cut.


Inserting the extra weft by hand.

Counting threads while inseing the extra weft.


4.6 Weaver Profiles Mampi Mitra, 32 years On hearing this, another weaver jokes, “In that harm is caused to the leg. Here harm is caused to the eye.”

Works at Jyotish Debnath’s sampling karkhana in Baruipara, Kalna. She was initiated into weaving at the age of 13. She learnt weaving for a means of livelihood as her family’s income was not enough to support everyone.

She likes her work some days, doesn’t like it some days. The product she weaves is the jamdani odhna. She mostly works with 100s and 200s count cotton khadi. She weaves around 2.5 metres of jamdani in 20 days, for which she is paid Rs.3000/-. Work timings: 7.30 am to 7 pm. She lives just five minutes away from her workplace. She has a 14 year old daughter and 10 year old son.

She used to weave Tangail saris on a Baluchari loom before she joined Jyotish Debnath’s facility. She picked up finer muslin weaving after joining Jyotish da. Previously, she used to work with thicker count threads. She says that working on the Baluchari loom used to put a lot of pressure on her legs, which is why she left that and joined here.

Left: Mampi weaving on her loom. Top: A snapshot of the sample being woven by Mampi


Gour Roy, 42 years weave 2.5 metres of intricate jamdani, which takes about a month to weave.

Works at Jyotish Debnath’s sampling karkhana in Baruipara, Kalna. He has been weaving on the handloom since he was 15 years old. He acknowledges his guru, Madhur Karmakar, for teaching him how to weave. He used to weave 100s count Tangail until he joined Jyotish da at the age of 20.

He mostly works with 100s and 200s count khadi cotton. He is very passionate about his work. It was nice to know that he looks forward to his work. He stays with parents and wife. His home is ten minutes away from his workplace.

He is also a part-time electrician since 15 years. He repairs fans and lights, changes coils and paints fans. It was shocking to know from him that being an electrician is a more lucrative job. He is paid Rs.100/- for an hour, whereas, he gets Rs.3000/- to

He says he has faced no physical difficulties in his career. He keep taking short breaks between work to move around and changes his posture from time to time.

Clockwise from top left: Gour da weaving on his loom; a basket containing miscellaneous tools and a hand fan placed next to the weaver’s loom; a close-up of the hand fan; a plate containing knickknacks that come in handy during weaving, such as, spare bobbins, screws, measuring tape, pencil, nolis (pirns), blade and so on.


Mrityunjoy Mitra Shankar Mondal These weavers work in one on the worksheds in Kalna belonging to a mahajan. The looms are not owned by them. They are work in the capacity of a wage worker, and are paid per product. They usually weave jamdani saris. These are handpicked jamdani saris though not as intricate as Jyotish Debnath’s work. The number of days taken to finish a sari, depends on the intricacy of the work. They usually take 15 days for a sari. If the designs are very heavy, it could take one-two months, whereas light designs could be finished in seven days. They mostly work on white, red and black base with contrasting extra weft colours. They usually work on 72s reed and 50 inches loom width. The saris are starched by them after being woven. The yarns they work with are supplied by the mahajan.

Weavers Mrityunjoy (left) and Shankar working on their looms. Their worry is that they get paid less for such intricate work.


Many moods of weaver Mrintyunjoy Mitra.


5 Area of Study II: Katwa

5.1 Introduction “Katwa is a subdivision of the Burdwan district in the state of West Bengal, India. It consists of Katwa municipality, Dainhat municipality and five community development blocks: Katwa–I, Katwa– II, Ketugram–I, Ketugram–II and Mongolkote. The five blocks contain 46 gram panchayats and one census town. The subdivision has its headquarters at Katwa” (Wikipedia).

throughout our time there. After a quick snack of tea, puffed rice with aloo bhaja and sandesh, we started to explore the village. It became apparent - as we travelled through the narrow winding roads populated with adults, children and animals often running helter-skelter that we were amongst a community that practiced weaving. We saw and heard signs of it everywhere, from the distant but distinct sounds of shafts going up and down to yarns being plied in the streets, starched skeins of yarn drying in the sun and discarded reeds and bobbins littering various corners.

