The glorious fabric of Bengal: Jamdani

Nusrat Jahan Nipa

Fashion Researcher at China Zhejiang-sci Tech University

Lecturer at Uttara university fashion design and Technology

Research guideline professor: Liu xian (Zhejiang Sci-Tech University)

Jamdani is a piece of fabric that holds history in its texture. There are plenty of clothes which had become a part of our heritage, but then there is Jamdani, which became a heritage itself. Back in the 16th century, the handloom industry was established in undivided Bangla. From then to now, Jamdani still kept its acceptance and dominance as like before.  Although, Jamdani didn’t come this far overnight. History says Jamdani took centuries to only get proper a name! From the beginning of this cloth’s journey, it was barely called Jamdani rather than it was popular as Dhakai.

handloom fabrics, jamdani is one of the most popular and top-selling handloom products

Bangladesh has a different level of affection towards its handloom industry. More than 1 million workers are working behind looms to create perfection in a form of fabric. Muslin, Jamdani, Tant or Tat, Khadi are the main components to fill the criteria of Handloom. But compared to other handloom fabrics, jamdani is one of the most popular and top-selling handloom products since its origin.

Dhakai or Jamdani has an incomparable fan base because of the delicate texture and uniqueness of this woven fabric. It actually came from the famous ‘muslin textile’, but later it got the spotlight for the design and thread works, which made it different from Muslin.

This historic textile is not only adapting to the new fashion trends of Bangladesh but also is continuously getting adjusted by the rulers of this region also. From the Mughal emperor to British colonialism, it survived as royal clothing. After the division of Bengal, it still managed to dominate as it should. People may think that this cloth has lost its popularity after almost 40 decades. But the reality is, it didn’t. In this era of technology, handloom is under threat of losing its existence, yet it is reviving all over again to expand the local and global market. No matter which market it is, Jamdani, the fabric made of cotton and golden thread, still managed to stay unbeatable in sales.

Origin of Jamdani

jamdani-sharee

This sumptuous woven fabric has been a part of this region since Mughal Empire. Dhakai Jamdani or widely known as ‘Jamdani’, has been produced for centuries In Bangladesh. Jamdani is well known all over the world for its refined texture and delicate embroidery.

Though Jamdani wasn’t a ‘new’ genre fabric, it is actually a ‘reformed’ version of Muslin. Muslin is a type of finely woven cotton, which was prominent for its purity in softness. However, Jamdani was introduced to then Bengal during the Mogul empire, and it still successfully managed to survive with the same glory during the British era, too.

According to conventional ideas, the word ‘jamdani’ came from Persian origin. ‘Jam’ means flower, and ‘Dani’ means vase, therefore ‘Jamdani’ means flower vase.  Back in the 3rd century (BC), this word was mentioned in literature. It is believed that the word Jamdani was found in Kautilya’s ‘Arthasharshtra’. In this book, jamdani was referred to as a fine fabric made in the ‘Pundra’ and ‘Bangla’ regions. But it is also said that this word was introduced to Bengal in the Gupta period, back in the 4th- 6th century (AD).

The famous book named ‘Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’ also had a record to mention this textile inside this book. However, merchants and travelers from Arab, China, and Italy also knew about Jamdani.

Talking about the beginning of jamdani production, it took more than 12 centuries to start spinning the weave. During the Mughal Empire, weavers started producing this cloth but only for the royal family.  Back in the 16th century, weavers produced this gorgeous fabric by the patronage of the Mughals.

But at the beginning of the 19th century, this fabric got a different level of recognition when James Taylor described the beauty of jamdani within a few words. Taylor, the Scottish minister, and historical author depicted Jamdani as the flowered or figured textile. Later, in the end of the 19th century, Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay or renowned as T. N. Mukharji insisted to name this cloth as ‘Jamdani muslin’.

During the period of British colonialism, extraordinary designs including figures and floral motifs were included in Jamdani. This period was mentioned as ‘’dhakai muslin’s golden age’’ in history.

