History of Saree in West Bengal
- Posted on 26 Sep, 2022
- | Category- Saree
Are you searching for the history of Saree? Despite the flourishing modern trends in clothes, Bengal seems to keep its love for sarees alive and unchanged over the years. It has been really encouraged and developed by the artistic nature of its people. How Bengal developed its tradition of saree weaving and birthed the pride of India is something worth exploring. So, here we are, keeping the focus on the matter of six yards of grace and elegance. Why are you waiting for? Buy exclusive saree online in Kolkata.
Saree’s History in Bengal
Tracing back the history of sarees, one can find Bengal synonymous with the rich tradition of weaving. Its history can be traced back to the 15th century in Shantipur in Nadia district in West Bengal. It experienced flourishing and diversification in Bengal during the Mughal period referring to the 16th and 18th centuries. The place went through changes of rule.
But, the practice of weaving saree never faced a setback or great blow. The royal patronage of Mughal emperors helped in blossoming the art of weaving Tant, Muslin, and Jamdani.
Among these three, Tant sarees require a special mention. Saree’s history will remain untold if we don’t talk about Tant, the hallmark pride of Bengal. It remains an inseparable part of Bengali tradition, and its history carries interesting stories. You will indeed feel proud both as a Bengali and Indian if you know how the British failed to destroy the flourishing “Tant Shilpa” of Bengal.
Unlike the Mughal emperors, the British were not supportive of the Tant industry in Bengal. Making space in the Indian or Bengal market for British textile goods required destroying Bengal’s weaving industry. To promote the textile industry of Manchester, they adopted several sinister strategies. There are even claims of cutting off the fingers of Bengal weavers. However, they still failed to abolish the weaving industry, including Tant sarees.
Therefore, it is definitely something that stood the test of time. Importantly, it shows the expertise and passion of weaving, which thrived without any latest technological innovation. It reflects the ancient weaving technique that came during the 15th century.
Partition and the History of Sarees:
Interestingly, the period following the partition in 1947 went through mixing of cultures. Bangladeshi weavers traveling to India settled in Bengal. They found their home in Phulia, Hooghly, and Bardhaman. Needless to say, they brought their craftsmanship and weaving traditions with them. Over time, their style of weaving and skills flourished and gave Bengal its signature saree. This is what later gave rise to variations in Tant.
These sarees are actually the outcome of influences of Hindu religion and Bengali flair for art. Over the changing times, you will find the impacts of modern trends on Tant. But, it still remains a sustainable and dedicated initiative. Moreover, Tant not only serves as a means for glamorizing women, but it also serves as a strategy for keeping the Bengal economy stable. This is the second most important livelihood of the region after agriculture. Even in times of replicating designs in the fashion industry and falling economy, it has kept the economy running.
The Revival of Kantha Sarees:
Moving away from the fascinating history of Tant sarees, the 20th century saw the revival of Kantha by the daughter-in-law of Rabindranath Tagore. But, it suffered a setback during the Indian Partition. Following the Bangladesh Liberation War, it entered the mainstream market through rebirth. If we look into the origin, it never started as a type of saree. Kantha basically refers to an embroidery pattern having old cloth pieces sewn together to form quilts.
It became so popular that saree-makers adopted this pattern. In sarees, it refers to a stitching pattern. The earliest varieties of these have simple running stitches, like the one used to join old clothes. But, over time, it saw more use of elaborate patterns. It is surely not as majestic as Baluchari or Benarasi. But, Kantha taught the art of being thrifty. Also, its simplicity gives room for adding many interesting embroidery designs.
Apart from Kantha, the 20th century saw the emergence of “midnight blue Neelambari Saree.” Along with new trends in design patterns, the weaving industry became blessed with the availability of better machines. It adopted modern techniques like the use of Jacquard looms. But, textile machines have been in use since the 18th century. However, better machines became widespread during the 20th century.
History of Motifs and Dyes in Sarees:
Coming to the motifs and dyes used for sarees, their history bears many remarkable changes. The changes are aligned with the timeline of rulers in Bengal. Most commonly, sarees, irrespective of their time of origin, seem to carry floral motifs. Jamdani carries large motifs at the meeting point of pallu and borders. The body part has smaller motifs. On the other hand, Baluchari carries large motifs surrounded by designs inspired by everyday life.
Also, it carried motifs reflecting the sociopolitical conditions. It is evident in the colonial patterns. Moreover, the pallus and borders later carried designs inspired by Vande Mataram. Kantha has a variety of motifs, starting from human figures to intricate designs. However, traditional Tant has simple motifs.
The dye used in coloring the threads gives a vibrant appearance to sarees. The Mughal period saw the use of more than five hundred natural dyes. Tant has been employing an extensive dyeing process for cotton. Kantha sarees are known for their use of dyed threads. However, weaving of Garad has been using non-dyed silk fabric.
From the 15th Century to Modern Times: How Saree has Changed Its Style?
The history of saree in Bengal will remain unexplored if we don’t venture into its draping style. Tracing back the time, you are supposed to expect a modest way of wearing sarees. But, modesty is much like this traditional wear- influenced by time, religion and culture. Earlier, women opted not to cover the upper portion of their bodies. Even this could be observed in Southern India.