Our second cluster study was focused on Ghoranash, a remote village nuzzled within the interiors of Musthuli in Katwa-II. Musthuli is approximately 143 kms north of Kolkata and is connected by road and rail. We arrived at the Dainhat Station from Howrah and travelled deeper into the recesses of this spectacular rural landscape.

As the night fell swift and suddenly, like a blanket drawn over a body, the sounds persisted. We wandered through lanes now thrown into complete darkness, walking past dimly lit windows and trying to memorize our way. Street lights were rare in Ghoranash.

We stayed with the family of a mahajan in the village named Jadabendra Sundar Das who lives with his immediate and extended family.There were fifteen people inhabiting the ground floor of their home which was under construction at the time. We stayed with the family of a mahajan in the village named Jadabendra Sundar Das who lives with his immediate and extended family. There were fifteen people inhabiting the ground floor of their home which was under construction at the time. Despite this we were given a room to ourselves and treated like daughters of the family. We were given a guide to take us around the village on our first evening, who remained with us

As we made our way back we heard one lone loom and tracked the sound to a small pitch-dark workshop. The weaver held a small torch in his mouth and seemed engrossed in his work. Upon asking him why he was still weaving, he responded that he had been hoping to finish his quota for the day.


The doorway to a weaving workshop we visited on our first evening. As the light was fading fast outside the workshops inside were also getting quite dark and yet, most weavers had not stopped weaving.

5.2 Ghoranash: A Weaving Community Everyone but everyone seemed occupied with a process connected to the weaving of handloom cloth. Men on cycles could be seen carrying yarn and bobbins to and fro from weaver’s workshops or carrying entire beams with the warp on it after the drumming had been carried out.

the women had been trained by more hands-on buyers, in the finishing of products. Stoles were finished with a variety of tassels, twists and knots. The women in most houses sat religiously each day winding bobbins for either weaving or drumming. The winding of bobbins is a skill in itself. One has to maintain a very precise and consistent tension and the yarn has to travel quite smoothly from one end to the other. There are various manners in which bobbins need to be winded depending on the purpose or the shuttle they are going to be used with.

Before the advent of the drum, warping was carried out in the streets and that enabled them to create a warp in any desired length. A few homes had small set-ups that enabled them to dye yarns as well as starch them. A small section of


Weaving as a Community Activity: Weaving is a community activity. Every person plays some kind of role. As nobody works in isolation, bobbins, beams and yarns are constantly being sent and retrieved to and from different workshops. Above are photos of a man carrying a beam with the warp and a reed. On the facing page is a man carrying three bobbins and dyed yarn.


As we went from house to house we saw a variety of charkhas and charkhis. They were made from bamboo, other wood, wheels, peddles, etc. Some were a mix of two materials and one could see they had been visibly mended or modified for a specific need of speed or other function. The bobbins themselves are made from the stem of

the jute plant which grows abundantly in the region and is harvested in the months of June to September. After the fibers are removed, the stems are cut into specific lengths. The stem of the jute plant has a narrow but hollow, tunneled centre. This existing hole is then widened with a hot iron rod. The bobbins are extremely lightweight.

Bobbin Winding Left: A female artisan plying and simultaneously winding a bobbin. She is using a very interesting miniature drum here. Bottom: Jute stems that have been cut and made into bobbins. These bobbins are not used for weaving but for the warping process.


Bobbin Winding Bobbin winding was a common, daily activity carried out by the women of Ghoranash. During our time there we saw many women winding weaving bobbins for the shuttle with a very fine black, silk weft yarn. This activity can be oberved from the early morning to evening. If the yarn is too fine women wind the bobbins in the morning light. Above: A female artisan looks for the loose end in the hank. Middle Left: Attaching the loose end to the bobbin for winding. Middle Right: Detail of the ‘charkhi’ made from wood and jute rope. The bobbins that are wound already are collected by her knee. These bobbins carry the weft and are used for weaving. Bottom Left: Detail of the wooden wheel of the charkhi.


