Nakshi Kantha: A Diverse Element of Bengali Folk Culture and Its History

Nakshi kantha is a traditional sewing art. It is a part of Bengali culture. By mixing the sweetness of the mind, various types of design, flowers, birds and herbs are painted on the cloth with red, blue, yellow and other colors. Nakshi kantha can be recognized by looking at these fascinating exterior images. It is very glorious for Bengalis. From time immemorial, Bengali women have been weaving nakshi kantha in their leisure time and even in the absence of their loved ones.

What is Nakshi Kantha?
Nakshi Kantha is a special type of design made by various types of common spaces. It is a part of West Bengal and the culture of Bangladesh in hundreds of years old. The image of life lived in rural Bengal has been portrayed on the body of Kantha in the seams of sewing.

embroidering nakshi kantha
Fig: Embroidering nakshi kantha

History of Nakshi Kantha:
Nakshi kantha’s history is the signature of tradition of Bengali from ancient period. It is not possible to say exactly when the custom of embroidering various designs on the kantha was introduced. Generally, this industry is more or less produced in Bakshiganj, Dewanganj, Madarganj, Islampur, Melandah and upazila of Jamalpur. However, most of the organizations of this industry have been established in Jamalpur Sadar Upazila. Especially in Jamalpur city its receipt is most noticeable. That is why many people call Jamalpur district as ‘City of Handicrafts’ and ‘Nakshi Kantha’ as Jamalpur District Branding.

This handicraft did not spread in a single day in Jamalpur district. The traditional history of handicrafts, lost in modern glamorous locations, is very ancient. The women of rural Bengal used to sit together and finish every task with various conversations and stories. And all those love, hopes, aspirations, separation-pains were mixed with all those needlework. Waiting for the good days to come, the women of Bengal used to scratch the needles on the nakshi kantha. Memories of relatives or family members in exile or abroad come alive in the land of kantha and that is why this nakshi kantha is so beautiful.

Ayesha Abed Foundation, a non-profit organization affiliated with BRAC, revived the almost extinct handicrafts in the late 70’s and started the commercial and institutional process in the early 80’s. BRAC revived the nakshi kantha art by finding index artists from different villages of Jamalpur. An organization called ‘Ayesha Abed Foundation’ was set up in different parts of the district. Later, in 1986, a non-government organization started training Nakshi Kantha by training one thousand rural women.

Uses of Nakshi Kantha:
Nakshi kantha industry is produced in all the upazilas of Jamalpur district and about 300 organizations have been established. Nakshi kantha art items include nakshi kantha, bed cover, kamiz, cushion cover, saree, Punjabi, T-shirt, tops, skirt, ladies Punjabi, yoke, purse, pillow cover, TV cover, saree pier, shawl sheet etc.  .

The value of Nakshi products of Jamalpur is increasing in the country and abroad. There are many small and big showrooms of this industry in Jamalpur district town also. But due to marketing problems, lack of government patronage and lack of capital, women workers are being deprived of a fair price for their labor. They have to be satisfied with the low wages given by the owner as they wish. And local small entrepreneurs say it costs 1,600 to 1,800 taka, including wages, to make a nakshi kantha. It has to be sold to the wholesalers of Dhaka for 2000 taka. This word is sold in the big shopping malls of Dhaka for 4 to 5 thousand taka. Due to lack of capital, they are not able to market these products themselves. As a result, women workers are not getting proper labor price as they are being deprived of fair price of goods.

Current Condition of Nakshi Kantha:
The Nakshi kantha trend of yesteryear still exists today, but in a slightly different way. Nakshi kantha is being made on a commercial basis beyond the boundaries of personal hobbies. Instead of old fabrics and yarns, now red or white-black and colored fabrics and foreign silky yarns are being used. Design table mats have taken the place of Dastarkhan in this variety of change and expansion. Sujani Kantha has been replaced by a designed bed cover.

Due to various adversities, the industry did not expand much. At present, the traders involved in this industry are facing financial constraints and are facing obstacles in expanding their business. National Bank has come forward with patronage keeping in mind the capital crisis of nakshi kantha traders. SME loan activities have been launched among the traders. With the help of loans from other financial institutions, the small entrepreneurs here will be able to market these needle products directly in big cities including Dhaka.

Nakshi kantha is also in great demand outside the country. Can also export abroad. After the country’s garment industry, the nakshi kantha of Jamalpur will be able to play a special role in creating the lifeblood of the country’s economy. Creating its own market for these products would have given poor women workers a fair price for their labor as well as changed the image of rural economy in this poor district.

It takes one or two years or more to sew a nakshi kantha. It has a considerable influence and diversity on history, tradition, emotions, feelings, religious beliefs, culture, tastes, space, time, economy, nature and environment. Nakshi kantha is a potential resource of Bengal.

The beauty of Nakshi kantha’s exterior is as varied as the story inside is a thousand times more emotional, poignant, dazzling and significant. It is the lifeblood of Bengali women and beauty is the varied reflection of diverse life. Love and nature are inseparable bridges here. It is necessary to take initiative at the national level so that it is not lost from the heritage of Bengal. A family can become self-sufficient by selling hand-woven nakshi kantha. The life story of the bride of the village of Bengal in the court of the world.



Author of This Article:
Nazifa Tabassum
Dept. of Clothing and Textile
Govt. College of Applied Human Science, Dhaka

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2 thoughts on “Nakshi Kantha: A Diverse Element of Bengali Folk Culture and Its History”

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