The intermixing of Indian culture with Greek, Mughal, and Portuguese heavily influenced the women’s attire. Moreover, Mughal rule during the 16th and 17th centuries popularized the salwar kameez. Coming to Bengal specifically, earlier times saw women wearing sarees without blouses. The outfit was well-suited for the hot climate of Bengal. During winter or leaving their residence, they would drape a shawl. So, how did we go from going bare-breasted to having a blouse as a must-have with a saree?
The answer largely lies in how we borrowed the definition of modesty from the British people. The practice of wearing no blouse with this traditional wear deviated from the dressing rules of the Victorian era. However, the common folks in Bengal were neither economically nor intellectually in a place to worry about what the so-called civilized British women were wearing.
Change in Draping Sarees Got Introduced:
But, the women from families who intermingled with foreigners in social settings got affected. Their choices got termed as “indecent clothing.” Like, Jnanadanandini Devi, the wife of Satyendranath Tagore, was not allowed to enter clubs for wearing the saree without any blouse or shirt. She later adopted the Bombay style. She moreover introduced civil and modest attire on returning from the Bombay tour.
Her style became widespread in Brahmo and non-Brahmo samaj. She even popularized the use of petticoats, blouses, and jackets with sarees. This made the impact of British norms prominent on women’s attire in Bengal. Women from other aristocratic families in Bengal adopted the style of Jnanadanandini Devi. It popularized the Victorian norm.
Furthermore, the close friend of Jnanadanandini, Suniti Devi (Coochbihar’s Maharani), jazzed up the glamour factor of sarees. She simplified the process of placing a shoulder drape by using a broach. Also, she started using stylish accessories like Spanish mantilla-like clothes on her head.
Victorian Decency in Wearing Sarees:
The practice of adopting “Victorian” decency soon spread to lower-middle and struggling classes. However, they did not use any glamorizing factor. From the elite class of Bengal, the practice of wearing blouses and draping styles did spread to the other classes. With time, the British influences grew more pronounced. Women became more experimental with blouse styles and patterns.
Apart from Jnanadanandini and Suniti Devi, Kadambari Devi played a role in influencing the pattern of wearing sarees. She introduced the concept of draping these six yards of elegance with pleats. Earlier, women used to wear sarees without any proper pleat. Over time, it became a familiar style.
The styles of draping/wearing sarees adopted by aristocratic families like the Tagore family got advertised in newspapers. It heavily influenced the commoners. As we can see, what we have today as the norm of wearing a saree is the outcome of getting influenced by time and external culture.
Modern time has been adopting more styles and innovations. But, what we have today lies its roots in the intermingling of the aristocratic Bengal families and British people. We might found a different way of draping without the influence of the Victorian era. You can surely experiment and have your preferred way of draping this attire. After all, your comfort gets to have the last say.
Is Saree Still the Ultimate Choice for Women?
Earlier, the saree was the ultimate choice of regular clothing for women in Bengal (and elsewhere in India). But, as time passed away, it failed to stand the test of time. As evident from what you can see, Indian women now give priority to clothes that give them more comfort and ease of moving.
However, lighter varieties of sarees like Kota and organza give you comfort. Still, draping these six yards of elegance is a bit time-consuming compared to wearing western clothes. It drags down the process of getting ready when you are going out for office or errands. You will spot hardly any woman in a saree while making a commute to the office.
But, Indian or Bengali women still prefer saree for occasions ranging from birthday parties to festive gatherings. During weddings, it seems like the go-to option. It’s like selecting a saree as wedding wear solves half of your worries about how you will look. You can shop for the top wedding saree collection 2022 in Ashmi’s Creations. It also has a collection of “amazing saree collection in Kolkata 2022”. Starting from Cotton to Bangalore silk, it has got you covered. Also, you can take your pick from Swarnochori to Joltorongo.
How You Can Keep the Tradition of Saree Alive
Everyone agrees, hands down, that something as traditional as a saree may not be suitable for daily errands/work. But, even someone who feels deeply about the benefits of not wearing a saree can rely on it during special occasions. Yes, the choice of clothing is indeed personal.
But, Western wear during Durga puja may not make you look as classy as a saree does. Most importantly, there are a great number of varieties that give you elegance yet comfort. Moreover, varieties of traditional latest saree in Kolkata – help you make a style statement. You can shop at your heart’s content from online stores like Ashmi’s Creations which provide the latest traditional saree for sale.
Also, you can find your options in something as simple as Tant Sarees. These varieties are omnipresent, starting from your grandma’s collection to your friend’s latest Puja collection. Even during summer, they are comfortable to wear. They are grabbing the attention of every generation, from gen-z to Millennials. They are gorgeous yet subtle. So, if you are looking for making a fashion statement during Durga puja, you can surely opt for Tant. Why not make a fashion statement using the history of the place from where you belong?
If you are a non-regular buyer of sarees, you must be questioning, “where can I find a handloom store near me/ silk saree shop near me in Kolkata?” If you are inclined towards heavy design, you can opt for Jamdani. If you harbor a knack for experimentation, you can take your pick from Kantha-stitched silk sarees. Even Murshidabad Silk is a great choice.
Whether you ask your grandparents or search on Google, you will find many interesting yet elegant varieties of saree from Bengal. Once you start wearing sarees, you will find its draping is not as tough as it seems. All you need is willpower to experiment and a willingness to shift a bit from western comfort. You can find wide varieties from Ashmi’s Creation that gives both comfort and grace, shop now saree in Kolkata.