Finishing A group of ten women have been trained by a buyer in the finishing of stoles. They do a variety of finishes. We documented the process of adding tassels. Top: A jamdani stole with indigo patterning on white. It has been finished with the same indigo used for the jamdani and the warp ends. Middle Left: Two women artisans who finish stoles and other products. Middle Right: Twisted warp ends which are secured with a knot. Bottom Left: The finished tassels. The one untrimmed tassel is incomplete but clarifies the manner in which they form the it.


Street Plying We were able to capture two men as they plied two yarns together to use as a weft yarn. The two yarns become one as they are wounded onto another bobbin with the charkha. The charkhi being used here is yet another hybrid as it uses a cycle wheel which is now common place however, its size is perhaps half that of the usual charkhas that use cycle wheels. Top: An artisan holding two bobbins with iron rods inserted in them. The rods are placed in between his fingers therefore, giving the bobbins the freedom to rotate as the charkha is wound. Middle Left: The other artisan as he losely supports the yarns as they are wound into the bobbin. Middle Right: The winding comes to a halt. The hand placed on the yarn retains the twist even as the bobbins come to an end. Bottom Left: Detail of the yarn being wound. One clearly sees the twist in the ready yarn here.


5.3 Jadabendra’s Set-up The House upper floors on the right side of the room. Below the staircase was a little area with a stove and utensils which served as the small kitchen. There was a larger kitchen at the other end of the home where the extended family lived.

Jadabendra’s home was not separate from his business. The front entrance of the house opened to a room full of piles of jamdani fabrics and skeins of yarn. The adjoining room was large and served as a common space for cooking, eating, winding bobbins. There were stairs leading to the

Jadabendras house: The right side of the house is under construction and the left untouched part of the house is where his extended family lived.


The Backyard The backyard was quite large and had a shed for the cows. Their dung was collected daily and added to a large pile at the far edge of the yard. Immediately outside the door was an attached bathroom. The bathrooms entrance was placed outside deliberately to separate it from contaminating the rest of the home. There was a hand pump placed in the backyard right outside the house. It could therefore be used by people in the home and by people in the workshops adjacent to the home.

The cows inside the shed eating their hay.

The family would bathe before lunch each day and as guests we too were made to bathe before noon. In their culture it was improper to eat your lunch without having washed yourself first.

The cows with the calf tethered outside the shed early morning as it was being mucked out.

The backyard of the house. One can see the hand pump, the passage on the right between the house and the workshop.


Workshops and housed about six weavers each with his own pit loom and one power loom for weaving plain yardage. A small washing area has been created in the backyard. It consists of one large stone bath and large stone bowls. The weavers are given designs through graphs with designs plotted on them for reference to scale, i.e. number of warp ends. Most of the weavers were quite open to trying new motifs and designs drastically different from the traditional design language of Jamdani.

Jadabendra had two workshops of his own, one at the front of the house and the other placed quite close to the home on the right. The workshop could be reached from the backyard by a passageway that was in fact the little distance between the boundary wall of the home and the workshop. The washing area was situated behind this workshop in the backyard. The first workshop at the front of the home housed two pit looms and which had two weavers working on them. The next workshop was fairly large in comparison


Washing and Drying These layouts both shows the washing area adjacent to the cowshed in the backyard. It had a small stone bath and two stone bowls. The rest of the buckets and larger bowls were stainless steel. There was no formal drainage system. Facing Page Top: Complete view of the washing area. Bottom Left: Two stone bowls lay near a tree. Bottom Right: The small stone tub. Fabrics were placed inside to soak during washing. Top: A young boy drying the stoles after washing. The pretty blue jamdani motifs litter the stoles like stars in the sky. Bottom Left: A man washing and boiling ready woven pieces of fabric. Bottom Right: A older man sits daily near the washing area and cuts bunches of hay to feed the cows as cattle need a lot of roughage to produce good milk.


