One cannot help but notice the excellence in the field of art and craftsmanship while at Bishnupur, Bankura. I was an explorer of Bishnupur, but soon it turned out to be something that educated me over a lot of traditional assets that Bengal possesses.
There are a varied number of traditional arts that the district of Bankura possesses. Some of the most popular things that come into the notice are the terracotta artifacts, the immense depth of tradition in the temples, its festivals, rural arts and amazing talent in the field of music.
Apart from all these, one of the most popular forms of art that are born and developed in its very own land is the Baluchari Sarees. Whether you are shopping for someone, or just admiring the beauty of the products, these pieces of Sarees are definitely going to swoop you off your feet.
All about Baluchari Saree
‘Buluchari Saree’ or popularly known as Baluchari Saree is a particular fashion in the segment of traditional Sarees which is generally seen worn by people of Bengal and Bangladesh. It was not hard for me to figure out that the origin of these sarees was from Bengal, which is why it is so widely spread here.
To sum up, the facts that I collected before the actual visit included a description of the specialty of these sarees. The lower part (Pallu) of these sarees have the depiction of ancient and mythological stories which are very rare. The thing I liked about the Sarees were the creativity of producing every piece of it. A garment that is made out of so much dedication is definitely going to be loved by a lot of people.
The origin of these sarees was from Baluchar, Murshidabad which shifted after a period of time to now known Bishnupur in Bankura.
Some of its surrounding places also produce these sarees which are authentic. One fact that I came across in my findings that shocked me was, Baluchari Sarees share a status of the geographical indication inside India.
The history of how Baluchari sarees came into existence is pretty interesting as well. Maslin was much older than Baluchari according to the textile history of Bengal. The history long back to 200 years when a small place named Baluchar in the district of Murshidabad used to produce the Baluchari sarees. It was not hard for me to figure out that the name of the garment came from its definite place of origin.
In the dawn of 18th century, the King of Bengal Murshidkuli Khan wanted to patronize this rich tradition of weaving which was nowhere to be seen in any part of the country. The industry of the Baluchari sarees started to flourish in its right form when the love of people and the king himself was showered with it. Now, the Baluchar village lived in a low land which was prone to floods and natural calamities as such.
A heavy flood from the river Ganga submerged the entire village which led to the shifting of the saree industry to Bishnupur in the district of Bankura. The British rule was a dark period for this industry as the sarees are made out of delicate Tassar Silk which became scarce due to financial and political problems. This industry seemed to be dying and many weavers gave up their profession at that time.
The Baluchari saree industry was almost dead by the middle part of the 20th century. Hardly any trace of the production was noticed as most of the talented weavers had given up and the remaining weavers were struggling to meet ends because of the financial problems. However, the ray of light came in the form of Subho Thakur, who was a popular artist in the 20th century.
He felt that there is a need to revive this Baluchari crafts tradition which was highly essential. Although Bishnupur has always been popular for its abundance in silk cultivation he knew he did not have to change the location to revive this industry.
However, he needed a certain kind of help which was selflessly given by Akshaya Kumar Das. He was a weaver from whom Subho Thakur learned how to weave Baluchari sarees. This back story of how some amount of effort thrown at reviving a link lost tradition was definitely motivational for me.
During the Malla kings rule, a lot of terracotta artwork came into existence which was an integral part of the tradition of the whole of Bankura.
The Baluchari sarees produced from that period also reflected some of the traces of the Malla rulers along with a lot of other influence of mythological creatures, stories, and ancient Kaathas.
Process of Weaving Baluchari Sarees
Like any other item’s production process, the steps involved in the production process of the Baluchari sarees were fascinating to me as well. I admire how the whole process is separated in prominent parts.
- Cocoons Cultivation – Now this is probably one of the most important aspects of the production process. The lack of availability of silk material was the sole reason of the industry’s going down. Also, the raw material that affects the most is the silk fiber, which explains why this is the first and the most important process. The silk is produced by cultivating the cocoon of the silkworm in a detailed industrial process. It yields a durable and highly comfortable fabric that is used to weave the Baluchari sarees. The cultivation of cocoons became a little better at Bishnupur at the end of 20th century. This is when the production process skyrocketed to its best.
- Yarns Processing – This step of the process involves the weaver’s physical indulgence in the work. The yarn needs to be soft for the making of the saree, so it is dipped and boiled in a clear solution of soap and soda. Further, according to the need of the color of the saree, some acid color is also added in the yarn. The last part of this step involves stretching the yarn from both the sides which require the weaver to apply force with his hands. The completion of this process decides how good the texture of the saree would be. The weavers of Bishnupur generally bring out the best in the texture of all the sarees with their perfection in this skilled work.