From the beginning, this artistic cloth got a huge response, not in Bengal but also in the world. Although this fabric was a part of importing markets during the Mughal period after a few decades jamdani started facing various obstacles in the British era. British rulers started exporting cheaper yarn from European countries which cost a huge loss for Jamdani producers. The local cotton yarn began to lose its markets which were one of the primary reasons for the turning down of Jamdani.

At the time of the Mogul empire, Madhurapur and Jangalbadi were famous for this textile fabrication. But after a few decades, villages and regions like Madhupur and Jagalbadi were lost in dust due to the oppression and tyranny of Regal.

Even after the Mogul period, British rulers also tried to snatch the uniqueness and lessen the sparkling glory of this exquisite fabric. In 1947, after the partition, quite a large number of weavers moved to West Bengal from the root of Jamdani, Dhaka. This incident helped to develop a new jamdani market in India.

This elegant cloth had always overcome the barriers it faced during the time of the Moguls and the British. No matter how hard the time was for the producers of this fine textile, trading and exporting never stopped. In the time of British colonialism, vast amounts of jamdani muslin were exported to Europe from Bengal. It can be found in history that during the golden period of Jamdani, a piece of Dhakai Jamdani was sold for 400 bucks, whereas the price of eight-ounce rice was only 1 buck! James wise who was a civil surgeon and writer describes in his writing how precious Muslin and Dhakai were at that time. He wrote that, in 1787, a single piece muslin saree’s exporting price was 5 million bucks.

But time flies. Though nowadays the material, texture, and finishing of Dhakaijamdani are not the same as before, this textile carries its Individuality and acceptability even after 5 centuries.

Due to the geographical uniqueness of the Jamdani saree, it was included in GI (Geographical Indication) in 2016.

People Behind this Elegant Textile

People Behind this Elegant jamdani

Handloom doesn’t require anything but a unique group of creative people. As Jamdani is made without a power loom, weavers weave this gorgeous cloth by using a loom operated by their hands and feet. More than 1 million handloom workers are working behind this looming industry to produce some great fabrics like Jamdani, muslin, and others.

In Bangladesh, there are 3 types of weavers working behind Jamdani. The master weaver, assistant weaver & normal weaver.

The master weaver is the head of a weaving project. He is experienced in that work for many years. Other weavers called him ‘Ostad’.Master weavers work making the fabric and give training to the other weavers. Many assistant weavers work under the master weaver. They learn the smooth process of knitting jamdani fabric and gather the experience of work from their ostad. By working for a long time, they become Master weavers. Common weavers help them to do their work smoothly. they help to make colorful threads and use that for knitting and many other jobs.2 or 3 weavers work for 12 to 14 hours daily for a week to six months to knit a jamdani saree. All the weavers complete their role of making the aesthetic art of Fabric.

Making of Jamdani

This woven fabric has an extraordinary design of floral motifs and geometrical figures. Jamdani is made by following the complementary or supplementary weaving-weft technique. However, a non-structural weft produces ornamental motifs, which work side to side with the standard weft.

A classic weft usually helps in holding the warp threads together that creates a beautiful, pure woven fabric. At the same time, the supplementary weft adds thicker threads which make difficult patterns for Jamdani.

As the design makes jamdani different from muslin, this design is known as ‘handmade’ which is more individual than others.

The supplementary weft design is added individually by using hands. Besides the weft threads are interwoven into the warp with the help of thin bamboo sticks to work with each spool of cotton thread. The result is a master combination of beautiful noteworthy geometric patterns that show its beautiful existence on a glistening surface.

The patterns we see on a jamdani, are usually drawn on translucent graph paper and kept underneath the warp. The identical motifs or the floral designs are not sketched or drawn on the warp, rather than it is identified on the fabric by hand-weaving.

This fine muslin cloth has novel motifs that are woven on the warp is normally made with grey and white yarn. But nowadays it is made with a mixture of cotton and gold thread to enhance the beauty of this decorative fabric.

The Core fabric for Jamdani is unbleached cotton yarn and the deshi is woven using bleached cotton yarns so that a shadowy effect is created. The process is extremely time-consuming as it involves a tedious form of handloom art. The making of Jamdani involves the supplementary weft technique along with the standard woof technique. Sequentially, the base material is made with thicker threads used to create designs. Each of the supplementary weft motifs is then added manually by interlacing the weft threads with bamboo sticks using individual spools. This procedure results in vibrant patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface, which is a feature unique to Jamdani sarees.

