What is Handloom?

Handloom is a timeless tradition used by artisans all over India for weaving of fabrics mostly from natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, jute etc. It is a cottage industry wherein all the family members are directly involved in the production of the fabric. Loom refers to the wooden frames which are used for weaving. The process of weaving is done by interlacing of two sets of threads- the warp(length) and weft (width). In case of handloom textiles, the entire process which involves spinning of yarn, colouring and weaving is done manually by the craftsmen and their families. It is the most eco- friendly way of making clothes.

Craftsman involved in hand loom weaving

West Bengal has a rich tradition and history of hand loom weaving. The textile production in Bengal has attracted people globally. The Bengal Handlooms are very superior in quality and has an aesthetic appeal. The quintessential sarees are so special since they are completely hand woven and environment friendly.

History and Origin of Bengal Handloom

The earliest records of hand loom saree weaving in Bengal can be dated back to the 15th Century in Shantipur ( in Nadia district) of West Bengal. The art then flourished and thrived during the Mughal era (16th to 18th Century) when it received extensive royal patronage along with muslin and jamdani saree weaving. Fine muslin sarees were adorned by the women of aristocratic families, whereas the cotton and tant sarees were worn by the common people. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, a large number of Bangladeshi Hindu weavers migrated to West Bengal. Phulia (or Fulia) which is a neighbouring town to Shantipur became the home for these weavers from (Tangail) of Bangladesh. They were highly skilled weavers who brought their ancestral tradition of hand loom weaving. Some of the migrated weavers settled in Hooghly and Burdwan districts of West Bengal. Over the years the weavers received great support from the Government and hence the weaving community grew and flourished. Sarees and finely woven light weight textiles are being produced in the traditional methods even today. With the advancement and evolution in the techniques and methodologies implemented in the production of sarees, we can still find the traditional weaving methods reflected in the sarees made in the vast textile belt of Shantipur.

Making of Bengali Tant sarees


Bengal Tant

There are a wide range of Bengal Handloom sarees with intricate designs and exquisite weaves. Some of them are:

The most important feature of a traditional tant saree is that it has a very light and airy texture. They are woven from cotton threads and are slightly transparent and hence have a breathable texture. These sarees are appropriate for casual everyday use and are perfect for the humid climate. The tant sarees are predominantly woven in Hooghly, Nadia and Murshidabad. It features a thick border and decorative pallav adorned with paisley and floral patterns. Some of the popular motifs on a tant saree are bhomra (bumble bee), tabij (amulet), rajmahal (royal palace), ardha-chandra (half moon), chandmala (a garland of moons), ansh (fish scale), hathi (elephant), nilambari (blue sky), ratan chokh( gem-eyed), benki (spiral), tara (star), kalka (paisley) and phool (flower). Hand painted and embroidered designs are also sometimes incorporated into these saree. Depictions of modern art and solar elements have been added in the recent times. These light weight sarees are finished off with a thicker border to avoid tear.

Cotton Tant saree
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Jamdani saree

The name Jamdani is Persian in origin. ‘Jam’ meaning flower and ‘Dani’ meaning vase. The name is suggestive of the floral motifs used to beautify the saree. Jamdani is the finest variety of muslin that is hand woven from cotton. The art gained recognition and flourished during the Mughal era. It is popularly known as Dhakai Jamdani or Dhakai, as this art of textile weaving has its roots in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Jamdani and Tant sarees ‘ find an integral place in a Bengali women’s wardrobe. Designs on a fine Jamdani saree may involve ‘butidar’ where the entire saree is scattered with floral patterns, diagonally striped floral designs and a network of floral motifs called ‘jhallar’. Jamdani is not just limited to sarees, we can find scarves, dupattas and even handkerchiefs made out of this fine muslin. The process is very time consuming and labour intensive and hence Jamdani is considered to be one of the prized fabrics in the world. There are a few varieties of Jamdani based on the region it is being woven. Tangail Jamdani is woven in the Tangail district of Bangladesh and Shantipur Jamdani from Shantipur, West Bengal.

Jamdani saree with butidar designs

Matka silk saree

The Matka silk sarees are one among the most preferred Bengal Handloom sarees woven in the towns of Malda and Murshidabad. They are crafted from coarse mulberry silk and bear a variety of fine intricate embroidery. Despite the irregularities in texture, Matka silk is considered to be very unique. You can team up a beautiful Matka silk saree with the traditional lac bangles. Since the fabric is so versatile, it is not only used to make sarees but even used making of suits, jackets and for furnishing.

Bengali matka silk saree


The Baluchari sarees bear the rich culture and heritage of Bengal. They are known for their pictorial representations. The speciality of this particular Bengal Handloom is that the pallav of this saree is woven with a narrative. The weaves depict scenes from Indian mythology like Ramayana and Mahabaratha. Scenes depicting the lives of Nawabs can also be seen on the sarees. Every saree is unique and meticulously crafted by skilled craftsmen. Baluchari sarees are a pride of Bengal.

Traditional Baluchari saree with a pictorial representation

Tussar silk

Tussar silk also known as ( Tussah, Tushar or Tassar) is known for its rich texture and natural deep gold colour which is obtained from a certain type of silk worm species. India is the main producer of Tussar silk with Jharkand( West Bengal) being the main state of production. Tussar silk is more textured and lighter than the other silk varieties hence it is more wearable and suitable for warmer weather.

Hand woven pure Tussar silk saree


Kantha is an embroidery style practiced in Bolpur and Santiniketan regions of Bengal. Kantha is a form of running stitch which is hand made. Each kantha saree may take upto weeks or even a month for completion depending upon the intricacy and complexity of the kantha embroidery. Initially this type of embroidery was done extensively on quilts but kantha salwar suits and sarees are very popular nowadays. This embroidery is done on Tant, Tussar and Matka silk sarees giving it a more rich look. More the embroidery heavier the fabric.

Pure silk dupatta with Kantha embroidery


Bengal Handloom sarees are famous for their rich pure fabrics and exclusive designs. The Jamdani, Tussar, Baluchar and Kantha sarees are well suited for occasions like Navratri, Durga puja, Diwali etc. On the other hand Tant sarees can be draped for casual everyday use.

Celebrities in Bengal Handloom

The charm of these gorgeous weaves have attracted many top Bollywood stars like Kajol, Vidya Balan, Rani Mukherjee and Aishwarya Rai. Many of these celebrities have been spotted draped in Bengal Handloom sarees at various events. Priyanka Chopra graciously carried a lite green Jamdani saree with beautiful floral designs when she received the Padma Shri award.

Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra in a gorgeous Bengal Handloom saree

Interesting facts

The Hon Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee wears a Tant saree from Dhaniakhali.

Jamdani has been declared as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.


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