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The historic production of jamdani was patronized by imperial warrants of the Mughal emperors. Under British colonialism, the Bengali jamdani and muslin industries rapidly declined due to colonial import policies favoring industrially manufactured textiles. In more recent years, the production of jamdani has witnessed a revival in Bangladesh.
The word Jamdani is of Persian origin, deriving from 'Jam', meaning flower, and 'Dani', a vase or a container. The earliest mention of jamdani and its development as an industry is found in Dacca.
The origin of the Jamdani is shrouded in mystery. Megasthenes, Greek ambassador in Chandragupta Maurya's court, speaking of the costumes of the people of India, writes: "their robes are worked in gold, and ornamented with various stones, and they wear also flowered garments of the finest muslin." "No conventional ornament is probably more ancient than the coloured stripes and patterns we find on Indian cotton cloths," says G. C. M Birdwood. On the testimony of Megasthenes we may hold that the flowered garments of the finest muslin, which came to be known as the Jamdani in the Mughal period, can be traced far back to the Maurya period (c.321-185 BCE) or even earlier.
The Jamdani weaving tradition is of Bengali origin. It is one of the most time and labor-intensive forms of hand loom weaving. In the first half of the nineteenth century, James Taylor described the figured or flowered jamdani; in the late nineteenth century, T. N. Mukharji referred to this fabric as jamdani muslin.
Whether figured or flowered, jamdani is a woven fabric in cotton, and it is undoubtedly one of the varieties of the finest muslin. It has been spoken of as the most artistic textile of the Bangladeshi weaver. They are traditionally woven around Dhaka, Bangladesh, and on the brocade loom. This is a supplementary weft technique of weaving, where the artistic motifs are produced by a non-structural weft, in addition to the standard weft that holds the warp threads together. The standard weft creates a fine, sheer fabric while the supplementary weft with thicker threads adds the intricate patterns to it. Each supplementary weft motif is added separately by hand by interlacing the weft threads into the warp with fine bamboo sticks using individual spools of thread. The result is a myriad of vibrant patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface. What’s remarkable in this weaving technique is that the pattern is not sketched or outlined on the fabric. Instead, it is drawn on a graph paper and placed underneath the warp. Jamdani is a fine muslin cloth on which decorative motifs are woven on the loom, typically in grey and white. Often a mixture of cotton and gold thread were/was used.
Varieties of jamdani work
Though mostly used for saris, Jamdani is also used for scarves and handkerchiefs. Jamdani is believed to be a fusion of the ancient cloth-making techniques of Bengal (perhaps 2,000 years old) with the muslins produced by Bengali Muslims since the 14th century. Jamdani is the most expensive product of Dhaka looms since it requires the most lengthy and dedicated work.
Jamdani patterns are mostly of geometric, plant, and floral designs and are said to have originated thousands of years ago. Due to the exquisite painstaking methodology required, only aristocrats and royal families were able to afford such luxuries.
Changes with time
We do not know exactly when jamdani came to be adorned with floral patterns of the loom. It is, however, certain that in the Mughal period, most likely during the reign of either Emperor Akbar (1556–1605) or Emperor Jahangir (1605–1627), the figured or flowered muslin came to be known as the jamdani. Forbes Watson in his most valuable work titled Textile Manufactures and Costumes of the people of India holds that the figured muslins, because of their complicated designs, were always considered the most expensive productions of the Dhaka looms.
Decline and fall
From the middle of the 19th century, there was a gradual decline in the jamdani industry. A number of factors contributed to this decline. The subsequent import of lower quality, but cheaper yarn from Europe, started the decline. Most importantly, the decline of Mughal power in India, deprived the producers of jamdani of their most influential patrons. Villages like Madhurapur and Jangalbari, (both in the Kishoreganj district), once famous for the jamdani industry went into gradual oblivion.
According to a national daily, a senior taanti or "ostad" earns about Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 per month. Junior weavers get much less, around Tk 1,600. As a result many weavers do not want their children to come to this profession. For many, the garments industry offer a lucrative alternative.
Thankfully, the government and other organizations are trying to revive the old glory of Dhakai Jamdani. In a bid to avoid the middlemen, they are trying to establish direct contact with the weavers. A Jamdani Palli has been established near Dhaka. Jamdani, one of the oldest forms of cottage industry in Bangladesh, was once a dying trade. It was successfully revived due to the pioneering work of entrepreneurs such as Monira Emdad. Tangail Saree Kutir along with other sari stores on Baily Road, Jamdani Hut, Aarong and Nilanjona polli strive to support the thousands of weavers of Bangladesh who have struggled to keep this age old tradition and fashion alive. Organizations like Radiant Institute of Design, Shanto Mariam University of creative technology,National Institute of Design (NID) and others are helping designers create new Jamdani designs.
Jamdani has never gone out of style. Even today, Jamdani is equally valued It has and it always will symbolize aristocracy. The demand for quality Jamdani Sarees have increased exponentially over the years.
- More Info on Jamdani Sarees
- Jamdani's Struggle to Survive
- available jamdani-sarees-and-salwar-kameez
- Jamdani on Banglapedia No such article is found - October 26, 2012
- "jamdani". britannica.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Jamdani recognised as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco". the daily star. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Traditional art of Jamdani weaving". UNESCO Culture Sector. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Glassie, Henry and Mahmud, Firoz.2008.Living Traditions. Cultural Survey of Bangladesh Series-II. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Dhaka. pp.351