Nakshi kantha

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Nakshi Kantha
Geographical indication
Traditional nakshi kantha
Alternative namesনকশি কাঁথা
DescriptionA traditional embroidery art of Bangladesh, West Bengal, Tripura and Barak Valley region
CountryBangladesh and India
MaterialCloth, usually cotton
Quilt, 19th century, cotton and wool.
Nakshi kantha

Nakshi kantha, a type of embroidered quilt, is a centuries-old Bengali art tradition of the Bengal region, notable in Bangladesh and Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and part of Assam.[1][2][3] The basic material used is thread and old cloth.[4] Nakshi kanthas are made throughout Bangladesh, but the greater Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Bogra, Rajshahi, Faridpur and Jessore, Chittagong areas are most famous for this craft.[5]

The colourful patterns and designs that are embroidered resulted in the name "Nakshi Kantha",[6] which was derived from the Bengali word "naksha", which refers to artistic patterns.[7] The early kanthas had a white background accented with red, blue and black embroidery; later yellow, green, pink and other colours were also included. The running stitch called "kantha stitch" is the main stitch used for the purpose.[8] Traditionally, kantha was produced for the use of the family. Today, after the revival of the nakshi kantha, they are produced commercially.[9]

Word origin[edit]

The word kantha has no discernible etymological root.[10] The exact time of origin of the word kantha is not accurately known but it probably had a precursor in kheta (khet Bengali means "field").[11] According to the word kantha originated from the Sanskrit word kontha, which means rags, as kantha is made of rags.[12]


Like any other folk art, kantha making is influenced by factors such as materials available, daily needs, climate, geography, and economic factors.[13] Probably the earliest form of kantha was the patchwork kantha, and the kanthas of the decorative appliqué type evolved from this.[14]

In literature[edit]

The earliest mention of Bengal Kantha is found in the book Sri Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita by Krishnadas Kaviraj, which was written some five hundred years ago. The famous Bengali poet Jasimuddin also had a very famous poem 'Nakshi Kanthar Math' on Nakshi Kantha[3]


Traditionally old sarees, lungis and dhotis were used to make kanthas. Kantha making was not a full-time job. Women in almost every household were expert in the art. Rural women worked at leisure time or during the lazy days of the rainy season, so taking months or even years to finish a kantha was normal. At least three to six sarees were needed to make a standard-size kantha. Today the old materials are replaced by new cotton cloths. Traditionally the thread was collected from the old sarees. That is rarely done today.

When a kantha is being made, first the sarees are joined to attain the required size, and then layers are spread out on the ground. The cloths are then smoothed, and no folds or creases are left in between. During the process, the cloth is kept flat on the ground with weights on the edges. Then the four edges are stitched and two or three rows of large running stitches are done to keep the kantha together. At this stage, the kantha can be folded and stitched at leisure time.

Originally, designs and motifs were not drawn on the cloth. The design was first outlined with needle and thread, followed by focal points, and then the filling motifs were done. In a kantha with a predominant central motif the centre was done first, followed by corner designs and the other details. In some types of kanthas (carpet, lik and sujni, etc.) wooden blocks were used to print the outline. The blocks are replaced today by patterns drawn in tracing papers.


The following is how kanthas are categorized, according to the stitch type:[13]

Running stitch[edit]

The running stitch kantha is truly the indigenous Zidan Al Hakim. They are subdivided into Nakshi (figured) and par tola (patterned). Nakshi (figured) kanthas are further divided into motif or scenic kanthas.

Lohori kantha[edit]

The name was derived from Sanskrit,[15] as in "'Soundarya Lahari" or "Shivananda Lahari"- Religious poetic works in Sanskrit by Adi Shankara. It is also found in Persian Language giving the same meaning, 'lehr, which is "wave". This type of kantha is particularly popular in Rajshahi. These kanthas are further divided into soja (straight or simple), Kautar khupi (pigeon coop or triangle), borfi or diamond (charc

Lik or anarasi[edit]

The Lik or Anarasi (pineapple) type of kantha is found in the Chapainawabganj and Jessore areas. The variations are lik tan, lik tile, lik jhumka, and lik lohori.

Cross-stitch or carpet[edit]

This type of kantha was introduced by the English during the British Rule in India.[16] The stitch used in this kanthas is the cross-stitch.

Sujni kantha[edit]

This type of kantha is found only in Rajshahi area. The popular motif used is the undulating floral and vine motif.