The Family We lived in the right hand portion of the house with Jadabendra’s mother, father and himself. During the day this segragation stayed mostly in place. However, during the night the unmarried men in the house as well as the young girls slept separately in different parts of the house. Below are photos of the family. As most of Jadabendra’s siblings and cousins were younger than him and studying in and around Ghoranash they did not

participate in day to day weaving activities. One of his brother’s who was at the village when we visited was a young engineering student. He seemed to know his way around a loom and took care of the workings of Jadabendra’s business while he was away. As the main head of the business, Jadabendra travelled quite a lot. The photo of him was taken at 5 am before he left for a business trip.

Left: Jadabendra Sundar Das, the mahajan, sitting on the stairs at the back entrance of the house at 5 am as he prepared for a business trip. One can see from his eyes that he is a mild-mannerd man.


The Parents: His mother and father Nityananda Das and Kalyani Das. Bottom: One of Jadabendra’s cousin brothers who was studying engineering at the time but was also quite involved in the running of the business.


A weaver from Jadabendra’s workshop who also acted as guide for some time during our fielf study. The photos above have been captured on two separate days. The photo above was as he was on his way to give another weaver some bobbins and weft yarn. The photo below is of him looking into the window while we were looking at a workshop after having travelled 5 kms. on foot. He was with us for a large part of our journey.


Another weaver from the workshop who guided us around the village. The photo above shows him in conversation with someone we were conversing with. The photo below is during our journey to a nearby extension of the Ghoranash cluster.


5.4 Material Culture in Ghoranash Natural Resources Ghoranash had a fount of natural resources like rice, a variety of vegetables, coconut and date palms, banana, jute and bamboo, some cultivated and some growing naturally in abundance. A rural economy revolves around the vegetation, livestock and natural elements that surround it.

In Ghoranash, it was date palm trees, jute, rice, sugarcane and bamboo. We saw them used in every conceivable way. These materials were used for household products, construction, furniture, as ingredients for starching yarn and as part of their staple diet. Livestock was limited to cows, sheep, goats and chickens.

A farmer tending to his paddy field


Rice and Sugarcane As we travelled by foot from Katwa-I to Katwa-II (5-7 kms) we walked through narrow pathways between massive fields of paddy and sugarcane. The sugarcane plants sparked our curiosity as they were tied up with the bottom leaves. This led us to discover some common agronomic practices like detrashing and propping. Rice fields were of course not an uncommon sight in West Bengal. It is part of their staple diet and the refuse is used in constructing homes and other household products such as brooms. It is also used to starch the yarns. Top: Sugarcane plants that have been ‘dertrashed’ and ‘propped’, two common processes farmers do on a bimonthly basis, starting 150 days after it has been plnted. These processes are carried out to boost growth and make it easier to move about in the field. Detrashing involves using the dried leaves at the bottom and tying up the rest. Propping is done by adding a bamboo to make it stand stable. Bottom: Rice being harvested and layed out.

Rice, Mud and Dung Rice as a resource was used in several different ways. It was part of their staple diet in the form of puffed rice and cooked rice. Both these forms of rice were also used to starch the fine counts of cotton yarn. The husk or hull was used in almost every home as a building material.

was plastered all over the walls as well as the floor in the exterior of the house as can be seen in the photos in the facing page. It was also used to sculpt out traditional Chulas. The walls of the house are often ornamented with paintings on the wall. These forms ward off evil and keep the people living inside safe. This is a traditional practice all over india across most religions.

A mixture was concocted using cow dung, mud and rice hull which has been proven to be a binding agent as well as a good insulator. This

Top Left: Brooms made from rice stalks using indigenous skills. Top Right: A sketch of wall paintings seen in most homes of the village. This and the alpana that ornament the floors together make-up the protective symbols that safeguard their existence. Alpana’s usually have a paisley motif while the wall paintings have floral motifs. Bottom: Men and women carrying bales of hay home.


Top: Fringe of a roof which is lines with hay. Bottom: Front of a home whose walls are plastered with a mixture of mud, rice hull and dung giving them this unique color.


