Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 36, Tuesday September 16, 2008




In love with tradition

For eons, traditional textiles have been a fashion statement of this region. The advent of the British saw a cross-pollination of eastern textile and western cuts. There has been a gradual inclination towards foreign garments, and fashion statements. The tide, however, is about to change. As the boutique culture flourishes, the fan following of local textile, and heritage is witnessing a come back.

A closer look at traditional textile will take us back and forth in history, to a time long before the birth of Christ. Many fashion conscious Bangladeshis will know that our rendezvous with textile dates back to ancient times when the people produced their own cloth. In fact, khadi (which means any cloth that is hand spun and hand woven) had a most religious role in marriages when brides were presented with a charkha in their wedding trousseau to encourage spinning of the yarn.

The early part of the twentieth century saw a revival of the khadi culture, under the patronage of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers. Youth found a new meaning in their sense of styling, a statement that was chic, yet made a bold affirmation to Swaraj. Gandhi wrote- Swaraj (self-rule) without swadeshi (country made goods) is a lifeless corpse and if Swadeshi is the soul of Swaraj, khadi is the essence of swadeshi.

Soon after independence, the seventies enjoyed positive attitude towards khadi and local handlooms. The khadi market near GPO saw fashion bridge between the wealthy and the poor. The basic material being cheap, khadi was essentially a cloth for the middle class, but its appeal transcended social barrier and fascinated the rich.

It was more of a style statement than fashion. And it is as true today as it was almost a hundred years ago. Not anyone can pull off khadi but those who can, do it with style. Pandit Nehru was said to have woven for his daughter Indira, a wedding sari in salmon pink khadi while in jail. This sari is still worn by women of the Nehru-Gandhi family on their wedding day.

Its journey from an eventful birth as the fabric favoured by revolutionaries, to designer boutiques and elite consciousness has been an exciting one. The raw texture of khadi has an appeal of oozing sexuality for the women, and a proclamation of vigour for the men. To designers, it is a canvas that allows elaborate work of prints especially the vegetable dye block prints. Printing is in fact much better than embroidering, as it is easier to maintain, and with prints being in fashion, it becomes more chic.

While designers vouch for the versatility of the fabric, wearers swear by its practicality and comfort. It is not only the perfect answer to hot and humid summers but also provides adequate protection against winter chill.

The biggest problem is that of our mindset. For some inexplicable reason, people find it difficult to accept khadi as a formal outfit. This is actually not true. Almost all formal outfits can be made out of khadi - including western tops, shirts, pants, and saris. The rigidity of the mindset must change, paving way for creation and fashion icons.

A stark contrast to khadi has been the journey of Jamdani. Unlike khadi, the raw materials used are neither indigenous nor local. Yet the designs are inherited from a glorious past, handed down to a generation of weavers.

Although generally recognised to be of Persian origin, Jamdani is now synonymous to Dhaka and this country. Using an intricate weave of silk, cotton or a blend of the two, Jamdani in subtle hues and bold geometric and symmetrical patterns is comfortable and stands out as an ethereal symbol of feminine beauty and majestic aura.

It speaks volumes for the taste of the lady who adorns the garb, and today its use has been widely spread to dupattas, kameez and even panjabi for men.

It has been a long standing tradition for the bride's wedding entourage to make use of jamdani and other traditional textile, but recent times has seen the belle of the evening feel pride in flaunting her own statement in elegant jamdani. No wedding trousseau is complete without it.

However, the fan fare that traditional textile now enjoys is not enough to support the thousands of weavers and artisans whose lives depend on it. It takes six to eight weeks to make a jamdani of exquisite design. Only a handful of patrons realise the effort that goes into making this piece of art. The weavers are now forced to compromise on design and quality to meet the demands of the consumers; a profanity, as it is in these very details that lies the elegance of the material.

A recent cry has been the phase for fusion, incorporating the borders of jamdani with matched silk saris; while others have used beadwork, sequins and appliqué augmenting the designs on the fabric itself. Although popular, these fashion trends are destroying the elegance attributed to jamdani. Materials of inferior quality are being refurbished, increasing the price of the material. However, the weavers remain deprived, their designs and age-old techniques face near destruction.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo courtesy: Mayasir, Prabartana


Weaver's wand

As the crow flies, Tangail is not far from Dhaka. When everything is in order, no traffic jam, protestors or mayhem on the highways, it's hardly a two and a half hours journey. Tangail has its share of heritage- countless abodes of past zamindars, nawabbari and archaeological sites which makes it a tourist attraction.

Our travel plan this time around, however, was out of the ordinary. So was the goal. Waking up early in the morning, we embarked on a vehicle. To avoid the rush of the traffic we chose a Saturday. Objective - well let's keep that a secret for a while.
The road from Dhaka to Ashuliya through Vishwa Road is pretty bad. The narrow road digs deep, with holes every now and then. But once it reaches the highway, the roads are pretty good. The scenic beauty outside was picturesque and time flew by. After being on the street for a while, we saw bazaars, people carrying piles of green vegetables on their heads or on vans. If you want, you can buy straight from the fields, green cucumbers, papaya, pumpkin or guava. There is fish too, but it would not be wise to buy raw fish before reaching the destination.

Upon reaching Tangail we enquired about the road to Pathrail, the weaver's village and the time required to make the journey. Everyone was keen to show us the way; we later learnt that there is another way to the weaver's palli bypassing Tangail Town. I am sure the objective for the journey is pretty clear to everyone by now. Before Eid, we were eager to get some saris at a bargain price right from the source.

Upon reaching Pathrail, we were in the heart of weaver's land. Every once in a while lay a showroom of the boshaks. Some established their outlets right in their homes. Leading boutiques of Dhaka like Rang, Kay Kraft Aarong are their biggest clients. We however, had already spoken to Neelkomol Boshak before leaving Dhaka.

At Neelkomol you can get a wide assortment of saris ranging from Tk 250-5000. Almiras are stacked with row after rows of handlooms for you to pick from. Now, one might wonder, why go through all the hassle of going to Tangail to make a purchase when you can get the same from any boutique? Well, you can easily get your answer once you are at Pathrail. Saris that cost Tk 400-450 in Dhaka, are available at Tk 250-300. The price discrepancy is more distinct in costly saris. Saris worth Tk 2000-2200 are easily available within Tk 1200-1400. But the price factor becomes significant only when buying in bulk. You can take orders from friends and family before going on the quest for cheap saris.

The bazaar came alive within an hour. Goodness, we even saw some familiar faces! Boutique owners flock the market for their purchases. Its best to avoid Fridays, when the rush is ever high. Once you have walked the path and made your purchase, your gut feeling will tell you that you have won. Besides the traditional handlooms of Tangail, you can also get embroidered fabric, zardozi work on half silk and the likes.

Buying handlooms straight from the weavers is only part of the experience. Buying fish from the fishermen, lau from the villager, sweets from Ghoshbari or the freshly baked cake from the baker completes the experience. If you want a frugal experience further still, then you should head for Bajitpur Haat. But only the early bird catches the fly because the sari bazaar is held between 6-8 AM, twice a week.

If you want to make the purchase of your choice, then do visit with a few hours in hand. The mid day will run into dusk before you know it. And yes, before you return don't forget to buy chomchom and yoghurt.

By Shahana Huda Ranjana
Translated by Mannan Mashhur Zarif


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