The nylon yarn is smooth and the silk yarn of Jamdani is starched so it will be relatively uneven. Pure silk yarn is usually torn when pulled, and when burnt in a fire, it smells like hair.

Jamdani weaving is somewhat like tapestry work, where thick shuttles of colored, gold or silver threads are passed through the weft. Designs range from the “butidar”, where the entire fabric is scattered with floral sprays. At the end of the phenomenal creation, It is understood that jamdani weaving is an extremely skillful, artistic, laborious, and time-consuming process and it could take anywhere from a week to a year to complete a saree.

Variations of jamdani

The most popular form of jamdani fabric is the ‘Jamdani Saree’. Covered with fine yarn work and embroidery designs, this comfortable dress is very popular among Bengali women. The combination of tradition with history has increased the importance of this dress. Unique motifs, uses of different yarns & Regional diversities made it a world-famous fabric.

Diversities of Motifs

pure colorful cotton yarn

The most famous motifs of jamdani include butidar (small flowers), Kalka (paisley), fulwar (flowers arranged in straight rows), Panna Hajar (thousand emeralds), tersa (diagonal patterns), charkona (rectangular motifs), jalar (motifs evenly covering the entire saree) and duria (polka spots).

Variation of used yarn

There are three common types of jamdani in terms of used yarn:

1. Full-Cotton Jamdani – which is totally made with pure cotton yarn.

2. Half-silk jamdani – where the horizontal threads are silk and the vertical threads are cotton.

3. Full-silk jamdani – where the yarn on both ends is made of silk.

Regional differences

NameOriginSpecialty
Dhakai JamdaniBangladeshThe original and the finest of jamdani sarees with the most elaborate workmanship and time-consuming. These types of sarees are specially woven in Narayanganj and Dhaka. One such saree could take from 9 months to a year to weave.
Tangail JamdaniBangladeshWoven in the Tangail district, these sarees have traditional broad borders featuring lotus, light, leaf and fish scale motifs.
Shantipur JamdaniIndiaWoven in Shantipur, West Bengal, these jamdani sarees are similar to Tangail jamdanis. They have a fine texture and often, polish striped motifs decorate the saree.
Dhaniakhali JamdaniIndiaWith its origin in Dhaniakhali, West Bengal, these jamdani sarees have tighter weaves compared to the Tangail and Shantipur varieties. They are marked by bold colours and dark, contrasting borders.

Handwoven Vs Machine woven

Handwoven Vs Machine woven

Jamdani sari is fully handwoven. The design of the sari is very delicate, smooth, and perfect. The artisan weaves each yarn by twisting it by hand, no part of the yarn comes out. For this reason, it is very difficult to differentiate between the front part and the inner part of the Jamdani sari. The value of the yarn is meant by count. The threads of Hand-woven Jamdani sari are usually 32-250 counts The higher the yarn count, the thinner the yarn. And the thinner the yarn, the finer the work will be – which is the main feature of a good quality jamdani saree. Handwoven Jamdani sari threads are usually the more delicate the saree becomes, the higher the price. Cause Of the thinner yarn, it takes longer to weave a sari – so the price goes higher. The part of the jamdani sari that is kept at the waist, that part, that is, up to five and a half hands, no fringe is woven. Hand-knitted jamdani is light in weight and comfortable to wear.

On the other hand, Machine-woven sarees are designed exactly in imitation of Jamdani. Machine-woven jamdani does not require much time or effort. Therefore, the price is relatively low. The reverse threads of these saris are cut out. The yarn of the machine woven sari is 24-40 counts. The weaving of machine-woven saris is very dense and the whole part of that sari has borders all over. Without any hand touch, imitating the design of jamdani, the machine-woven saree is made of synthetic yarn. So these saris are heavy and rough.

Discussion

One of the attractions of women’s clothing is the Jamdani sari, which embodies the proverb, “Women’s aristocracy emerges in the Jamdani sari.”

Pricing

The price of the Jamdani saree varies depending on the quality of the yarn used, the fine workmanship, the quality of the lace, and the intricacy.

