Baluchari Sarees are a part of the Bengali culture as they originate from the village of Baluchar in Murshidabad from where they derive this name.These intricately woven, 7 ft long pieces of fine silk are woven with motifs and murals depicting the life and culture of early life in Bengal.These motifs and murals showthe mythological stories of Hinduism in the ‘pallu’ of the saree. It takes immense labor and skill to make these sarees. It requires at least a week to complete one saree.
Baluchari Sarees have a rich history in Bengal. They were first seen in Bengal in the 18th century when the nawab of Bengal, Murshidkuli Khan brought along the skill/art from Dhaka in today’s Bangladesh, to the small village of Baluchar in Murshidabad. In the beginning, the weavers mainly focused on portraying the royalty on the sarees.These murals show women smoking hookahs and nawabs taking carriage rides.The village was situated on the banks of the Bhagirathi River, which overflowed thus causing its submergence underwater. Following this the industry shifted to Bishnupur village, in the district of Bankura in Bengal, during the 19th century.The trade flourished for quite some time in Bishnupur but it was brought practically to a standstill by the British who, out of jealousy of not being able to match up with the quality of the Indian craftsmen, did everything in their power to curb the industry and were successful in doing so.
However, in the late twentieth century, with great artists like Subho Thakur the art of weaving Baluchari Sarees was revived. He did so by helping in the invention of a new technique called Jacquard weaving, which helped the weavers greatly and reduced the time required to finish one saree. In the modern or the revival era of Baluchari sarees the artists focused more on the mythological epics and Hindu texts for designing the sarees. The motifs used were mainly focused on portraying the ancient Hindu culture and mythology.This is continued to this day by the weavers, that still reside in the village of Bishnupur.
How it’s Made
Baluchari Sarees, at the time of their origin, were woven in the traditional jala looms in Murshidabad. In this process the reference design (jala) was first made which was used as the master design copy. Many repetitions of it were produced for weaving the saree. This took an extraordinary amount of time however, leading to a beautiful piece of cloth with very intricate and artistic designs that were worth the time and effort spent on making it.
However, in the revival era of Baluchari Sarees, the traditional jala looms were replaced by a new technique called the Jacquard weaving technique, where the original design was first mapped on a graph paper and then punched into cards accordingly. These cards are then arranged and sewn together and finally fed to the Jacquard machine which simplified the weaving process greatly. This resulted in the simplification of the method and also reduced the time taken to weave a Baluchari saree from 15-16 weeks to a mere 1-2 weeks. However, the downside of the new technology was that the designs were no longer as intricate as the earlier eras but this has been taken as the new standard and Baluchari Sarees till this day follow this process of production.
Types of Baluchari Sarees
Baluchari Sarees do not have broad categories in terms of area of origin or techniques used in weaving, as they are pretty standard in almost any region.These sarees are differentiated on the basis of the type of threads used in the weaving of these sarees.They are as follows:
- Baluchari (Resham): These, for the lack of a better word, can be said as the budget option of Baluchari sarees as they use a single color thread to do all the designs. They use a single colored Resham thread to make all the designs in the saree.
- Baluchari (Meenakari): These sarees use 2 colored Resham threads for making the designs on the sarees along with attractive Meenakari work that adds brightness to the designs and brings light to the patterns to a great extent.
- Swarnachari (Baluchari in Gold): These sarees feature the most ornate gold and silver color threads,which,when added to the Meenakari work in a different color thread adds more brightness and illumination to the patterns in the saree.
The different threads used in the saree with the intricacies in the patterns and the designs cause the sarees to have different price points.