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Textiles > Saris > An Art Perfected Over Centuries
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An Art Perfected Over Centuries

An Art Perfected Over Centuries

An Art Perfected Over Centuries

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An Art Perfected Over Centuries

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This textile length, endowed with stunning beauty, such as a loom produces once in years, is a sari from Baluchar, one of the foremost centres of classical styles of textile weaving in India. The name of township apart, Baluchar defines now for long in the textile geography of India a region around Murshidabad, in north-east of West Bengal close to Bangladesh border. A Baluchari sari underlines the Bengal weavers’ distinction which matured over centuries. Like Banarasi brocade, Patola, Ekat, Vichitrapuri, Kanjivaram, Chanderi, Paithani and others, Baluchar brocade is a rare and highly prestigious form of sari. Though manufactured of wild silk fibre, with every ingredient of gum and other toughening agents born of secretion deleted in the process the silk of this textile has obtained rare softness and delicacy, besides unique lustre, such as is only sometimes seen in carded and spun silks, and all without adversely affecting the yarn’s strength and durability. Besides the fibre’s glow, its scarlet dye adds further to its richness and gorgeous look. Rendered in fine weaves, wefts and warps in equal number, strengthening it length and breadth wise, this sari has been crafted not only to long endure but also to reveal rare fineness, elegance and great sophistication.

A design-pattern, usually illustrating a legend, myth, folk, convention, or some aspect of the day-today life, is the usual thrust of a Baluchari sari. Often it has on its various parts, border, field and pallu, various stages of one legend or episode, or a series of episodes related to one legend; however, this sari seems to have diversified the range of its pictures, some appearing to be completely aesthetic, not scriptural, or mythical. Not a mere component of ensemble, this textile focuses on its pictures with a portraitist’s eye arresting its figures in their emotional bearing, and all with the goldsmith’s precision and fineness of details. This sari befits the expression sometimes made in relation to a Baluchari sari : ‘a Baluchar sari is a mobile picture gallery’. In this sari the arts of the weaver and the portraitist truly combine.

All three segments of this magnificent sari : borders, pallu and field, are exquisitely brocaded using fine lustrous silk thread combined with as fine gold zari. The border portrays the legendary beauty Shakuntala, foster daughter of sage Kanva, consort of king Dushyanta and the mother of Bharata who gave this land his name Bharatavarsha. When at the hermitage of sage Kanva, a deer, out of love for her, would walk to her and she would feed it with fresh leaves. Dear to all animals, peacocks and others would watch her acts of kindness. It is this identity of Shakuntala that the craftsman of this sari has chosen to design its border. The young lady, in blouse-like green upper wear and golden ‘antariya’ – lower wear, is seated leaning backwards supported on her left hand, and with her right, is feeding a deer. From behind her, a peacock with feathered tail and a pair of extra green wings is watching her. A tree-form defines the forest and sage Kanva’s hermitage.

The sari’s pallu, its most artistic aspect revealing rare magnificence, has been distributed into seven horizontal stripes, the fourth in the central one, being double in breadth. The first, one on the extreme end, and the seventh, on the other end towards the field, have been designed with two female musicians. The lady playing on the vina – lyre, in an elevated position, is obviously a princess, while the other, giving her company on a double drum, is her help. The scene has been designed with palatial setting. The vina, the lady is playing on, has a peacock head, defining the musician imperial status. The second, and the sixth, portray a young lady with a pitcher in hand advancing towards a plant, obviously for watering it, but suddenly an antelope blocks her path. It is for sure Shakuntala’s figure. In the play of Kalidasa, the third century Sanskrit playwright, an antelope blocks Shakuntala’s passage when she is leaving the hermitage for going to her husband king Dushyanta.

The third, and the fifth, depict a female dancer giving dance performance. Her figure has been framed within an arched window. She has her right leg lifted in a dance move. She is holding a flower in her right hand, perhaps revealing one of the dance emotions, while her left hand is in a gesture of dance. The panel also portrays a dancing peacock giving her company. The fourth and the central one, with the space doubled, except both ends each of which has been divided into two cubes and woven with the same motifs as comprise the third and the fifth strips, that is, the dancer’s figure in the arched window, portrays, in double size, the figures of two dancers, a male and a female, with bells on their feet, though while the female dancer is in a posture of dance, the male seems to be in respite. He has his left hand on the lady’s shoulders as if giving her support. Both figures have been placed in a palatial pavilion topped with a Shrimukha type motif flanked by winged nymphs. Above these seven bands there is an extra strip comprising large size paisleys.

Besides tiny ‘alpana’ motifs strewn in between, the field has been adorned with a female wanderer holding with her right hand a vina on her shoulders, while in her left, she is carrying a rosary. She seems to be desperate in separation and the same reveals from her tired strides and in her entire being. She is not playing on her instrument. Instead of, she seems to have broken its strings in pain and despair. The ingenious weaver has most intelligently and minutely woven the broken strings of her vina, like rain-drops falling on her both sides, something which even a portraitist would not think of. This female wanderer is actually the depiction of Ragini Todi, a popular theme of Indian medieval painting known as Ragamala paintings. A love-longing heroine, Todi wanders in the forest in desperation carrying her vina in hand. Hearing her painful melody antelopes gather around her in sympathy. The weaver has deleted this illustrative part as it could not be a feature of the motif adorning the field, though by adding broken strings and the lady’s desperation he has appropriately compensated it.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

Primary Color Pantone 18-1444 TPX (Tandori Spice)

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