Sarees from Bengal
When you think of Bengali saree, you are most likely to visualise diaphanous cotton in soft hues. But there’s more to sarees from this Eastern state in India than just Bengal cotton. There’s a large variety of styles both in cotton and in silk that is worth owning, and a beautiful saree from Bengal can easily be that heirloom piece that is passed on from one generation to the other.
Why is that? West Bengal has a rich tradition of different fabric weaving style. The art of saree weaving in this region is age old, and textile from this region has been travelling across the world as long back as 4th century BCE. Fine woven muslin was being sold in ancient Greece and Rome around that time and meanwhile by the 13th century CE, silk fabric made in Bengal, then called Ganges Silk, was being sold in Venice. In fact, during the Mughal era, the fabric weaving styles and evolution of the overall textile from Bengal took steam, and the state Bengal became the major silk fabric exporter during that phase.
The unique thing about the textile from Bengal is the way it has evolved. West Bengal with its 400 years of recorded history has been a melting pot of culture that has evolved from early Muslim and Hindu rulers, and later the British Raj. The partition of the region ensured that fine cotton weaving especially muslin continues to be popular in Bangladesh, while in West Bengal, towns like Malda and Murshidabad have emerged as the largest producers of silk – especially Tussar silk – that is popular across the country.
It is said that the water, soil and moist weather in the region was what helped produce the finest of cotton, and pure mulberry silk. The weavers evolved the style of using very fine and thin quality yarns in silk and in cotton to weave muslin cotton and silk fabric. The textile is so soft that it can pass through a small ring, and feel weightless and airy on the skin.
This fineness and the unique texture of both silk and cotton fabric has evolved the easy saree draping style of Bengal. The cotton sarees are known for their crispness and the structured draping it gives, and the silk can be very soft and fine like in Murshidabad silk or have a natural texture like in Tussar.
Take your pick from the sarees of Bengal
It is the quintessential cotton from Bengal. Fine and crisp, this is one of the lightest cotton sarees that is ideal to wear during sweaty summers. The crispness that comes from the starch used on the yarns during weaving gives the saree a hold, in melting summers. The saree is so breathable that it is the daily wear of women in Bengal.
The colour palette of Taant sarees is vibrant with reds, pinks, orange, yellow and green being the popular hues. Taant sarees are mostly plain with simple silk thread or gold zari work in the borders and pallav. The borders are in contrasting colour and can be very broad or thin with different motifs in them. If you are looking for a bit more style in your Taant saree, then pick one with the flower motif inspired buti design. This is achieved by weavers by using simple thread to embroider the pattern on the textile even as the weaver is weaving the saree.
Best of Taant sarees come from Shantipur, Tangail, Dhonekhali and Phulia. The sarees by themselves are very understated, but you can easily dress it up with simple gold or silver jewellery.
If you like to own sarees that have their own story to tell, then pick a Dhakai Jamdani. Almost like a fine work of art, Dhakai Jamdani sarees were the result of Mughal influence on Hindu weaving traditions. Jamdani – a word of Persian origin meaning flower vase – has exotic floral motifs woven into finest of muslin fabric. Due to the skills of the weavers in Bangladesh, Jamdani sarees were earlier exclusively being made in the region. However, post-partition, the Hindu weavers who came to West Bengal brought the art of Jamdani weaving to India.
A Jamdani saree is woven on a brocade loom using a weft process which is supplementary in nature and where the weaver uses a second weft to produce artistic designs even as the sheer fabric is woven on the regular warp and weft style. In fact, the cost of a Jamdani saree is high because of the painstaking way the weaver manually interlaces the second weft to create a design. The patterns, mostly floral and leaf motifs, seem to float on the sheer, almost transparent fabric and one interesting fact is that the saree can take anywhere between 1 month to 1 year to make depending on the work involved.
In the modern rendition of this exotic art, you will get Jamdani sarees with same coloured style where the colour of the motif and the base fabric are same, or half and a half where two complementary colours are woven together for a more colourful and light-hearted rendition.
Made in the small town of Baluchar, Baluchari silk sarees are one the finest works of textile art that every woman should have in their wardrobe. Worn by women in West Bengal to festive dos and high-end parties, Baluchari sarees are made from soft silk woven in Murshidabad district. The uniqueness of this saree is the intricate work done on the pallav and each pallav tells a different story inspired from the epics as well as Hindu mythology. When you buy a Baluchari, the price depends on the intricate work on the borders and Pallav. The more detailed the work, pricier the saree. The embroidery is done in three styles in this saree – one using resham thread mostly in contrasting colour to main silk body, meenakari where colourful threads are used to embroider, and swarnachari work where silver zari is blended with gold resham to give the embroidery a shine and dimension to the art.
Because it is made from finest of soft silks, the saree drapes beautifully, and the texture is truly luxurious. Baluchari sarees are often seen as heirloom piece and are valued by Bengali women across the globe.
If you are looking for that traditional Bengali Lal Paar saree, then you must pick up a Korial or Garad silk saree. Korial or Garad silk are basically undyed silk that retains the natural silk yarns colour. The traditional Bengali white saree with red border is made from this fabric.
Korial saree is basically a pure white saree with deep red border, often preferred by young married women in Bengal. The pallav and border are generally medium width with very basic gold thread work is done. The body is generally left plain in a Korial saree. It is a favourite pick for women during the popular Bengali festival Durga Puja.
Garad silk is a little mature version of the Korial. It is also undyed silk where the colour can range from white, off white and cream or beige. While Garad silk with the basic red border is most common, but nowadays, you will also find Garad with orange, green, brown and black borders. The borders are woven from coloured resham thread which gives the saree a very rich/classy look. Garad silk exudes an understated charm and gives the wearer a sophisticated look.
Who doesn’t want to own a Tussar silk saree? Every saree lover does. Tussar silk woven from silkworms on the Arjuna tree have a wonderful texture – the rawness of the silk gives it an exotic feel. Tussar silk in its natural form comes in colours like beige, cream, honey and tawny. In its natural state, it also has a golden sheen. The silk is pretty sturdy and has an interesting thermal property – feels cool in summer, and warm in winters.
A traditional Bengal Tussar silk is available in its natural shades with coloured pallav and border. This type of Tussar generally has paisley motifs woven or printed upon it and in a more modern rendition, the fabric is dyed in vibrant jewel tones of blues, greens, pinks and maroon while retaining its little rough texture. Tussar silk is also the basis for the popular Bengal Kantha Sarees. In the modern rendition, the dyed Tussar sarees have geometric patterns and colour block designs.
Why you should own sarees from Bengal
If you like understated glamour, then the Dhakai Jamdani or Taant sarees is an ideal choice. The sarees from Bengal look beautiful when worn during the festive season. This fineness and the unique texture of both silk and cotton fabric give you a beautiful drape and if you like a structured/crisp drape, then cotton sarees from Bengal should be your pick. The silk sarees with their simple body and detailed pallus give your wardrobe a rich, sophisticated tone.