Nakshi kantha, a type of embroidered quilt, is a centuries-old Bengali art tradition of the Indian subcontinent, notable in Bangladesh and Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. The basic material used is thread and old cloth. Nakshi kanthas are made throughout Bangladesh, but the greater Mymensingh, Rajshahi, Faridpur and Jessore areas are most famous for this craft.
The colourful patterns and designs that are embroidered resulted in the name "Nakshi Kantha", which was derived from the Bengali word "naksha", which refers to artistic patterns. 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. Traditionally, kantha was produced for the use of the family. Today, after the revival of the nakshi kantha, they are produced commercially.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Tradition
- 3 In literature
- 4 Making
- 5 Types
- 6 Influence of religion and folk belief
- 7 Stitches
- 8 Types
- 9 Motifs
- 10 Other motifs
- 11 Borders
- 12 Collections
- 13 Organizations which make Nakshi Kanthas
- 14 Controversy regarding Geographical Indication
- 15 See also
- 16 Notes and references
- 17 Further reading
- 18 External links
The word kantha has no discernible etymological root. 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"). According to Niaz Zaman, the word kantha originated from the Sanskrit word kontha, which means rags, as kantha is made of rags.
Like any other folk art, kantha making is influenced by factors such as materials available, daily needs, climate, geography, and economic factors. Probably the earliest form of kantha was the patchwork kantha, and the kanthas of the decorative appliqué type evolved from this.
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 
Traditional nakshi kantha
|Alternative names||নকশি কাঁথা|
|Description||A traditional stitching art of Bangladesh and parts of India|
|Area||Bangladesh, parts of India|
|Country||Bangladesh, parts of India|
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 five to seven 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 together 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:
The running stitch kantha is truly the indigenous kantha. They are subdivided into Nakshi (figured) and par tola (patterned). Nakshi (figured) kanthas are further divided into motif or scenic kanthas.
The name was derived from Persian word lehr, which means 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 (charchala, atchala or barachala).
Lik or anarasi
Cross-stitch or carpet
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
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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. 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.
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 are as follows:
- 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 satches.
- 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 hangins, 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 kantha 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 kantha are as follows:
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 and the goddess Laksmi, the goddess of good fortune and abundance. 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.
The solar motif is closely associated with the lotus motif. 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.
The moon motif has a religious influence, and is popular amongst the Muslims. Mostly it is in the form of a crescent moon accompanied by a star. This motif is particularly found in jainamaz kanthas.
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.
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
The influence of this motif in Indian 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. 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.
This is a latter-day motif, dating from Mughal times. The kalka or paisley motif originated in Persia and Kashmir and has become an integral image of the subcontinental decorative motif. 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.
- 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:
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:
- 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)
- 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
- Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB),Karu Palli Sales Centre
- Kumudini Handicrafts (cares), Bangladesh
- BRAC-Aarong, Bangladesh
Controversy regarding Geographical Indication
Despite being a Bangladeshi traditional art, the Indian state of West Bengal applied for the Geographical Indication for Nakshi kantha in 2008. Due to absence of proper law on Geographical Indication in Bangladesh that time (which was later adopted), Bangladesh couldn't counter apply for the GI. The registry office had no option but to hand-over the Geographical Indication to West Bengal in 2008.
Bangladesh authority however later passed the "Bangladesh Geographical Indication (Registration and Protection) Act, 2013" 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.
- Nakshi pati, decorative sleeping mats made from cane, reeds, etc.
Notes and references
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nakshi Kantha.|
- "Nakshi Kantha-Benhal Craft". Bengal Crafts. Retrieved 10 November 2008.
- Zaman, Niaz (2012). "Nakshi Kantha". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
- "Quilt (Kantha) Art of Bengal". Jaismuddin.org. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- Sirajuddin, Muhammad (1992). Living Crafts in Bangladesh. Dhaka: Markup International. p. 44. OCLC 29737195.
- Kantha, Sarees. "Kantha Silk Sarees". sareesofbengal.com.
- "About Nakshi Kantha". Aarong. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
- Ahmad 1997.
- Ahmad, Perveen (1999). "Lecture: Aesthetics and Vocabulary of Nakshi Kantha". Vihangama. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). VII (1–4).
- Zaman 1993, p. 36.
- Zaman 1993.
- Dutt, Gurusaday (1995). Kantha: Album of Art Treasure (Series One). 24 Parganas, India: Gurusaday Dutt Folk Art Society, Gurusaday Museum. OCLC 475731213.
- Roy, Paramita and Sattwick Dey Biswas (2011). Opportunities and Constraints of the Kantha-stitch craftswomen in Santiniketan: a value chain analysis. Journal of Social Work and Social Development (ISSN 2229-6468). pp. 5-9.
- Zaman 1993, p. 114.
- Zaman 1993, pp. 44–45.
- Ahmad 1997, p. v.
- Mukerjee, Radhakamal (1964). The Flowering of Indian Art: The Growth and Spread of a Civilization. Bombay: Asia Pub. House. p. 35. OCLC 30086718.
- Zaman 1993, p. 82.
- Ahmad 1997, p. 92.
- Zaman 1993, p. 94.
- "Press reports on Protecting Geographical Indication Products in Bangladesh". Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). Retrieved 24 November 2015.
- "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.
- Registered GI
- The Beautiful Art of Nakshi Kantha
- Gurusaday Museum, India
- Bangladesh National Museum
- Kantha Embroidery of West Bengal
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Arts of West Bengal.|