J for Jamdani

J for Jamdani

The traditional art of weaving jamdani was declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.

Jamdani was originally made in muslin fabric, the finest cloth ever woven by the human hand. It shares its lineage with several ethereal muslin fabrics of India, which were lost when the East India Company began its systematic destruction of India's textile industry in the late 18th century.

Jamdani is referred to as “extra-weft ornamentation” or “on-loom embroidery”. A weaver then painstakingly works the on-loom embroidery using needles or extra weft shuttles, creating each motif individually.

The mention of jamdani is incomplete without muslin, which is the ground cloth on which jamdani is woven. To truly appreciate jamdani weaving, one needs to also know the heights the Indian subcontinent achieved in weaving muslin.

It is said that the fabric was so fine that several layers could pass through a ring, and it was so light that if washed and tossed in the air, it would dry before landing.

Muslin was so exquisite that when the Sonargaon city was under British rule, orders were given to cut off the thumbs of weavers to prevent competition with milled British fabrics.

This jamdani woven on fine muslin by weavers which swayed the European courts and the Mughal palace can be attributed to the knowledge systems the country had in place about cultivating the cotton seeds in the right temperature and technique to the finesse the weavers possessed.

It is said that to achieve the finest muslins the seeds would be warmed and kept in a container which once had ghee, this was then to be kept at a certain height in a warm place or under the fireplace. Today these seed varieties that were used to procure the finest muslin are extinct. Attempts have been made to revive these seeds.

Presently, however, the jamdani technique is used on different fabrics too.

It is said that jamdani is the only one out of almost twenty five (at the most) variety of muslins to survive.

Having its roots in undivided Bengal – Dhaka – this art has traveled far beyond its birthplace. After the partition, the Hindu weavers from Bangladesh are said to have migrated to West Bengal and that may have been the start of Jamdani weaving in present-day India. Nadia and Burdhaman districts in West Bengal are two centres known for the famous jamdani textiles.

However, one can also find this art has traveled far beyond even Bengal. We can find the finest jamdani weavers in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

However, one has to be aware of fake jamdanis being sold in the market. se this easy hack to buy an original handloom jamdani –

To identify an authentic hand-woven weave, the answer mostly lies when you turn the fabric on the wrong side.

The above image is a powerloom jamdani. Notice all that thread that is cut carefully. Wherever you see thread manually cut like that, it's most likely made on a power loom.

The second image is of an original jamdani woven by hand (handloom), you will notice how the edge of the jamdani motif (design) has been woven in a U shape without being cut. That is the sign of a handloom, each motif carefully and painstakingly woven by hand. It is said of a well woven jamdani, that over years of use the fabric might tear, but not the jamdani motif.

Also, sometimes this cutting is done carefully and heat pressed so you won't notice the cut edges, so look carefully.

But the most important question is would it really matter to us if we buy a powerloom over a handloom? Because the price difference between an original jamdani over a powerloom jamdani is massive.

Here are few reasons we prefer the former:

 ●      An original handloom fabric will last you for a longer duration over a powerloom one.

●      The touch of a handloom fabric is much softer on your skin over the powerloom variant.

●      You support the livelihood of a craft community.

●      Your carbon footprint is negligible when you choose a handloom.

A handloom jamdani is an heirloom piece; imagine these fabrics were highly sought after all over the world. In spite of the advent of the powerloom, these handloom heritage fabrics still exist in our country. The weaving of such fine fabrics is a knowledge system that you and I can save only by choosing to buy authentic handloom fabrics.

Plus, you are now the owner of an heirloom fabric of which an exact replica can never be made again! A new way to collect NFTs maybe? Who knows?

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Chinmaya Udghosh