What happens when you miss one of the most-sought after textile exhibitions? You order a richly illustrated book titled – ‘Baluchars- The Woven Narrative Silks of Bengal’ edited by Jasleen Dhamija and published by Niyogi Books.

Actually, early this year Darshan Shah of  Weaver’s Studio Resource Centre had put together a Baluchar retrospective at the National Museum, New Delhi. It had taken nearly 10 years for her to showcase for the first time under one roof covetable personal and museum collections from V&A in London, Indian Musuem- Kolkata, TAPI collection in Surat-Gujrat, CSMCV- Mumbai, Musee Guimet – Paris, and Delhi’s very own National Museum and Crafts Museum.

In regard to that and the release of this book I met Jasleen, the ex-President of Jury for UNESCO’s Award for Creativity in Textiles and Chairperson of the Handloom Development Working Group of the Planning Commission (12th Plan)  of Indian Textiles and Handicrafts. I felt like a little child eagerly listening to her elusive tales of the Baluchars, and their exoticism.

Bengal’s woven narrative silks

Recounting their story she began, “Textiles have always been a big part of our lives. The Baluchars too elucidate the history of the 18th and 19th century Bengal, in terms of their life-style, and influences of various cultures which came to India in search of textiles. These woven narrative silks point out and evoke an interest in us. Some believe that it was the foreigners who bought these as souvenirs while few think these were gifted to the highly sophisticated courtesans as favours, as those women always wanted to be a part of the aristocracy.”

Picture 129

Excerpt Changing tastes of India’s elite and the impact of imported cloths threatened to destroy the skill needed to weave complex cloths of this sorts. A few commissions came from the enlightened British officials. The European content of the design reflected this new patronage. A European mounted on an elephant is reading a letter or report – symbols of traditional modern authority amusingly positioned, side by side. Here the European was the patron and the agent and these subtly woven pictorial motifs were intentional.

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