The embroidery that transformed this silk length into an effulgent piece of ensemble has been rendered using running stitches, the simplest in the entire range of stitches used for embroidering textiles. The tradition of embroidering textiles using such running stitches, a specialty of womenfolk of Bihar and Bengal in India, and in entire Bangladesh, is popularly known as Kantha. In Kantha tradition, whatever the form or arrangement, it is embroidered by using running stitches. Kantha is outstanding in illustrating legends through the motifs that it discovers in its stitches. The term ‘Kantha’ has its root in the Sanskrit term ‘Kontha’ meaning rags. Later, Kontha became the name of the textile obtained by joining a number of such rags, and subsequently, the name of stitching technique. As the mythical tradition has it, Buddha and his disciples used only old textiles that people discarded as not being usable any longer. Sewn with simple running stitches these ‘konthas’ were Buddha’s, and his disciples’ sole ensembles. This suggests that Kantha, or ‘kontha’, had attained during the days of the Buddha himself a respectable place in the art of textile stitching. The practice of making quilts by joining old saris is still live among all tribes of India and in most of the poverty-ridden regions of rural India, Bihar, Bengal, and Orissa in particular.
Though the patterns of leaves and of some of the flowers are identical, the embroiderer has used two different plans, one for embroidering the border : the four edges of the textile, and the other, for embroidering the field. He has used a uniform pattern comprising a meandering course of multi-coloured leaves, and two forms of styled flowers, one looking like lotus, and other, shaped like a leaf of fan palm, contained within a linear frame consisting of three lines, which running across the whole length of the border on all four sides defines its edges. The field has been adorned with a massive tree motif which radiates out of a large lotus rising from under the ocean. A linear course with waving contours rendered in the same color as the lotus running across its centre, fish-like floating motifs under it and a tree lying along the bottom line suggestive of the vegetation that characterizes ocean’s depth aptly define the ocean from under which the lotus rises.
The tree motif, as it rises, branches to have a rounded middle part, that is, the main trunk, branching into two, rises to its apex forming upwards circles, and semi-circular flanking branches on either side, both having invert-curves, as also outward. Out of these branches radiate a number of twigs and shoots each of which terminates with a flower, or rather a palmette. A rising sun-like motif defines the point where the tree-trunk branches into two parts. As if paying homage to the rising sun, their life-giving patron, two flowers, carried on curved stems, bow over it. A little above the sun motif, defining the junction of two upwards circles, there is a large rounded flower motif. The tree has perching on its top a pair of peacocks, stylised and strangely coloured in blue, red, yellow and black for eyes. The usual folk perception, on one tree there rise flowers of many species and colours, though the Chinar leaf pattern is almost uniform. As is usual in Kantha tradition of embroidery, the tree, rising out of the lotus and the water under it that symbolise beauty, energy and fertility, couching the rising sun, and giving forth various species of flowers, and above everything, sheltering the peacock pair : the life in its absolute form, seems to symbolise the cosmos : the cosmic tree, with its roots in the ocean, its rise across the earth, and the apex, holding the sky and upholding the life in its totality.
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 14-1118 -TPX Beige