The Heritage Behind Jamdani Silk

Article of the Month - Aug 2021

This article by Aine Lagan

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The Heritage Behind Jamdani Silk


Jamdani silk is a muslin cloth that dates back as far as 300 AD. It’s characterized by its loom weaving with grey and white thread, occasionally incorporating gold. The craftsmanship of jamdani silk has been passed down through the generations, continuing the tradition of floral and figurine motifs within the fabric.

At Exotic India, we incorporate Jamdani Silk into our sarees with a vibrant spectrum of earth-tone and jewel-toned textiles. If you’re interested in finding out more about jamdani silk and other textiles, we offer several books on traditional fabrics. We’re taking a deep dive into the world of jamdani silk, looking at its fascinating heritage and the craftsmanship behind it. 


The Delights Of Jamdani Weaving


The Origins of Jamdani Silk


The name ‘jamdani silk’ has a Persian origin, coming from the word “jama” for cloth and “dana” for woven motif. This sheer cotton fabric has been made on a handloom by talented artisans for hundreds of years, passed down through the generations. While it’s now commonly used for sarees, its history dates back further than you might expect.



The first mention of jamdani silk comes from ‘Arthashashtra’, an economic book by Kautily, dating from 300 BC. You can find references to jamdani silk across the writings of Arab, Chinese, and European explores and traders. It also appears in the 9th-century book ‘Sril Silat-ut-Tawarikh’ by geographer Solaiman, stating that it was being made in Rumy–modern-day Bangladesh. 
For centuries, the Greeks and Romans saw jamdani silk as one of the most prized trading commodities. Historically, jamdani silk was considered to be “threads of winds”. It’s widely thought that jamdani came around as a fusion between the ancient techniques of Bengal and the muslins produced during the 14th century.


The 17th century saw the golden age of muslin fabric under the Mughal rule. Workshops were set up in almost every region of Dhaka, with the Mughal rulers creating a monopoly out of jamdani silk. It was during this time that the term ‘jamdani’ began to be used. This period is also when floral motifs became 
synonymous with jamdani silk. In 1776 a piece of jamdani silk was reported to cost 56 livres, making it one of the most expensive textiles made by Dhaka looms.


The Jamdani Tradition


Following the British conquest of India, large sums of money were invested into the industry, creating another monopoly over jamdani silk, exporting it to Europe.


The late 18th-century saw a decline in Jamdani production as inferior thread and yarn were cheaper to import. As Mughal power declined in India, jamdani lost its cultural and societal significance. Villages that were synonymous with their jamdani production – such as Jangalbari and Madhurapur – virtually disappeared. The East India Company began to buy textiles like jamdani silk directly from weavers. 


Fast forward to today, and jamdani silk is once again in style as a timeless textile. Jamdani silk is more in demand than ever. This revival has seen more jamdani silk being made using cotton and gold thread. 


While the production methods have changed with the times, the color palette has changed to include bold and vibrant hues. There’s a growing movement amongst weavers to return to more traditional methods and motifs. 


The Beauty Of Jamdani Silk


Jamdani has long been held as one of the finest muslins on the market, capturing our imagination with its effortless elegance. It’s often chosen as a textile for special occasions, gifted to those you love and passed down through the generations.



Jamdani sarees are elegant and sophisticated, with the fabric draping over your body, adding an elevated feel to your outfit. As jamdani is a luxurious fabric, it’s traditionally worn on special occasions, such as religious ceremonies and weddings.


You’ll also find jamdani silk used to make small accessories, such as handkerchiefs and scarves. Jamdani silk has traditionally been associated with the aristocracy and royalty, making it one of the most sought-after and luxurious fabrics. The most priceless Jamandi silk is the ‘panna hazar’ – a thousand emeralds.



Jamdani silk has long been seen as a form of self-expression in modern society, allowing the wearer to embrace their cultural heritage and identity. The weavers who create this beautiful jamdani silk take pride and social recognition from their craft. 


They’re seen as the masters of their craft, continuing the tradition and handing the knowledge of Jamdani silk to the next generation. You’ll often find children learning from their parents alongside each other in workshops.



How Jamdani Silk Is Made


The craft of jamdani weaving is listed as part of the ‘UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage’ program as traditional craftsmanship. In 2016, Bangladesh was given ‘geographical indication’ status for Jamdani sarees to reflect the garment's heritage and its cultural significance. It was the first Bangladeshi product to be given GI status.


Jamdani silk is traditionally made by men, with communities of these skilled artisans located across Bangladesh and West Bengal. The jamdani silk makers of today use silk and cotton blends for their textile, weaving with full silk or incorporating gold yarn. This traditional textile is sustainable and environmentally friendly as weavers spin the fabric with tools using their hands and feet.


The intricate detailing of jamdani silk means that it can take two weavers over a year to complete a luxury garment. Traditionally, the detailing was made using dyed flowers and leaves. Today, most weavers use chemical dyes to create intricate detailing and motifs. Most patterns today will incorporate flowers like the lotus, jasmine, and rose.


The detailing is embroidered into the fabric by hand with small bamboo shuttles of thread moving through the weft, with different bobbins for each color. This intricate detailing means that the thread interlaces each other to give the illusion of jewels across the fabric.


Jamdani silk is a fabric with a vibrant history. As it's been passed down through the generations, jamdani silk has once again become one of the most sought-after fabrics for occasion wear. The traditional white fabric has developed to include jamdani silk to make green and violet-pink sarees. When you buy a piece of jamdani silk, you’re getting a piece of its unique heritage and tradition.



References:


jamdani-weaving-history 

Jamdani

Jamdani recognised as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco


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