- Motif Making – The making of the figures at the ‘pallavs’ and another part of the Baluchari saree is a complex process which speaks about why these sarees are so special. First, the weaver selects a particular design and puts it down on a graph paper for accuracy. Later, it is painted with colors and cards. These colored figures are then sewed properly on different parts of the Saree using a jacquard machine.
- Weaving – After the pressing of the motifs on the Baluchari, the real task of Baluchari comes into the act. There is a machine called the Jacquard loom which makes the work easier for the weavers. However, by easy I mean 6 to 7 days of hard work which is carried out alternatively by two weavers. Usually, in the early days, the weaving work used to take not less than 20 to 22 days for one piece of garment.
The process involved in the making of a single Baluchari saree includes so many complex steps which can only be carried out by a skilled laborer. Needless to say, the popularity of the Baluchari sarees is well defined in their making.
I had no more doubts after getting into the depth of their making which proves their aristocracy.
Themes and Pallu Design
The basic themes involved are generally carried out at the Pallu of the saree which showcases some of the amazing creative arts of the weavers. I was amazed to witness the versatility of the weavers in creating these beautiful designs.
Usually, the designs talk about the ancient events and mythological creatures in it. But the motifs have been regularly changing with the change in the era. From mythology to the lives of the royals, the Baluchari saree motifs carry almost everything.
Since the sarees were meant to be a sign of aristocracy, the designs are mostly restricted to the higher class of the society.
Some of the most popular designs over the period of its existence were the ancient Kaathas, which had designs of mythological events straight out of religious books. There was also a lot of craze about the Baluchari prints which had imprints of historical events.
The basic idea of Baluchari sarees when it started were limited to these only. But when the popularity of the sarees grew among the royals, the weavers started making sarees which had the imprints of the lives of the kings, the functions of the courts and daily rituals taking place around it.
The later part of their production had the imprints of the then rulers and East India Company officials smoking a hookah together and holding important meetings in it. Summing them up, it has always felt like the Baluchari saree prints have been more than just designs which have grown over a course of time.
Meenakari and Swarnachuri
In the current time, there are not much differentiation in the designs of the Baluchari sarees. The designs can be widely categorised under two of the most popular designs which are in trend among the buyers.
- Meenakari – The threads and colouring pattern of the sarees define their nature of design. The Meenakari design is accompanied with 1 to 2 colors of threads. The Meenakari work between the threads are gorgeous and brightens the whole texture of the saree. This is one of the most common designs of the sarees that is adored by most of the travellers who want to get a hold on one piece.
- Swarnachuri – This is the segment of the Baluchari sarees which are the most gorgeous and bright. These sarees are woven with gold coloured threads with amazing designs within them. Sometimes a little addition of silver is also carried out to moderate the brightness of the sarees. These are the designs which can come under the requirements of fancy sarees and bridal wear.
Sericulture in Bankura
Sericulture in Bankura district is recognised to be among the fastest growing and stable industries in the whole of Bengal. The history longs back to the time before the British rule and ever since Bishnupur in Bankura has been one of the most promising sericulture practitioners. Along with some neighbouring villages, it has been working towards the production of 3 sectors of sericulture. Bishnupur has been the leading producer of Eri, Mulberry and Tasar silk.
Even though the availability of technology and human resource, it has worked its way up to keep up the production and using the silk efficiently. The government has also taken initiatives to slowly undertake and support the sericulture processes in Bankura district.
The major reason for the production of the silk is to uplift and maintain the heritage of the Baluchari saree production. The locals and other expert weavers work towards the goal of producing the best of Baluchari sarees for the sale in Bengal and abroad.
The popularity of the silk quality is widespread as well which is a result of the amazing texture of the produced silk. The NEAP (North Eastern Action Plan) of the year 1996 by the Central silk Board is also working towards the development of the process of sericulture in Bankura district.
Popularity of Baluchari Sarees
The popularity of the sarees is not only limited to Bengal, but the whole country recognizes the excellence in the production. On top of that, there are many demands for the export of Baluchari sarees in foreign countries for the heritage value that they share.
This tradition is also recognized as a status of geographical location in India which explains its achievement over all these years. Sure the industry has faced dark days, but the tradition did not die and the locals have worked a lot towards its upliftment throughout the whole time.
I am glad to have been known of the dense history behind the beautiful Baluchari sarees.