Written on March 12, 2009
Today I am showing some Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi textiles. The tall, red-figured cloth is a phulkari from Punjab in Pakistan and/or India, and the horizontally positioned cloth is a kantha which has the unusual attribute of being signed by the maker and dated in English: usually such inscription would be stitched in Bengali, the native language of West Bengal and Bangladesh, the areas which have produced kanthas for centuries.
The wide border on the kantha is not embroidered as is the case with many. Instead, it is a border which has been borrowed from what is said to be a Jamdani saree and machine stitched on to the piece. Jamdani sarees are revered in Bangladesh for their high quality and the best examples could only be bought by the very rich or aristocratic. Jamdani is said to be a hybrid of traditional Bangladeshi weaving fused with the gorgeous cotton muslin weaving brought by Muslims to Bangladesh around the 14th century.
The center of this kantha is stitched in a fanciful manner by a Hindu lady: we know this because of the central, stylized lotus, a Hindu symbol of the universe which is a standard kantha design motif. Surrounding the lotus are swirling forms called shostir chinho, an iteration of the swastika, which in India is a sacred symbol which suggests the motion of God’s universe.
We also see butterflies, what seem to be hobby horses, and fish; fish play a large role in Bengali daily, symbolic and ritual life, and the utilization of the fish motif is not surprising as it can convey a wish for fertility, among other things.
This kantha, as can be seen by the inscription, was stitched by Nani Baia Debi and was finished in 1934. For more images of kantha, please click here for a view onto some in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Seen below is a stack of other kanthas in my collection as well as a selection of rallis from Sindh, an area which traverses Pakistan and India.