ong back there was a prince who was known to be a connoisseur of all things fine in life. One day, during his royal travels in the land of Bengal, he met a princess renowned for her ethereal beauty and impeccable taste in clothes. Awestruck with her charm the prince vowed to give up everything to marry her. The prince was no other than the famous Mughal Emperor Jahangir while the princess was Mehr-un-Nissa who was later named as Nur Jahan owing to the aura she shone with when wearing the brilliantly woven Jamdani, which happened to be her favourite attire.
The story of Jamdani however dates back much before Jahan and Mehr-un-Nissa - The timeline for jamdani can be traced as early as c. 321 -185 BCE. Megasthenes, Greek ambassador in Chandragupta Maurya's court writes vaguely - "Their robes are worked in gold, and ornamented with various stones, and they wear also flowered garments of the finest muslin."
The finest muslin as Megasthenes calls it refers to one of the most time and labor-intensive forms of handloom weaving, renowned throughout the world as Jamdani. Originally extracted from Karpas cotton and currently worked on cotton-silk blend, Jamdani weaving is like tapestry work where small shuttles of colored, gold or silver threads are passed through the weft. An eco friendly art, Jamdani is spun by hand and foot tools and may take up to 13 months to complete, if two full time weavers work on it. The vibrancy of colours and the richness of motifs help identify a Jamdani from the variety of other handloom produce.
Though the origin of the art remains rooted in Bengal, the name is shrouded in mystery. Some believe it to have originated from Persian language, where Jama relates to cloth and dana means dots. Hence, it refers to a type of dotted cloth which was popularized in the Indian sub-continent by the Muslims. Another version has it that the word comes from the Persian words Jam and Dani which mean a superior variety of liquor and the vessel, respectively. It is said that the female bartenders used to wear a kind of muslin that gave way to this name.
The journey of Jamdani began in the middle era. It was a combination of Parsi and Mughal cultures that bore its fruit in Dhaka and the consequence was to the development ofa special form of jamdani known as Dhakai Jamdani the use of Jamdani was restricted only to the royals and the landed class Though the Jamdani business was monopolized by the Muslims in the early days, it was traded by the Europeans, Iranis, Armenians, Mughals, Pathans and the Baniks later on. It was the most exported item from Bengal in the 17th and 18th century.
One of the traditional weaving forms of Bengal, the art of jamdani making steeply declined with the fall of the Mughal Empire . Slowly the market lost enthusiastic craftsmen because of the imbalance in production cost and entailing wages. While the international market sold it at steep prices the craftsmen earned not enough to sustain themselves. To bridge the gap, Biswa Bangla has steppedforth to uphold and revive the tradition of Jamdani, by providing the community of artisans a lucrative overseas market; a market that will not only sustain their livelihood but promote the art internationally. The aim is not only to restore and revive the near extinct art form but also to ensure that the artisans are empowered and have the means to earn a decent livelihood.