Each Jamdani sari is sold at a price ranging from Taka 1000 (13$) to Taka 20,000 (250$) and more. An Original Hand-woven saree’s price starts from Taka 3000 ( 28$).These sarees are also made on Order. Each customized sarees can cost up to Taka 2,00,000 (2500$) ‍and more. Besides, jamdani printed machine-woven saree prices start from a thousand taka.

Evaluation

After doing this very hardworking job, A master weaver or “ostad” earns about Tk 2,500(32$) to Tk 3,000(38$) per month only. As other weavers get much less, around Tk 1,600(20$) or less.

Impact

Many weavers do not want their children to come to the profession, preferring the more lucrative garments industry. Many weavers are changing their profession due to the financial crisis, and the new profession is being added to their life. Although Jamdani has the demand, the weavers are not getting fair prices due to the middlemen. The main obstacle in the way of revival of Jamdani is the lack of skilled and interested weavers. Weavers will not be interested in this labor-intensive handicraft unless adequate wages are ensured.

Machine-woven jamdanis are also feared in this industry. Using the machine, making sarees are very easy and fast. The machine only copies the design of Jamdani and prints it to the saree. But the real jamdani needs time to make and it needs great labor. The extensive use of machines is discouraging weavers from weaving handmade jamdani.

Initiatives taken

After the independence of Bangladesh, financial help was given to the weavers of Jamdani village Demra by the government. The government and many other institutes and organizations are trying to revive the ancient glory of Dhakai Jamdani. In a bid to avoid the middlemen, they are trying to set up a direct connection with the weavers. At present Jamdani Palli has been established in Mirpur and demra. At this time, Organizations like the National Institute of Design (NID), Shanto Mariam University of creative technology,  Radiant Institute of Design, and others are helping designers to create new Jamdani designs and motifs. Besides, they are inspiring people to invest in this very Potential field.

Initiatives should be taken

Jamdani Saree is a bearer of Bengali tradition. Jamdani, one of the oldest forms of the cottage industry in Bangladesh, was once a dying trade. But at present, it is a popular and promising industry. We need to take various and unique initiatives to enrich this tradition.

Due to the high price and huge demand for jamdani in the current market, this industry has gained new momentum and the demand for quality Jamdani Sarees has increased exponentially over the years in Bangladesh. There is a strong demand for this Fabric in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, England, U.S.A, and many other countries around the world. I think it is possible to sustain this industry by encouraging the weavers to weave this glorious fabric by paying them a fair wage right now.

All the famous and unforgettable designs and weaving of Jamdani sarees, which are almost extinct, need to be restored through research. The aristocracy and modernity of the industry should be maintained by combining modern motifs with the design and weaving techniques of the original jamdani. Necessary workshops should be organized for the development of the jamdani industry.

The people of the country have to be enthusiastic about wearing this indigenous dress. The Bengali tradition has to be represented by presenting themselves on the world stage by wearing indigenous dress. By progressing in each step, this industry will expand overall.

Conclusion

Jamdani is a symbol of aristocracy. The special fabric woven in the form of muslin cloth is a reflection of Bengali tradition.

In Bangladesh, the Jamdani saree is just not only a fabric but also a practice form of culture, art, and glory. The crafts of the fabric highlight our culture and uniqueness with quality.

Though it is a demanding sector, it’s still underrated. Lower income, implementation of technology (Woven machine), and many problems are integrating the gap of coordination.

But day by day, people are focusing on the innovative form of jamdani. its demand rate is higher. Besides, the government and some NGOs are coming in front to boost this promising industry. Many entrepreneurs are investing their idea and money in this industry.

If there is goodwill, we could be organized and build up a smoother process to export our product to achieve more foreign currencies. Besides, we must have to be remembered that, Jamdani is the Representative of our heritage and culture which makes us idiosyncratic to the world.

References

https://www.parinita.co.in/pages/jamdani

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamdani

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhakai

https://www.thedailystar.net/protection-of-jamdani-33014

https://bn.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E0%A6%9C%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%AE%E0%A6%A6%E0%A6%BE%E0%A6%A8%E0%A6%BF