Baluchari Sari (Bengali:বালুচরী শাড়ি) is a type of sari, a garment worn by women in West Bengal and Bangladesh. This particular type of sari originated in West Bengal and is known for depictions of mythological scenes on the pallu of the sari. It used to be produced in Murshidabad but presently Bishnupur and its surrounding areas of West Bengal are the only place where authentic Baluchari saris are produced. It takes approximately one week to produce one such sari. In 2011, the Baluchari Sari was granted the status of Geographical Indication for West Bengal in India.
In the history of textiles in Bengal, Baluchari came much after muslin. Two hundred years ago Baluchari was practiced in a small village called Baluchar in Murshidabad district, from where it got its name. In the eighteenth century, Murshidkuli Khan, Nawab of Bengal patronized its rich weaving tradition and brought the craft of making this sari from Dhaka to the Baluchar village in Murshidabad and encouraged the industry to flourish. After a flood of the Ganga river and the subsequent submerging of the village, the industry moved to Bishnupur village in Bankura district. Baluchari Sari made of tassar silk and a thousand years old when the Jagat Malla king rule in Mallabhum. This flourishing trend later declined, especially during British rule, due to political and financial reasons. It became a dying craft as most of the weavers were compelled to give up the profession.
In the first half of twentieth century, Subho Thakur, a famous artist, felt the need to recultivate the rich tradition of Baluchari craft. Though Bishnupur was always famous for its silk, he invited Akshay Kumar Das, a master weaver of Bishnupur, to his center to learn the technique of jacquard weaving. Sri Das then went back to Bishnupur and worked hard to weave Baluchari on their looms with the financial and moral support of Sri Hanuman Das Sarda of Silk Khadi Seva Mandal.
Once Bishnupur was the capital of Malla dynasty and different kinds of crafts flourished during their period under the patronage of Malla kings. Temples made of terracotta bricks were one achievement of these rulers. A major influence of these temples can be seen in Baluchari sarees. Mythological stories taken from the walls of temples and woven on Baluchari sarees is a common feature in Bishnupur.
The production process of Baluchari can be divided into several parts:
Cultivation of cocoons: Since the discovery so many years ago that the fibre or filament composing the cocoon of the silkworm can be constructed into a beautiful and durable fabric, silkworms have been bred for the sole purpose of producing raw silk.
Processing of yarns: To make the yarn soft, it is boiled in a solution of soda and soap and then dyed in acid colour, according to the requirement of the sari. The yarn is stretched from both the sides in opposite directions putting some force with both palms. This process is needed to make the yarn crisper.
Motif making: Making of the motifs for 'pallavs' and other part of Baluchari is in itself an intricate process. The design is drawn on a graph paper, it is coloured and punching is done using cards. After punching, these cards are sewed in order and fixed in the jacquard machine.
Weaving: After the jacquard loom has been introduced, the weaving of a Baluchari sari takes five to six days. Two weavers work on a shifting basis.
Baluchari thus prepared becomes a sign of aristocracy, the attire of status. Maintenance of quality of Baluchari sari is taken care of precisely. The quality is checked from the stage of dying of the yarn to the packaging of the sari.
Motifs: themes and varietyEdit
 Baluchari saris, or locally called Baluchari saris, today often have depictions from scenes of Mahabharat and Ramayana. During the Mughal and British eras, they had a square design in the pallu with paisley motifs in them, and depicted scenes from the lives of the Nawab of Bengal featuring women smoking hookahs, nawabs driving horse carriages, and even European officers of the East India Company. It would take two craftsmen working for almost a week to produce one sari. The main material used is silk and the sari is polished after weaving.
While there isn’t a lot of variation in the method of weaving used today, balucharis can be broadly categorized based on the threads used in weaving the patterns:
- Baluchari (resham): The simplest balucharis have resham threads in a single colour to weave the entire pattern
- Baluchari (meenakari): These balucharis have threads in two or more colours with attractive meenakari work that further brightens the patterns
- Swarnachari (baluchari in gold), also called Swarnachuri: They are the most gorgeous balucharis, woven with gold (swarna) or silver coloured threads (often with meenakari work in another colour) that illuminate the patterns to a much larger extent.
These saris were mostly worn by women from upper class and Zamindar households in Bengal during festive occasions and weddings.
With the changing times, the Baluchari sari has had a makeover and a touch of eco-friendliness in terms of the used yarns and colours.
Cotton Kapas is spun with fibres of banana plants and bamboo shoots and the dyes are extracts of fruits, flowers, leaves, and vegetables such as pomegranate, jamun, neem fruits and leaves, basil leaves, turmeric, marigold flowers, mangoes and others.
The organic baluchari cotton sarees were displayed in the sari fair organised by Rang Mahal, a forum of weavers from Nadia district in West Bengal. However, with the GI certification of Baluchari sarees with reference to Bankura district of West Bengal in India, it is now not permitted to use the term Baluchari for any other similar product based on cotton or any other material.
Display and felicitationEdit
The Baluchari sari of Bankura was showcased at the India International Trade Fair organised at New Delhi. The pavilion of West Bengal prominently displayed those products of handicrafts and handloom sector which were recognised for their unique nature keeping the theme "Skilling India" in view.
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