When it comes to the arts, culture, music, craft and handloom West Bengal scores high. Despite lack of funds and proper infrastructure, scores of artists and artisans are working relentlessly to keep the legacy alive.
Bengal’s handloom and textile industry is well known. Before Independence, muslin, a type of finely-woven cotton fabric, which is believed to have originated in Bengal, attracted Europeans who exported the fine cloth. In recent times, there has been a revival of muslin. Arup Rakshit, who has been working towards reviving Bengal muslin jamdani and khadi in Memari village in Bardhaman district of West Bengal for the past few years, will be showcasing Bengal khadi weaves at an exhibition at dãram, The Handloom Store, in the city. The exhibition starts today.
Rakshit, who leads and manages M G Gramodyog Sewa Sansthan, aims at providing equitable returns to all the stakeholders, including farmers, spinners, dyers and weavers. At the exhibition, sarees, stoles, fabrics and garments will be showcased.
Rakshit, who works with 130 spinners and 42 weavers and aims at providing a livelihood to skilled rural artisans, says, “Desi cotton and tussar silk are used to weave the entire range of khadi products. Both desi cotton and silk yarns are hand spun and then woven by hand. One of the highlights of the exhibition is Bengal muslin sarees and stoles woven in jamdani (extra weft) technique with fine counts of (100s, 200s, 300s, 400s and 500s) cotton yarn spun by hand.”
When asked what is so unique about Bengal’s muslin which was once a thread between India and Europe, Rakshit says that the muslin made in Bengal is hand spun with 500 counts whereas other regions producing it make it with 60-80 count, hence Bengal’s muslin is a lot more fine, delicate and soft.
“The climate of the state (humidity) helps the threads to remain soft even when dry, thus giving a softer feel to the fabric. Other states which produce muslin have a warm, dry weather that leads to breakage of the threads. Another reason why Bengal has a distinct muslin variety is because of the fact that women make them in mud houses that gives the weave a delicate touch. The eating habit of people of Bengal also contributes to the rich weave. The diet consisting of rice, fish and mustard oil is believed to give good eyesight and ward off any joint ailments, which are important skills to weave good muslin cloth,” says Rakshit adding that the finest yarn is found in Bardhaman and Nandiya districts of West Bengal.
According to him, originally, muslin which was also called mulmul, was spun with 1800 counts and done at wee hours (2.30 am) when the cool breeze didn’t take away moisture from the yarn.
Talking about the challenges, Rakshit says that most of the weavers are about 60 years of age and aren’t willing to accept change. And the younger, educated lot are not interested in weaving. “If a designer or a design institute reaches out to the weavers and assigns them designs that are relevant today, they are unable to learn and adapt. Besides, not many youngsters are willing to take up weaving. Educated youngsters should change their outlook towards weaving, only then things will improve. Weaving needs to looked at as a career and a respectable profession. Even students at big design institutes are unaware of the art of weaving,” he points out.
Rakshit is striving hard to not just provide opportunities to weavers but also trying to make cotton farming better in Bengal.
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The exhibition Bengal Khadi is being held at dãram, Nilaya, A-1, Jayanti Apts, Senapati Bapat Road, from July 19-22, between 11 am and 8 pm