In practice since early seventeenth century Baluchar was the style of the artisans of undivided Bengal which had a wide spread and highly accomplished weaving industry, Dhaka being one of its great centres known for its fine muslin since early days. With abundance of legends in regard to its fineness ‘Dhaka mal-mal’ – muslin from Dhaka, begins finding a respectable place in travelers’ accounts, both Islamic and others, since eleventh century. Dhaka had as rich a tradition of Jamdani. Besides an exotic pictorial character which it shared with this Jamdani cult, Baluchar weave borrowed its fineness, finish and sophistication from Dhaka muslin.
This fineness and technical maturity apart, Baluchar sari seeks its distinction and name in its design-pattern usually illustrating folks or at least an activity related to a convention or day-today life. In its early innovations a Baluchari sari depicted figures revealing Portuguese influence, and later, that of Europe in general, in the iconographic features of the depicted figures, as well in themes, such as armoured men on horse-backs. However, now for quite long the themes depicted on these saris are either folks, legends, customs or events from daily life. Far above a mere textile or a component of feminine ensemble, these designs rendered with a portrait’s precision elevates sari to a mobile picture gallery. With ‘Khadi’, the symbol of purity in India, commissioning this sari’s manufacture and supervising its quality, the purity of its material and ingenuity of its technique stands beyond par. Rendered in fine weaves, wefts and warps being equal in number, sustaining it from both sides, it has been crafted not merely to long endure but also for revealing rare fineness, elegance and great sophistication.
An artistically crafted textile, Baluchari is a synthesis of the weaver’s art and the portraitist’s. All three segments of this Baluchari sari : borders, pallu and field, are elaborately brocaded using fine lustrous silk thread. The borders consist of the repeat figures of Radha and Krishna seated close to a tree which a peacock perches. Besides the peacock closely associated with the cult of Krishna he also has on his head a peacock-feather crest, Krishna’s true identity. Krishna is seated on a mountain type elevation, while Radha seated before him with a garland in hand is in the process of putting it on his neck. The depiction appears to be a plain portrait of the divine lovers but close scrutiny reveals it to be an illustration of a lesser known myth according to which Krishna once married Radha, and for the marriage no other than Brahma himself was the presiding priest. The marriage had taken place in the forest which in this illustration a tree and a peacock symbolise. Inclusion of other figures, as of Brahma, on a tiny scale as this could not be practicable. A single female figure flanked by a pair of columns that carry lamps on their tops strewn all over adorns the sari’s field. The lady has been represented as holding a basket with a handle in her right hand, while smelling a flower held in her left.
The pallu is the sari’s most ornate part. It has been distributed into seven horizontal stripes, the fourth – the central one, being double in breadth. The first, one on the extreme end, and the seventh, on the other end, have been designed with two figures, a lady engaged in dance, and a male, playing on a lyre. The second, and the sixth, comprise a lady seated with her legs turned backwards, while her male companion is playing on ‘vina’ – a lyre with drums on both sides, India’s legendary musical instrument. The lady seems to be reciting a song. The third, and the fifth, depict a male persuading his beloved, seated with her back turned to him, for going with him and make love but with her elbow resting on a bolster she does not react. 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 stripes, has been brocaded with a huge chariot which a robust male drives while his beloved is seated inside it. This obviously portrays Rukmani’s elopement by Krishna for among the known legends it is only in the legend of Rukmani’s elopement that Krishna himself, not a professional ‘sarathi’ – charioteer, drives the chariot.
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.
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