The most well-known Bengal Silk sari, which carry its legendary name, is the Baluchari sari – a product of exquisite design and fabulous weaving technique. Produced in the town of Baluchar in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, Baluchari sarees are nation and world wide popular because of their artistic and unique design. ‘Baluchari’ is one of the most popular weaving techniques of Bengal. Baluchari saree is inspired from the Jamdani Sarees of Dhaka in Bangladesh. Although, one can find these sarees in other parts of India, but Bengal in East India remains its largest maker. Murshidabad in west Bengal serves as the epicenter of the Baluchari sarees all over India.
In the history of textile in Bengal, Baluchari came much after Maslin. Two hundred years ago Baluchari was used to be practised in a small village called Baluchar in Murshidabad district, from where it got the name Baluchari. In the eighteenth century, Murshidkuli Khan, Nawab of Bengal patronized its rich weaving tradition and Baluchari flourished from that time onwards. But this flourishing trend later declined, specially during British rule, due to political and financial reasons and it became a dying craft as most of the weavers were compelled to give up the profession.
Later in the first half of twentieth century, Subho Thakur, a famous artist, felt the need of recultivating the rich tradition of Baluchari craft. Though Bishnupur was always famous for its silk, he invited Akshay Kumar Das, a master weaver of Bishnupur to his center to learn the technique of jacquard weaving. Sri Das then went back to Bishnupur and worked hard to weave Baluchari on their looms.
Once Bishnupur was the capital of Malla dynasty and different kinds of crafts flourished during their period under the patronage of Malla kings. Temples made of terracotta bricks were one achievement of these rulers. A major influence of these temples can be seen in Baluchari sarees. Mythological stories taken from the walls of temples and woven on Baluchari sarees, is a common feature in Bishnupur.
The history of the Baluchari goes back centuries. During the rule of the Mughals, Baluchari was in high demand. It was mostly reserved for the elite class due to its high quality. Only royal families and members of the royal court used to wear Baluchari.
At the time of the British, Bengal silk was very popular, mostly because it was high in quality and cheap. The silk industry of Bengal was flourishing at that time and giving employment to many silk weavers. In the 18th century, it was Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan of Bengal who patronized the weaving tradition of Bengal. It came into fashion some 200 years ago and has since then became a favorite of Indian women all over India.
Baluchari is usually five yards in length. These sarees have colors, which harmonize with one another. You will not find any contrasting colors in it. Even if the sari is red, you will find intricate golden work on it, which will give it an elegant and royal look.
Mostly nature designs like flowers, shrubs etc. are woven into the silk base of these sarees. Narrative designs such as people on horses, musicians playing, men and women in various poses are also popular Baluchari designs.
Baluchari sarees are rich and sophisticated. They can be worn by young girls, middle-aged women as well as elder women; such is the beauty of the Baluchari.
It takes a lot of time and hard labor to weave a Baluchari. Firstly, the silk worms are reared. When they turn into cocoons, the silk thread is extracted from the cocoon. Then the silk threads are processed and dyed in various colors. Then patterns are woven onto the silk, using various threads. Now when you see a Baluchari in a shop, you will know how much time and labor goes into making a single piece.
FABRIC IN BALUCHARI SAREE
Silk weaving of Baluchar continues to be an important landmark of Bengal’s handloom tradition. Baluchari sarees are woven in Bengal silks which are much acclaimed in the world over, since ancient times. Like silk, cotton baluchari sarees are also woven in a fascinating and exquisite range. The cloth is very fine and transparent with a soft drape. These are created on draw looms, which contains a complicated mechanism for weaving multi-warp and multi-weft figured textiles.
DESIGN AND COLOURS
Baluchar Sarees are similar in appearance and in weaving techniques to many Banaras Brocades although they never contain Zari threads, only silk. They have intricate supplementary weft or warp borders and end pieces created in untwisted silk threads of colors that contrast with the ground, with elaborate floral borders. The figures are commonly involved in such activities as smoking a hooka, riding a train, or smelling a flower, and are often dressed in Mughal style or European cloths, the grounds of these saris are generally dark with purple, dark brown and red being common, while the wide range of colors found in the supplementary threads are always light, such as white, yellow orange of pink
The various designs depicting narrative folktales in the pallu of the sarees are as:
- A woman riding a horse holding a rose in one hand with her plait flying behind her.
- Pleasure boat, with two lovebirds on top.
- Traditional muslim court scenes.
- Women smoking hookah.
- Puranic tales or legends of Ramayana and Mahabharata are also depicted on the classic baluchari sarees etc.
METHOD OF PRODUCTION
The production process of Baluchari can be divided into several parts:-
- Cultivation of cocoons: –Since the discovery so many years ago that the fibre or filament composing the cocoon of the silkworm can be constructed into a beautiful and durable fabric, silkworms have been bred for the sole purpose of producing raw silk.
- Processing of yarns:-To make the yarn soft, it is boiled in a solution of soda and soap and then dyed in acid colour, according to the requirement of the saree. The yarn is stretched from both the sides in opposite directions putting some force with both palms. This process is needed to make the yarn crisper.
- Motif making:-Making of the motifs for ‘pallavs’ and other part of Baluchari is in itself an intricate process. The design is drawn on a graph paper, it is coloured and punching is done using cards. After punching, these cards are sewed in order and fixed in the jacquard machine.
- Weaving:-After jacquard loom has been introduced, weaving of a Baluchari saree takes five to six days to get completed. Two weavers work on it on shifting basis.
Baluchari thus prepared becomes the sign of aristocracy, the attire of status. Maintenance of quality of Baluchari saree is taken care of precisely. The quality is checked from the stage of dying of the yarn to the packaging of the saree.