JAMDANI: The Art of Weaving


Jamdani is considered as one of the most beautiful revelations of artistic talents of weavers in Bangladesh. It is included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2013. Only recently it has got the GI (Geographical Indication) registration. 

The Jamdani
Jamdani is derived from the Persian word “jam” (meaning floral) and 'Dani' that is a vase or container named after decorative floral patterns found in Dhakai Muslin. 

The traditional way of weaving Jamdani in the handlooms by the weavers in Rupshi village located in Narayanganj, Bangladesh.

The Glorious Heritage and Tradition of Jamdani
Jamdani is the only surviving variety of traditional muslins. In the Mughal period (1526–1707), the finest Jamdani was produced in Dacca, a Bengal state (now Dhaka, Bangladesh). 

During the regime (1605-1627) of Mughal emperor Jahangir, the plain Jamdani muslin was decorated with numerous floral designs. The emperor was seen wearing Jamdani muslin swatch around his waist in many occasions.

Dhaka: The Home of Jamdani
In the early 20th century, the home of this craft began shifting from Sonargaon to Rupganj. The bank of Shitalakkhya River that was also a part of Dhaka in the past still remains as a popular location for Jamdani craftsmen. 

The weavers are struggling to survive in approximately 150 villages in Bangladesh. A village called ‘Rupshi’ of Rupganj Upazila is popularly known as ‘Jamdani Village’. Situated on the riverbank of Shitalakhya, it is about an hour drive from the capital city Dhaka to the village.

The Weaving of Dreams
The everyday life and dreams of the Jamdani weavers revolve around their craft.  Traditional weaving is such an art made by passion, hooks, and threads. Motifs are woven on the loom, typically in grey and white. There is a particular number of threads used to perfectly bring a design into life. Muslin is made of at least 300 counts of thread, while Jamdani is made of 40 to 120 counts of thread.

Women members, in particular, of the weaving communities do the work involving the spinning wheel.

Locally made, the spinning wheels are made up of bamboo sticks. Over time they have started adopting some wheels made by spare mechanical tools.

House yards are used to prepare and arrange threads for weaving.

The weavers collect threads from their local shops. It creates a small scale market network among the weavers, service providers, and producers.

Dyers use different types of colors to contrast the threads. Choice of color depends on design and motifs. The weavers have mastered Jamdani motifs.

Artistic hands and touch of nature bring the finest Jamdani.

The Loom
During the weaving process, a small shuttle of thread called ‘Maku’ is passed through the weft. Two weavers sit alongside each other at the loom and add every discontinuous supplementary weft motifs separately by hand using a tool called ‘Kandul’. They interlace the supplementary weft threads into the warp with fine bamboo sticks in a zigzag manner using individual spool of thread.

The local weavers use bamboo in making the whole structure of the loom; it is locally called “tant”. Wood, jute, or plastic can also be used to make loom.

Two weavers can use one loom at the same time to make saree.

In addition to looms for two weavers, there are small looms for one person. These looms are mostly used for making cheaper saree, salwar-kamiz, kurta, and panjabee.

Weavers set up looms inside a house according to space availability and economic capacity. For poor families that usually have only one living room, their looms are set up in it, too.

These weavers are locally called Tantees or Karigors. A village weaving community is generally composed of loom-dressers, dyers, spinners, and master weavers. All of them form a very closely-knit family bounded by enduring unity, distinctiveness, and unique character.

Young people of the weaving community specifically get training through a hereditary system of apprenticeship. They start learning Jamdani weaving at a very young age.

A disciple is learning how to weave Jamdani from his master.

Majority of the loom workers are teenagers. Both boys and girls work together on the same loom.

In the looms, weavers are often accompanied by the close keens and relatives; husband with wife, father with daughter or sister with brother.

As some Jamdani weavers are also mothers, so the presence of children nearby the looms are very common.

The Art of Weaving: Designs and Motifs
Transmitted from generation to generation, the art of Jamdani weaving is a combination of creativity, imagination, and skills. Jamdani being hand-stitched is its main feature.

There is no written document for the innumerable motifs used in Jamdani. The motifs are repeated with remarkable precision and time-tested consistency. Nothing is sketched or outlined. The weavers can easily estimate the time required for weaving a particular motif.

A senior weaver is using starch (made from rice) on a part of a Jamdani saree to make it softer, making sure that every ply of the thread is interlinked with each other. Starching continues until the whole saree is completed.

Jamdani patterns are mostly of geometric, plant, and floral designs. The Jamdani textiles combine intricacy of design with muted or vibrant colors. The finished garments are highly breathable.

Popular motifs of Jamdani include: panna hajar (thousand emeralds), kalaka (paisley), butidar (small flower), fulwar (flower arranged in straight rows), tesra (diagonal patterns), jalar (motifs evenly covering the sari), duria (polka spots), charkona (rectangular motifs), naksha, belwari, nayanbahar, toradar, hazartara mayuri, and others.

Based on the variations of threads, four kinds of Jamdani are available: nylon, cotton, half-silk, and full-silk.

The price of Jamdani varies from 2,000 to as high as 200,000 BDT depending on the vibrancy of motifs and time spent on stitching.

In addition to the sarees, Jamdani motifs and designs are also used for male and female kurtas.

The Market
The weavers sell their furnished products to retailers. The exchange takes place in their house and local markets. The locally set markets are called Jamdani Haat. Haats sit on the river banks early in the morning, where small weaving families bring their sarees to sell at a whole sale price. Businessmen, retailers, and occasionally some urban families come to these Haats to buy Jamdani sarees. 
Saifur Rashid
Credits: Story

Concept and Direction: Professor Dr. Saifur Rashid, Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Team: Daloar Hossain, Ratan Kumar Roy, Noor-un-Nahar Weely

Photo & Cinematography: Bulbul Ahmed

Acknowledgement: Weaving Community of Rupganj and Bargaon, Narayanganj

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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