Influence of religion and folk belief[edit]

Hindu women during 19th century used human and animal forms to tell stories of Gods and Goddesses and their Vahanas. Bengali women were free to draw upon their rich indigenous surroundings as well as their contemporary stories. To them the fabric was the artist and the person was the artisan. Mid 19th century, colour schemes and designs of Nakshi Kantha began to change to make them suitable for use on modern garments. 1940 Kabiguru Rabindra Nath Tagore and his daughter-in-law Pratima Devi trained Santali women in Birbhum District and quality work was produced under the tutelage of 'Kalabhaban' Artists.

Kantha consists of the simplest stitch in the language of embroidery – the running stitch, yet it is making a mark in the National as well as International Market. Nowadays,'Nakshi Kantha' is treated as traditional form of folk art as well as catering to top designers for their haute-couture creations. Nakshi Kantha in Bangladesh – Jessore, Faridpur, Mymensingh and Jamalpur have similar styles when it comes to stitching. These precious works of art remain silent witnesses of past, present and future of Bangladesh.


The earliest and most basic stitch found in kanthas is the running stitch. The predominant form of this stitch is called the phor or kantha stitch.[17] The other forms of stitches used are the Chatai or pattern darning, Kaitya or bending stitch, weave running stitch, darning stitch, Jessore stitch (a variation of darning stitch), threaded running stitch, Lik phor or anarasi or ghar hasia (Holbein) stitches. The stitches used in modern-day kantha are the Kasmiri stitch and the arrowhead stitch. Stitches like the herringbone stitch, satin stitch, backstitch and cross-stitch are occasionally used.[13]


Kanthas generally denote quilts used as wrappers; however, all articles made by quilting old cloth may also be referred to by the same generic name. However, depending on the size and purpose, kanthas may be divided into various articles, each with its specific names. The various types of kantha is as follows:[18]

  • Quilt (lep in Bengali): A light quilted covering made from the old sarees/dhotis/lungis and sometimes from sheet cloths.
  • Large spread (Naksi Kantha in Bengali): An embellished quilt embroidered in traditional motifs and innovative style
  • Puja floor spread (Ason in Bengali): Cloth spread for sitting at a place of worship or for an honoured guest.
  • Cosmetic wrapper (Arshilota in Bengali): A narrow embroidered wrapper to roll and store away a woman's comb, mirror, eye kohl, vermilion, sandal paste, oil bottle, etc. Often, a tying string is used to bind the wrap, as in later day satchets.
  • Wallet (Batwa thoiley in Bengali): Small envelope-shaped bag for keeping money, betel leaves, etc.
  • Cover for Quran (ghilaf in Arabic and Bengali): Envelope-shaped bag to cover the Quran.
  • Prayer mats (Jainamaz in Bengali): Mats used by Muslims to say prayers.
  • Floor spread (Galicha in Bengali): Floor coverings.
  • Cloths wrapper (Bostani, guthri in Bengali): A square wrapper for books and other valuables.
  • Cover (Dhakni in Bengali): Covering cloths of various shapes and sizes.
  • Ceremonial meal spread (Daster khan in Bengali): A spread for eating place, used at meal time.
  • Pillow cover (Balisher chapa or oshar in Bengali): A flat single piece pillow cover.
  • Handkerchief (Rumal): Small and square in shape.
  • Modern-day articles: Today newer uses are found for nakshi kanthas, such as bedspreads, wall hangings, cushion covers, ladies' purses, place mats, jewellery boxes, dress fronts, skirts border, shawls and sharees.


Motifs of the nakshi kantha are deeply influenced by religious belief and culture. Even though no specific strict symmetry is followed, a finely embroidered naksi Maheen will always have a focal point. Most kanthas will have a lotus as focal point, and around the lotus there are often undulating vines or floral motifs, or a shari border motif. The motifs may include images of flower and leaves, birds and fish, animals, kithen forms even toilet articles.

While most kantas have some initial pattern, no two naksi kantas are same. While traditional motifs are repeated, the individual touch is used in the variety of stitches, colours and shapes. The notable motifs found in naksi Sabbir are as follows:

Lotus motif[edit]

Lotus motif

The lotus motif is the most common motif found in kanthas. This motif is associated with Hindu iconography and thus is also very popular in the kantha. The lotus is the divine seat. It is also symbolic of cosmic harmony and essential womanhood. The lotus is also the symbol of eternal order and of the union of earth, water and, sky. It represents the life-giving power of water, and is also associated with the sun for the opening and closing of the petals. It is also the symbol of the recreating power of life. With the drying up of water, the lotus dies and with the rain it springs to life again. The lotus is associated with purity. There are various forms of lotus motifs, from the eight-petaled astadal padma to the hundred petaled satadal. In the older kanthas, the central motif is almost always a fully bloomed lotus seen from above.

