Jamdani Sarees are fine muslin textile of Bengal, traditionally produced for centuries in South Rupshi of Narayanganj district in Bangladesh. Communities of artisans in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal in India and at Rupgang, Sonargaon, Shiddhirganj (Bangladesh), excel in this artistic skill.
Jamdani is typically woven using a mixture of cotton and gold thread. Popularly known as Dhakai Jamdani or simply Dhakai, this art of textile weaving reminds us of its roots in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The production of jamdani in historical times was patronized by imperial warrants of the Mughal emperors. The name, Jamdani, is of Persian origin and comes from the word “jam” meaning flower and “dani” meaning vase. The name is suggestive of the mesmerizing beautiful floral motifs on these sarees. Jamdani sarees, due to their diaphanous nature, drape beautifully and are supple to touch.
The earliest mention of Jamdani sarees can be found in Chanakya’s Arthashastra, dating back to the 3rd century BC! It refers to Jamdani as some fine cloth from “Bangla” and “Pundra” region. Significant mentions of Jamdani can also be found in the book of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, besides the accounts of Arab, Chinese and Italian travellers, and traders.
In the first half of the 19th century, James Taylor described the flowered Jamdani. The late 19th century saw the Anglicization of rooted Indian concepts and consequently, TN Mukharji referred to this fabric as Jamdani muslin.
Under British colonialism, the Bengali jamdani and muslin industries rapidly declined due to colonial import policies favouring industrially manufactured textiles. In more recent years, the tradition of wearing jamdani has witnessed a revival in Bangladesh as well as West Bengal.
The Dhakai Jamdanis portray multicoloured linear or floral motifs but the mango motif signifying fertility, growth and marital bliss is extremely popular. On the other hand, Tangail Jamdanis have single coloured borders or two to give it a ‘meenakari’ effect, (Jamdani motifs are created on the Tangail fabric).
Shantipur Jamdani has delicate checks, stripes or a texture made by coloured threads or a mixture of fine and thicker yarn. Lately, tie and dye designs are being done for the pallu (part of the saree draped over the shoulder). The Dhaiakhali Jamdani has a tighter weave with bold contrasting borders and low prices are now making them affordable.
The process is weaving Jamdani Sarees is extremely time-consuming as it involves a tedious form of hand looming.
Jamdani weaving is somewhat like tapestry work, where small shuttles of colored, gold or silver threads are passed through the weft. Designs range from the “butidar”, where the entire saree is scattered with floral sprays, to diagonally-striped floral sprays or the “tercha” and a network of floral motifs called “jhalar”.
The base fabric for Jamdani consists of unbleached cotton yarn while the design is woven using bleached cotton yarns so that a light-and-dark effect is created. The making of Jamdani involves the supplementary weft technique along with the standard weft technique. With the latter, the base sheer material is made on which thicker threads on used to create designs. Each of the supplementary weft motif is then added manually by interlacing the weft threads with fine bamboo sticks using individual spools. The whole process results in the vibrant patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface, which is a feature unique to Jamdani sarees.