Since ancient times, Bengal has been famous for its textiles, and while it has been the fine cottons and muslins that have always been the region’s most prized exports, the Baluchari Silk Saree, with its elaborate weaves and visual narratives, is a stand-out. The story of this Silk Saree is closely linked to the history of Bengal.
The name Baluchari came into existence because the weaving of these Sarees started in a small village called Baluchar in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal around 500 years ago.
The history of Baluchari Sarees goes back to 1704 CE when Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, the Mughal Governor of Bengal shifted his capital from Dacca (present day Dhaka in Bangladesh) to Makshudabad (now Murshidabad in West Bengal). As the Nawab’s court shifted so did the network of artisans who worked for him. Murshid Quli Khan, brought to the new capital named after him, a number of weavers from Dacca, who were given their own space and settled in the village of Baluchar (Now called Jiaganj) located 9 kms from Murshidabad. The name Baluchari came into existence because the weaving of these Sarees started in the village Baluchar. Over time these weavers developed their own style of design that put this village on the world map.
Due to some natural calamities and the subsequent submerging of the village, the industry and the weaving setup was then moved to Bishnupur village in Bankura district. The shift of the weavers from Baluchar to Bishnupur was also reflected in the Sarees they wove. The Sarees of this phase were highly influenced by the terracotta temples in this town, that was once the capital of the Malla Kings and there after the baluchari industry grew tremendously.
Manufacturing a Baluchari Saree is a time consuming process. It requires extremely good craftsmanship and takes around a week to weave one saree. These are hand woven and use the purest of yarns depending on the material. These sarees were originally woven only using the purest of silk threads.
The Baluchari sarees are known for their intricate designs and handwork on them. No other saree uses as many mythological designs as the Baluchari sarees. Originally they are dominated by stories and characters from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. These characters give a royal look to the Baluchari Saree.
The mythological designs make a Baluchari saree perfect for ceremonial and festive occasions which have a religious touch to it.
Major steps are being taken today to revive the once lost tradition of Baluchari weaving around West Bengal and a big thrust is on making this a high fashion fabric relevant to younger generations. This seems to be working as the famed Baluchari once a staple in the wardrobe of zamindar households is making a comeback in the trousseau of young brides.