Solar motif[edit]

The solar motif is closely associated with the lotus putki. Often, the lotus and the solar motifs are found together at the centre of a nakshi kantha. The solar motif symbolizes the life giving power of the sun. The sun is associated with the fire which plays a significant part in Hindu rites, both religious and matrimonial.

Moon motif[edit]

The moon motif has a religious influence, and is popular amongst the Bengali Muslims. Mostly it is in the form of a crescent moon accompanied by a star. This motif is particularly found in jainamaz kanthas.

Islamic Motifs[edit]

Religious motifs of Mosques, stars, Arabic calligraphy, Islamic arts as well as motifs of Jamdani which is a part of the Muslim heritage of Bangladesh, is used in Nakshi katha which are used for religious activities such Prayer rug and cover for the Quran.

Wheel motif[edit]

The wheel is a common symbol in Indian art, both Hindu and Buddhist. It is the symbol of order. The wheel also represents the world. The wheel is a popular motif in kanthas even when the maker has forgotten the significance of the symbol. The motif is relatively easy to make with chatai phor.

Swastika motif[edit]

Su asti in Sanskrit means it is well. As a motif in Indian art, it dates back to the Indus Valley civilization. It is symbol of good fortune. It is also known as muchri or golok dhanda. With the passage of time, the design is more curvilinear than the four armed swastika of the Mohenjodaro seal. The symbolic design has significant influence in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Tree of life motif[edit]

The influence of this motif in Bangladeshi art and culture (as with kantha) may be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization. It is likely that the Indus people conceived the pipal as the Tree of Life with the devata inside embodying the power of fecundity.[19] During the Buddhist times, the cult of the tree continued. Pipal is sacred to the Buddha because he received enlightenment under its shade. It reflects the fecundity of nature and is very popular in Bengal. Vines and creepers play an important role in kanthas and they contain the same symbolisation as that of tree of life. A popular motif in Rajshahi lohori is the betel leaf.

Kalka motif[edit]

Close view of Kalka motif

This is a latter-day motif, dating from the Muslim rulers of Mughals times.[20] The kalka or paisley motif originated in Persia and Kashmir and has become an integral image of the subcontinental decorative motif.[21] It can be compared with a stylized leaf, mango or flame. The kalka is an attractive motif and number of varieties are experimented. Similar motifs can be found in traditional Kashmiri shawls.

Other motifs[edit]

Close view of a contemporary Nakshi kantha with flower motif
  • Water Motif:
  • Mountain Motif:
  • Fish Motif:
  • Boat Motif:
  • Footprint Motif:
  • Ratha Motif:
  • Mosque Motif:
  • Panja or Open Palm Motif:
  • Agricultural Implements:
  • Animal Motifs:
  • Toilet Articles:
  • Kithen Implements:
  • Kantha Motif:
  • Palanquin Motif:


Borders from the top:rice stalk, scorpion, pea, eye, wavy or bent, amulet
From the top: shamuk taga, eye border, wrench border, miscellenious borders, wave border, diamond border

Most nakshi kanthas have some kind of border. Either a sari border is stitched on or a border pattern is embroidered around the kantha. The common border found in kanthas are as follows:[22]

From the top: necklace border, ladder border, gut taga, chik taga, nose ring border, fish border, panch taga, bisa taga, anaj taga
  • The Paddy stalk or date branch (dhaner shish or khejur chari)
  • The Scorpion border (Biche par in Bengali)
  • The Wavy or bent Border (Beki in Bengali)
  • The Diamond border (Barfi)
  • The Eye border (chok par in Bengali)
  • The Amulet border (Taabiz par in Bengali)
  • The Necklace border (mala par in Bengali)
  • The Ladder Border (Moi taga)
  • The Gut taga
  • The Chick taga
  • The nolok taga
  • The Fish border (Maach par in Bengali)
  • The panch taga
  • The Bisa taga
  • The Anaj taga
  • The shamuk taga
  • The wrench border
  • The anchor (grafi par in Bengali)
  • The pen border (kalam par in Bengali)