Dung as a Material: This spread shows dung being dried and treated so it may be used for burning. Top: A woman applies dung onto the wall in round slabs. Bottom: The dung has been applied on a wall that gets the most sunlight so it dries faster.


Top: A wall covered in dung for drying. The patches have been plastered on the wall quite high. Bottom: This photo shows the dung being kept wet under a basket.


Sculpted Chulas In addition to covering entire homes with a mixture of rice hull, mud and dung, most homes also have small outdoor spaces. These semi-built spaces are used for several activities related to weaving. They are also used for cooking. The above photos show chulas that have been sculpted from a similar mixture. The benefits of this kind of set-up is that it may be changed at any time and is completely sustainable. Top: A chula with two openings, one for the vesel to be placed over and the other for ventilation as well as to tend to the fire. We were told that after the fire is out, two pots may be placed on either opening to keep them warm. Bottom Left: Another chula with a very different form. Here we see the opening in the facing side at the front of the chula. Bottom Right (Up): A chula with a very simple form. This chula is the most basic form for a chula that is seen in all states. Bottom Right (Down): A basket, a container for the coal and other appliances.


Repurposing Objects A mixture of mud and cow dung is used to coat old discarded glass bottles to create weight and stability. These bottles are then used as stands to hold bobbins of yarn, as is seen in the photos to the right. This tradition of re-purposing seemingly useless objects is innate to craftsmen. We also observed that they re-purposed old oil tins after punching holes in them in a definite pattern and used them to create rangoli (alpana) on the floor. An image of one such tin is shown above,


Bamboo Bamboo grows in abundence in Ghoranash and is used for a multitude of products. It is prominently used in the construction of homes. Within the home it is used in a myriad of ways, such as: windows, furniture, roofing, storage, etc. It is also used to construct make-shift workshops with loose bricks, cloth and bamboo.

Weaving equipment like swifts, swift stands, charkhas and looms are also constructed entirely out of bamboo. Some tools like the swift are made wholly of bamboo and yarn using no nails or metal joineries. It is this entire material culture that illustrates beautifully the ingenuity and creativity of rural India.

Bamboo as a material for building tools: This spread shows two very important tools in which bamboo has been used as the primary material. Its innate properties have helped create a simple product with minimal joineries. Top: Bamboo reeds submerged and growing near one of two lakes in the village. Bottom Left and Right: A swift made of bamboo and yarn. On the right is a detailed view of the joinery. A small cut is made in the bamboo so the yarn can be fastened inside the crevice.


Top: A swift and stand made of bamboo: the base of the stand is made of a whole bamboo while the vertical bars are made with half bambooa. Bottom: Detail of the joinery.


Bamboo as a Construction Material Bamboo was used in various ways in the contructing of homes. It was used for windows, window treatments, roofing and also for making furniture. It was used for making looms and charkhas. One also saw it used occasionally in the mending of charkhas. We once had the occasion of seeing a charkha stand that was half wood and half bamboo.

Window Treatments with Bamboo: Bamboo has been used in various ways for window treatments. There are very few fixed window treatments, most are make-shift and are constructed with any waste lying around such as tin (as in the photo above) and bamboo. The wall of a house: The bricks that are visible are areas where the dung mixture has eroded away due to exposure to weather. Windows in most homes are placed on the side that gets most expsure to the sun. Therefore, the dung is also placed around these windows so they dry faster. Roofing: The roof is always at a slant with layers of lay stacked on bamboo which forms the basic structure of the house.


Window Treatment: Top: An open window. We see bamboo has been used in three separate ways here. As horizontal bars and then thinner bamboos as vertical bars. The window is made of a bamboo frame with two bamboos placed in a cross formation. Left: A variation of the sketch of a window on the facing page. Most windows were created in this way, by using waste tin and bamboo. Right: A window made with bamboo and waste roofing material.


Top: A gate made of bamboo. It has been made with whole and halved bamboo. The three whole horizontal bars have been joined to the halved strips of bamboo running vertically through the gate. Bottom: A salesman carries his wares in baskets suspended from a bamboo which is fastened to the back of his bicycle. A customer examines a product.


