Detailed motifs that took place in Bengal in the 18th and 19th century incorporated beautiful women, smoking shisha’s, nawabs, soldiers, sahibs and memsahibs enjoying the comfortable steam powered boats and trains that were woven into the pallus of saris made from Baluchari silk.
The beauty of these intricate weaves will be seen at Mumbai at a month long exhibit from the 12th of December at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. These stunning weaves will be seen as 23 exquisite works displaying the scarce Baluchari style from the TAPI (Textiles and Art of the People in India) collection in Surat.
TAPI pays homage to river Tapi in India, which is the center of textiles in Surat. This collection includes a variety of fabrics, motifs and techniques including 14th century types of cloth that are woven, dyed and printed in Gujarat or South East Asia that are painted on cotton or embroideries that are loved by the western market. This collection also includes beautiful Kashmiri shawls, 18th and 19th century floor spreads, hangings and sashes including embroidery in Mochi and there are also a range of stunning woven cotton jamdanis, balucharis in silk and patolas and brocades.
This exhibit was intended to pay homage to India’s historic textile legacy that indicates centuries of ingenuity of crafts and artisanal mastery. Presently, the creative manner in which these age-old textiles are used in India with hand-woven techniques is incredible as well.
Although Balucharis are typically a part of the Bengali textile traditions and there was a period where every Bengali bride owned a Baluchari sari. These silk saris are known for their weft weaving and have been passed on from generation to generation with the same historic motifs that are taken from epic tales of religious texts. Luxury materials like Baluchari are special and do not incorporate any zari creating their own shining effects through the use of mulberry silk.
This exhibition will also coincide with the publication – Silks of Bengal incorporating Baluchar written by Eva-Marie Rakob, Tulsi Vatsal and Shilpa Shah. This publication includes descriptions on how this craft was brought about and who wove and wore them and the reason for the tradition dying out.
Professor Nihar Hazra who has researched this art in depth explains that Baluchari was woven in a little village called Baluchar in Murshidabad centuries ago and that’s where the fabric got its name. The Nawab Murshidkuli Khan of Bengal popularised this craft leading it to be remembered through the time. The Baluchari tradition further continued during the rule of British and the British even took back samples of these designs to recreate it back there. Agitated at being unable to replicate this art, they tried their best to thwart this weaving tradition in India by preventing these artisans from receiving credit to buy looms and raw materials. This left weavers unable to pursue this art and thus this art became scarce.
However, Baluchari was soon revived with weaving master Subho Thakur who promoted this art in the beginning of the 20th century. Soon Baluchari saris faced strong competition with Benarasi silk saris that were comparatively more affordable.
A Baluchari loom is expensive and costs more than INR 1.7 lakhs. As these looms are expensive, weavers usually have to pursue this craft through borrowing money. It is shocking that over the INR 50 lakhs earned through the finished Baluchari saris is earned by the middlemen instead of the weavers. Baluchari saris are sold at INR 2,800- 45,000 presently.
This exhibit is definitely a great initiative to promote this art and craft along with the weavers who have dedicate their time to keep this art alive.