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On A Saree Trail: Tale of a Baluchari

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My Bishnupur trail did not just end with the famous terracotta temples or Rash Mancha. It was also about the Baluchari Sarees, that unfortunately never got the status like Benarasi, but have enough potential to even excel a Dhakai muslin! Bishnupurwas a prominent seat of art and culture under the Malla kings. But their art did not get restricted to the terracotta bricks of old temples, they transcended to the sarees too along with art forms imported by weavers of Murshidabad who migrated to this area after losing lands to the mighty Bhagirathi.

 

The history of Baluchari Saree is as interesting as the Rarh region itself. It dates back to18th century, when Nawab Murshidquli Khan tried to bring in rural craftsmanship into mainstream textiles. By then, Murshidabad’s muslin had already come to the limelight. He had a special craze for the creativity of rural people and the traditional crafts of his regime. From Murshidabad, the artistic designs of Baluchari came to Bishnupur. My visit to a weaver’s studio, brought out this truth. Most weavers were from Murshidabad and they were all young Muslim men busy weaving stories of  Ramayana and Mahabharata. The origin of Balucharisarees is stated to be in a very small village named Balucharon the banks of river Bhagirathi. The word Baluchari itself means sandy river bank. The Bhagirathi river remained the main waterway for transportation of various products from one part of Bengal to another during that period.

 

In later years, artist Subho Thakur helped re-cultivate the unique tradition of Baluchari crafts. He came into contact with a Master Weaver named Akshay Kumar Das of Bishnupur, and invited him to his centre. It was Subho Thakur who inspired  Das to pick up the technique of Jacquard weaving. Das worked hard and mastered the weaving of Baluchari on their looms and returned to Bishnupur after some time. Thus, the Baluchari craft survived due to its shifting to Bishnupur from Murshidabad during the British rule.

 

 

Artistic designs of Baluchari sarees mostly depict mythological stories,similar to that commonly found on the temples of Bishnupur. They are distinguished for their elaborate borders and fabulous pallus. The borders are ornamental and surround Kalka motifs within it. A series of figures are designed in rows and motifs, which are woven diagonally. Mostly the motif designs are in four alternative colours on a shaded background. The most popular colours of Baluchari saree designs include red, green, white, blue and yellow. Initially these motifs were woven on silver jari, which has subsequently been replaced by various shining threads. The theme of Baluchari weaving remains focused to mythological stories and folk tales. Some of the designs include tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Motifs are interspersed with flowering bunches, animals, architectural scenes, women riding horse with a rose in one hand, pleasure boat, women smoking ‘huccah’ etc.

Manufacturing a Baluchari sari is a time-consuming process. It requires extremely good craftsmanship and takes around a week to weave one saree. These are hand woven and use the purest of yarns depending on the material. These were originally woven only using the purest of silk threads, however, these days cotton fabric is also used. The colors used these days while weaving Baluchari saris are bright and cheerful. A lot of environment-friendly items such asbanana plant stems, bamboo trees and natural products like flower dye, fruits dye, neem leaves, turmeric leaves and dried twigs are used in the weaving process.