Top: A window made of bamoo and tin. It is fastened on the inside by a rope and can be opened. Bottom: A doorway made of bamboo and nails. It has been constructed simply by halfing the bamboos and nailing them to the horizontal ones. Middle: A thatched bamboo window. The construcion of this window is inegenious and resounds with a deep understanding of bamboo as a material and the many ways in which it can be used. Bottom: A bench made of bamboo.


5.5 Indigenous Practices Jaggery - ‘Noton Gur’ is unique to this geographical region. Date palms that grow in plenty in this region secrete a sap which is collected in earthen pots. A strategic cut is made on the bark of the tree and the sap slowly collects in the pot. This little cut is then just as skillfully sealed with a wooden device.

Apart from the previous mentioned practices such as construction, farming, rearing livestock for milk, meat and leather, there were certain cultural practices and craft forms that are of note. The first being the making of jaggery from palm tree sap. The practice of making brown jaggery

A view of the lake around which grew numerous palm trees.


Date Palm Like many palm trees, the date secretes a sap. This sap is sometimes fermented and used to make local brew. The sap from this palm however, is used to make jaggery. Top: The date palm has been shaved and a cut placed to collect the sap in a pot. Bottom: Detail of the wooden instruments used to stem the flow of the sap once it has been collected.


cut and sold right then and there. It is worth mentioning that a large group of people come to witness the making of the jaggery; some with their toothbrushes as this practice happens quite early in the morning.

A huge pit is filled with old palm leaves. Once the leaves have been kindled a large pan is placed over it and the contents of the pot are emptied in it. With a particular wooden tool one lone man constantly stirs it until it begins to change color and thicken.

This jaggery is a rich muddied yellow brown and is called khajur gur. This product is made only in Bangladesh and West Bengal, usually in the winter months. In Bengali this jaggery is known as noton gur or new jaggery.

After about ten minutes the contents are transferred to a cloth laid out above a bamboo frame. The jaggery settles on the fabric and solidifies quite fast. Pieces of the jaggery are

Top Left and Right: A wooden tool used for stirring and palm fronds which are burnt during the making of the jaggery. Bottom: A man standing near the pit as he waits for the fire to grow. The pit is rough;y the size of the vesel so it may be placed over it without falling in. To create air-flow holes have been made on all four sides of the pit.


Stirring Once the sap is heated it has to be constantly stirred. It slowly begins changing colour and becomes thicker. The man who makes the jaggery has years of experience and always knows when to take it off the pit. Above: An early morning activity; people come and watch the making of the jaggery, sometimes with their toothbrushes in hand. Left: The man stirring the jaggery in a backwards forwards motion. he must stir it evenly and constantly so no lumps form. Right: A detailed photo of the jaggery being stirred. We see the edges are tinged with darker coloured jaggery.


Four bamboos are placed in a rectangle to create a bed for the jaggery. The pots used to collect the sap are visible in the back. As are the palm fronds that are burnt during the making of the jaggery. The entire process is organic and sustainable

A cloth has been layed over the bamboos


Readying the Jaggery Once the jaggery is ready it needs to be transferred quite fast as it will begin to set the minute it is removed from the pit. Top: All the jaggery has been collected in the corner where the vessel tilts. A paper has been used by the man to help the process along as there are always stray bits that solidify faster. Centre: The man transferring the liquid jaggery to the cloth tray Bottom: The man flattens and spreads the jaggery evenly over the fabric. We see the impression of the stroke in the jaggery. If the jaggery is set the stroke stays visible but if it is done fast enough it becomes a smooth surface.


The jaggery being ready, the utensil is propped up with the wooden tool used to stir it. This photo clearly paints the entire story of the process.

After the jaggery is made, a boy carries it home on his head with impeccable balance


Religious Idols - Vishwakarma and Durga Puja Another prominent craft is the making of murtis or idols for Durga Puja and other festivals. The murtis are made from a particular mixture of mud and clay.

clay. Some idols we came across were left at this stage with a stump where the head should be. These idols were sparsely decorated with brightly colored garlands and big artificial flowers.

