India being a land of multiple cultures, religions, norms, values and beliefs has a major influence on people’s perception of an Art. Kantha work is one such beautiful embroidery art which has a great significance in handloom industry and it’s been fruitful to many artisans. So, how did Kantha work evolve over the time and what makes it so special in Indian fashion? I have a take on that.
Kantha is an extensive work of embroidery art originated from West Bengal, India. Since many decades Kantha is been a major source of income for many rural artisans especially women in West Bengal. An inherent motif of Kantha work is real life experiences imprinted on a piece of cloth. Other themes comprises of folk tradition, animals, birds, floral motifs, tribal designs, geometrical shapes that matches with the ecstatic feel of Bengali community. Kantha in Sanskrit means ‘throat’, the word emphasis on the story of Lord Shiva’s grappling with consumed poison while stirring up an ocean. This makes significance of this particular (Kantha) word go back to the Vedic times.
Kantha work is imprecisely 500 years old art. There is a myth surrounding it which points out that Lord Buddha and his disciples used old rags with different kinds of patch work to cover themselves with at night, and this gave the Kantha embroidery its origin. The work of Kantha is rather a simple work of stitching but needs great amount of determination and focus. The stitches made on the cloth gives it a slightly wrinkled flowy effect. The base fabric used in making Kantha work is Silk and Cotton. The basic notion of Kantha work is to reuse old clothes and materials to make it look completely new! Economical, practical yet very pretty is what precisely sumps up Kantha embroidery work. This makes Kantha embroidery work truly one of its kinds. One can commonly see Kantha work on Pillow covers, Shawls, Cushion Covers, Mattress Covers, Quilts, Indian traditional clothes like soft Dhotis, Sarees, shirts for men and women…eventually, this kind of embroidery has made its way in the heart of Indian fashion and went on to become a big trend in clothes as well as fabric on furniture. One can see Kantha work in unusual products like fabric furnishing and artistic home interiors.
Shamlu Dudeja, a teacher from West Bengal deserves applause for the revival of Kantha work in the region. For decades this work has been a source of income for the women artisans there but it was always minimum comparing with amount of efforts they put into the work. Furthermore, just like other handicrafts there was no specific target consumer and hence it lacked structured business and a proper market arena. Shamlu didi, as they lovingly call her, understood the importance of this craft and took great initiatives in the early 1980 to fortify the craft of Kantha work. Through her NGO named SHE (Self Help Enterprise) she encouraged the rural craftsman to understand their skills and empowered women to live up to their power. She helped to make them understand the market necessity for this craft and work more solemnly as well as professionally. This way she gave much deserved boost to Kantha work.
There are seven different varieties of Kantha embroidery work. These are:
- Lep Kantha: Used for making soft, warm and padded quilts.
- Sujani Kantha: Used for making bed covers on ceremonial occasions.
- Baiton Kantha: Used for wrapping purpose of books and other precious objects.
- Oaar Kantha: Specifically used to make pillow covers.
- Archilata Kantha: This work comes with motif of vivacious colours and borders. It is usually done for the covering of mirrors.
- Durjani Kantha: In this tiny pieces are used to make insides of wallet.
- Rumal Kantha: This comes in a lotus motif in the centre which looks utterly pretty and it is used to cover up the plates.
Kantha embroidery has certainly smitten the fashion industry with its innate charm. Sharbari Datta, a leading Indian fashion designer, has a display of beautiful ensembles of Kantha work, along with other Indian traditional embroideries, in her store as well in some of her fashion shows. She took the traditional Kantha embroidery work and gave it a distinctive touch by including it on dhoti and kurtas, sherwanis and even hot pants!
Just like Kantha, You Should Read About Other Natural Fibres Which Is So Much Better Than The Synthetic Fibre.
Trivia: Hilary Clinton on one of her visits in India fell in love with rich cultural display of handicrafts and embroidery in Bengal. Interestingly, she was greatly impressed with exquisite Kantha embroidery work which was displayed in one of the fashion show she attended in India.
Apart from West Bengal, Kantha work is extensively practised in Odissa and also in Bangladesh. Each region adds its own unique flavor to this work in the style of weaving it. The love for Kantha work is not limited to India, this artistic work has created its own space and expanded it horizon at global platform. Designers from UK and Japan have reached out to local sellers in India and have consolidated Kantha embroidery work into their designs.