Jamdani: Threads of Wind

As far back as the first century, ancient texts from the sub-continent spoke of a fine fabric woven with ‘threads of wind.’ In the 4th century, Megasthenes, Greek ambassador at the court of the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta, spoke thus of the courtiers, ‘Their robes are worked in gold, and they wear flowered garments of the finest muslin.’ The fine muslin that Megasthenes referred to, was hand-woven with a technique called Jamdani – the essence of which has remained unchanged over thousands of years.

Jamdani was greatly favoured by Mughal royalty in the 16th and 17th century. Weavers would bring gifts of the diaphanous, luxurious textile, carrying it through the streets in cases of gilded bamboo, before presenting it to the Emperor. It is said that on one occasion, the Emperor Aurangazeb reprimanded his daughter for not being adequately clothed. The princess replied indignantly that she was wearing seven ‘jamas’ or garments. So fine was the Jamdani fabric of her ensemble, that it seemed non-existent!

Today, among fields of golden mustard flowers, weavers in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, work their looms in much the same way as their ancestors. Two weavers sit in a trench before a bamboo loom, passing small shuttles of thread through the weft. The pattern is placed directly under the weaving frame and motifs are ‘loom-embroidered’ with great skill. There are no sketches or outlines. The main body of the textile is woven in unbleached cotton yarn while the pattern is created in a heavier, bleached, thread count. The contrast creates the illusion that the intricate, opaque motifs are floating over the transparent background.

Quite unique in their subtlety and beauty, Jamdani fabrics are extremely labour and time-intensive. It can take two craftsmen months to weave a small quantity of the delicately-figured cloth. Varana has created a bespoke Jamdani fabric, woven with a signature tonal wave pattern. The fine textile has then been crafted into a discreetly luxurious line of resortwear, including relaxed, elegant tunics and kaftans.

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