The figure is first made by binding lengths and bunches of straw together with a rope. The entire form is sculpted and bound together precisely. This form is then covered in a layer of

Some idols we saw were at the clay stage (see next page for photo). We did not see any white idols being painted or finished.

Idols Most of the residents of the village had some idol or the other lying about the home. Almost all the idols we saw were in varying stages of being contructed. This may be due to us going in November when the festivities of Durga Puja had finished. Top: Two bodies with no heads placed on a kind of easel. Bottom: Idols which are placed in a rather haphazard manner and decorated with large flowers and garlands.



Top: A winnow and baskets hung on the wall; a rural palette. Bottom: Detailed view of the bamboo woven winnow. Facing Page - Top: An idol made of clay with a bowl of clay near it. Centre Left: Baskets hung on the wall. Bottom Left: A basket and a swift of bamboo hung in the cornrer. Bottom Right: A broom made of rice stalks.


5.6 Weavers in Ghoranash Mahajans, Weavers and Workshops Clients contact the mahajan and discuss the quality, dimensions, intricacy of designs and the time required to execute such an order. It is not unusual for several orders to be woven simultaneously.

A majority of the weavers in Ghoranash were not independent weavers with a home set-up as was the norm years ago. The current system of mahajans enables the weavers to weave without the burden of investing in a loom or workspace. A weaver is given a loom which is installed at his home if the space permits it. Alternatively he is given a loom at a workshop which he shares with several other weavers.

Different weavers are assigned different orders and there is often a person appointed to be a liaison between the weavers and the mahajan.

In Ghoranash there are about three to four mahajan’s under which all the weavers work. The weaver’s salaries are calculated either per piece or metre. The mahajan also provides the raw material and designs which are conveyed by manner of a graph with the given design on it. At times kha khas are also used although it was unclear in what way they were used and it was only one workshop that was making use of it.

A butter paper sheet on which the design is created by pricking holes. Ordinarily this sheet is placed on a fabric and then a cloth dipped in neel is rubbed over it; it used as a guide for printing. In this regard it was used for weaving hand jamdani jacquard designs. The sari to the left is quite obviously a jacquard pattern.

If the repeat unit is quite large, complicated or is an overall pattern (jaal) then it is drawn on a large piece of paper and then placed under the warp yarns during weaving. A mahajan typically belongs to a weaving family who is able to understand the technical aspects of handloom fabric.


Weaving Workshop In Ghoranash, there were a variety of workshops. Most weavers did not have a set-up at their own home. Each workshop had atleast two weavers and on an average four. Some were make-shift like the photos above while others were properly built workshops. It is note-worthy that most of them did not have very good lighting. Top: Front view of a make-shift workshop that has been built with some loose bricks and other material. We see a weaver standing and staring outside. The set-up here was that three weavers sat one after other. Two of the three pit looms are visible. Bottom: The weavers.


Top: The weaving workshop opposite Jadabendra’s house. This was one of his own workshops. One of the weaving apprentices stands outside. Middle: A weaver weaving, one hand tugs at the picking cord and one hand rests on the reed to beat the weft yarn in. Bottom: A weaver who was sitting at his loom and conversing with us about his work.


A portrait of a weaver as he dangles his legs outside the doorway to his workshop.


A Weaving Spread: The above photos give a clear idea of how a weaver sits at his work. Below we see his spectacles, his cloth and his needle which is essential for counting threads with ease in jamdani weaving.


Female Weavers shows a female artisan working on the loom, one on a cotton stole, the other with synthetic warp and silk weft sari which is almost transparent in nature.

The weavers within Ghoranash were all male however, as we ventured about 5 kms outside the village through paddy fields and sugarcane littered roads, we discovered an extension of the same cluster which had several women artisans. From personal observation the supple and nimble fingers of the women seemed just as if not more efficient than those of the men. This photo spread

Top Left: A female artisan weaving a jamdani stole, Indigo on white with a dhakai border and tiny butis in straight repeat. Top Right: The stole on the loom being woven by the artisan. Bottom: Portrait of a woman artisan.


