Jamdani sarees or Dhakai sarees, as they are more commonly known, are a part of the rich culture and heritage of Bangladesh. It originated from the district of Narayanganj in Bangladesh where this textile industry has bloomed and blossomed over the centuries. Due to British colonialism, the industry suffered immensely as the colonial readymade industrial textile started to take over the market. But through all the trials and tribulations this industry has still been able to hold on to its beauty, skill and heritage as it is now considered an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Jamdani, the word is an amalgamation of two words ‘jam’ meaning flower and ’dani’ meaning vase. The words are taken from the Persian language, which shows its cross cultural history. One very important fact is that they were originally known as Dhakai sarees but with the advent of the Mughals in India the term Jamdani was used for the same sarees as they were a part of the Mughal Royal Court Language.
Jamdani Sarees or Dhakai Jamdani Sarees were made from a handloom woven cotton fabric requiring a very intensive labor form of weaving these sarees whereby exquisite floral motifs and designs were displayed.
Jamdani sarees were woven using a loom brocade with a supplementary weft technique of weaving. Even though they have lost their legendary fineness due to the British colonial oppression of the pre-independence era, they still continue to thrive independently as some of the weavers and artisans fled to India after the partition of India in 1947 and took refuge in Samudragarh and Fulia in the state of West Bengal.
For the weaving of Jamdani sarees the pattern is first pinned beneath the warp threads.Then the artistic motifs are created by a non-structural weft.The warp threads however, are held by a standard weft. This in turn is used to create the cloth and the supplementary weft is used to create the intricate patterns and motifs that we see in the sarees. The supplementary weft’s motif is added separately by interlacing the weft threads on fine bamboo sticks.These create a complex pattern on the cloth that appears to float on a shimmering surface. This process is very intricate requiring exceptional skill and craftsmanship. The Jamdani saree could take anywhere between a month or a year to complete.
Types of Jamdani Sarees
Jamdani Sarees vary based on their origin and the motifs on them.
Some of the popular motifs used in Jamdani sarees are:
- Panna Hajar (Thousand Emeralds)
- Kalka (Paisley)
- Butidar (Small Flowers)
- Tesra (Diagonal Patterns)
- Fulwar (Flowers arranged in straight rows)
- Charkona (Rectangular motifs)
- Duria (Polka spots)
- Jalar (motifs evenly covering the entire length of the saree)
Some of the most notable centers of Jamdani production are:
- Dhakai Jamdani: These are considered the earliest form of Jamdani Sarees available with the highest and the most intricate level of craftsmanship. A single saree could take anywhere between nine months to a year to make.
- Tangail Jamdani: These are produced in the Tangail district of Bangladesh and are unique in its featuring broad and beautiful motifs mostly in floral shapes such as lotuses. Other types of motifs used in these sarees are lamps and fish scale designs.
- Shantipur Jamdani: These are produced in India in the district of Shantipur in West Bengal being quite similar to Tangail Jamdani sarees featuring big motifs and broad designs as well. However, they set themselves apart by having a fine texture and striped motifs which can help identify them.
- Dhaniakhali Jamdani: These are also produced in West Bengal (India) in the district of Dhaniakhali. They are different from Tangail and Shantipur Jamdani as they feature a tighter weave and are marked with bold and contrasting colors for the borders and the insides of the sarees.
Then and Now
Back in the day, Jamdani sarees were made using pure cotton wherein the more extensive the weave the lighter the saree and more expensive. Another typicality of Jamdani sarees was that they were woven in mostly white or shades of white.
With the ongoing years the weaving industry has also been updated. Today’s Jamdani sarees are made with a blend of cotton and silk and also can be made purely with silk. Along with that, more vibrant colors are being used and instead of classical motifs the weavers are using contemporary designs with a glossy finish to the sarees.