  • Bangla
  • Design Centre, BSCIC
  • Folk Art and Crafts Foundation
  • Bangladesh National Museum


  • Ashutosh Museum, Kolkata
  • Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad
  • Gurusaday Museum, Thakurpur

Organizations which make Nakshi Kanthas[edit]

  • Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB), Karu Palli Sales Centre
  • Kumudini Handicrafts (cares), Bangladesh
  • BRAC-Aarong, Bangladesh

Controversy regarding Geographical Indication[edit]

In 2008, the Indian state of West Bengal applied for the Geographical Indication for Nakshi kantha, while Bangladesh was also a strong contender for the same.[23] But due to absence of proper law on Geographical Indication in Bangladesh that time (which was later adopted), Bangladesh could not officially apply for the GI. The registry office handed over the Geographical Indication to West Bengal in 2008.

Bangladesh authority however later passed the "Bangladesh Geographical Indication (Registration and Protection) Act, 2013"[24] in parliament and with other necessary preparations now waiting for the next re-applying time cycle to claim the Geographical Indication for Nakshi kantha to Bangladesh.[25][26]

See also[edit]

  • Nakshi pati, decorative sleeping mats made from cane, reeds, etc.

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ "Nakshi Kantha-Benhal Craft". Bengal Crafts. Archived from the original on 4 February 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2008.
  2. ^ Zaman, Niaz (2012). "Nakshi Kantha". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Archived from the original on 24 November 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Quilt (Kantha) Art of Bengal". Archived from the original on 12 June 2010. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  4. ^ Ghuznavi 1981, p. 23.
  5. ^ Sirajuddin, Muhammad (1992). Living Crafts in Bangladesh. Dhaka: Markup International. p. 44. OCLC 29737195.
  6. ^ Kantha, Sarees. "Kantha Silk Sarees". Archived from the original on 3 February 2018. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  7. ^ "About Nakshi Kantha". Aarong. Archived from the original on 16 October 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
  8. ^ Ghuznavi 1981, pp. 23–24.
  9. ^ "History, Uses and Current Condition of Nakshi Kantha". Textile Learner. 9 January 2022. Archived from the original on 14 February 2022. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  10. ^ Ahmad 1997.
  11. ^ Ahmad, Perveen (1999). "Lecture: Aesthetics and Vocabulary of Nakshi Kantha". Vihangama. VII (1–4). Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2008.
  12. ^ Zaman 1993, p. 36.
  13. ^ a b c Zaman 1993.
  14. ^ Dutt, Gurusaday (1995). Kantha: Album of Art Treasure (Series One). 24 Parganas, India: Gurusaday Dutt Folk Art Society, Gurusaday Museum. OCLC 475731213.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  15. ^ Sanskrit Word "Lahari" meaning "Wave"
  16. ^ Zaman 1993, p. 114.
  17. ^ Zaman 1993, pp. 44–45.
  18. ^ Ahmad 1997, p. v.
  19. ^ Mukerjee, Radhakamal (1964). The Flowering of Indian Art: The Growth and Spread of a Civilization. Bombay: Asia Pub. House. p. 35. OCLC 30086718.
  20. ^ Zaman 1993, p. 82.
  21. ^ Ahmad 1997, p. 92.
  22. ^ Zaman 1993, p. 94.
  23. ^ "State Wise Registration Details of G.I Applications Till 13-06-2016" (PDF). Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 July 2017.
  24. ^ "GI Act-2013 Bangla" (PDF). Department of Patents, Designs and Trademarks. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 March 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  25. ^ "Press reports on Protecting Geographical Indication Products in Bangladesh". Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). 19 June 2014. Archived from the original on 22 November 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  26. ^ "India – Bangladesh Parliamentary Dialogue". Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry. Archived from the original on 27 January 2016. Retrieved 24 November 2015.


  • Ahmad, Perveen (1997). The Aesthetics & Vocabulary of Nakshi Kantha. Dhaka: Bangladesh National Museum. ISBN 984-585-000-6.
  • Ghuznavi, Sayyada R. (1981). Naksha: A Collection of Designs of Bangladesh. Dhaka: Design Centre, Bangladesh Small & Cottage Industries Corporation. OCLC 10301770.
  • Zaman, Niaz (1993). The Art of Kantha Embroidery (Second Revised ed.). Dhaka: University Press. ISBN 978-984-05-1228-7.

External links[edit]