Whether in the form of a sari neatly draped around the body or a ‘dupatta’ elegantly slung over the shoulder, the sheer texture of Jamdani adds grace and femininity to a woman’s appearance, no matter what the occasion. If there is anything at all that represents “Bengali fashion,” it would be Jamdani. It is for these reasons that Jamdani has been upheld as the symbol of Bengali artisanship, both at home and abroad.
The dominance of Jamdani dates back to the 17th century and has since been a coveted textile in the South Asian region. The cotton textiles of Sonargaon were highly praised by explorers and historians, such as Ibn Battuta and Ralph Fitch, from distant lands. Jamdani was a prized possession of European and American homes during the 18th and 19th centuries.
This globally-cherished fabric propelled a significant portion of exports for Bangladesh back then. While the industry seems to have declined, the creative vigour of Bangladeshi weavers are still alive due to the collaborative efforts of local fashion houses and of the government of Bangladesh to revive this glory.
The ‘Jamdani Palli’ (Jamdani Village) established in Demra near Dhaka is abuzz with activities as weavers dedicate about two months of labour into making a standard Jamdani sari. The art of weaving Jamdani is the most labour-intensive and time-consuming. As of 2002, the artistic endeavours of approximately 5,600 diligent weavers materialised into Jamdani clothing. Based on their instincts, these experts create the motifs directly on the handlooms. They usually do not carve out the designs on paper.
This year, this traditional art of weaving Jamdani has been recognized as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It follows Baul songs of Bangladesh that were also inscribed in the list in 2008.According to the UNESCO’s definition of cultural heritage, numerous traditions fall into this category, including the “knowledge and skills to produce traditional craft.”
An intangible cultural heritage had to be traditional and contemporary concurrently, inclusive, representative, and community-based. Through this list, the UNESCO seeks to preserve diverse intangible cultural legacies, such as Tibetan opera and Viennese Coffee House Culture.
This recognition is a fitting reward for all those who work tirelessly to promote Jamdani.