5.6 Jamdani in Ghoranash Jamdani Fabric: Color, Pattern & Cloth We saw a range of different qualities of fabric within Ghoranash. The weaver’s are adept at the Jamdani technique although they mostly receive orders for buttidar jamdani which are relatively uncomplicated.

were small buttis with simple borders or striped borders with small to medium motifs patterning the fabric. There were also stoles with a length of design straight down the centre of the fabric as can be seen in the photo to the right. Most of the Jamdani fabrics being developed used hand-spun yarn as the weft and mill spun yarn for the warp. The jamdani extra-weft motifs were primarily in varying shades of blue, beige or green on a white ground. We also came across natural indigo dyed khadi jamdani stoles.

The technique of adding the extra weft seems to have been mastered by the weavers but it could not be ascertained as to whether their skills were proficient enough to master complicated motifs let alone a jaaldaar jamdani. The more complicated a jamdani design becomes the more a weaver needs to estimate. The most prominent formats

Above: A jamdani stole with an elephant butti. The buti has been repeated in a half horizontal step. Indigo on white, weft yarn is hand spun.


Contemporary Jamdani One of the visibly newer trends in Jamdani stoles was creating a pattern through the vertical centre of the stole with slight edging or plain edges. Above: A Jamani stole with natural indigo and white patterning. The design is a geometric representation of a flower; the white boxes creating the appearence of connectivity like a pixilated vine.


Stripes and Dots As a line and a dot are the basic elements in jamdani patterning. The photos above show a few different kinds of stripes used carefully to create rhythm. The dot has been in conjunction with a wavy stripe simulating movement. Top: A typical jamdani butti. Contemporary jamdani patterning leans towards syymmetrical motifs as opposed to older designs which were asymmetrical at times. Bottom: A wavy stripe bordered with straight stripes


Scale There are many variations in terms of scale for similar or identical motifs in different stoles. This is because the basic jamdani butis shaped like slightly pixilated dots or crosses with the centre hollow can be woven in many different ways. A detail of a stole. The portion that is visible here is the centre. The edging visible on the right side is a scaled down version of what we see in the photo above.


Indigo and White Top: Detail of a motif woven with deliberate spacing after every three extra wefts. One sees many different textures within patterning today. Bottom: Detail of a blue and white jamdani stole on the loom. Note that the motif is being woven with two bobbins with a centre parting.


Indigo and White Top: A jamdani stole with large buttas. Bottom: A indigo stole with a dhakai style border. Tiny dots pattern the body.


Looms it was for a specific client.An odd anomaly we stumbled upon was a power-loom housed within the workshop of the mahajan who we were staying with. The extended cluster, very much within Katwa, also had one or two powerlooms. These produced plain woven fabric and were placed in workshops with the weavers. The sheer noise and pollution these machines were generating made for an inhospitable environment. After stumbling upon them several times we realized it was not quite as uncommon as we thought. They appeared to be weaving dhoti size, plain fabric pieces.

Almost all the weavers were using either a traditional pitloom with minimum shafts or a Chittaranjan loom. There was the odd weaver who would use dobby attachments to create borders for stoles but this was rare. As the main product for this cluster is stoles they have been innovating various ways in which to finish stoles. One such method they devised gave the stole tassels on all four sides. Normally due to the selvedge this is not possible.This method seemed to always be used in conjunction with the dobby attachment. We therefore concluded

Left: Detailed view of the mechanism of the Chittaranjan loom. One can also see the unwoven weft ends woven around a single thick warp yarn. This ingenious idea was devised so all four corners of stoles may have puffed edges. Right Top: View of the sley Right Bottom: The weavers tools: shuttle, bobbins, wax candle.


Above: A wholesome view of the loom with the chittaranjan and dobby attachments. Middle Left: View of the single warp yarn around which the loose weft ends are being woven. Middle Right: The other side of the loom where we see the one end emerge. The unwoven area of the cloth is used to create tassels. Bottom: A view of the tassels with the tiny patterning on the edge; with the aid of the dobby attachment.