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  • Mashiat Mutmainnah

Jamdani: How Bengal's Best Heirloom Is Unraveling Away

Thick spools of gold, silver or bold colors juxtaposed against a delicate base as ornate, geometric florals.

For Bengali women, a Jamdani saree is not only an integral part of their closet but also a part of their childhood. It is an heirloom passed down from mothers to daughters.

As girls drape their first Jamdani over their shoulders, it is a vision long fulfilled, a milestone completed , a coming of age.

Descended from fine cotton fabrics infused with Islamic motifs and colours, Jamdani originated in Bangladesh’s Narayanganj district. It blossomed under Mughal Emperor Jhangir during the 17th century into the figured muslin.

Jamdani, just like poetry, became an embedded part of society, draped by both elite men and women. They called it Shabnam( evening dew) and Abn-e-rawan (running water) to describe its unparalleled beauty.

As The Jamdani industry flourished under Mughal Rule, it positioned Dhaka as the foremost centre of the world’s textile industry.

The complex weaving technique is the true essence of Jamdani; rich floral motifs single handedly traversed through the finest, lightst muslin threads.

Jamdani uses a discontinuous wefting technique; the weaver has around 200 discontinuous weft threads laid out. Heshas to pick the right weft thread to traverse it over and under the warp threads one by one.

It can take over 6 months to 3 years to finish one saree.

The Jamdani industry has been in continuous decline since 1887. The British East India company issued permits to prevent wevers from taking on private work. Weavers had to produce Jamdani at lower prices and compromised quality, with cheaper yarn brought over from Europe.

The fall of the Mughals also resulted in a loss of patrons who were invested in flourishing the cultural richness of Jamdani.

So how do we preserve an industry so integral to the Bengali identity? We develop programs where young weavers can take on the legacy of master weavers whilst incorporating new designs, palettes and sustainability.

We can support brands like Aranya, who are reviving the authentic practice of Jamdani with fair wages and proper working conditions for weavers. At tehs ame time, we can also celebrate weavers by attending exhibits such as the Jamdani Festival, which showcases original 19th century Jamdanis and stages live weaving demos.

Jamdani is a an embedded part of Bengali culture that is slowly fading away. But with awareness and action, we can not only preserve it but also share its forgotten glory with the rest of the world.

All images are licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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