Kantha work is embroidery done on used apparel, renewing their looks and extending their life. It is a unique art from Murshidabad in former Bengal. Kantha Work is essentially done on old sarees, dhotis and other apparel. It is a running stitch on the sarees in the form of motifs such as animals, birds, flowers, simple geometrical shapes and scenes from everyday life.
The interesting journey of Kantha
Bengali women used to mend their old clothes by making designs from a strand of thread off the colorful border of their saris. This led to an art practiced by rural women securing them a respectable means of earning a modest income. Kantha work done on a saree gives it a wrinkled and wavy look and transforms old clothes into extraordinarily new creations. Though the running stitch is most popular for its ease, other forms of stitch such as darning stitch, satin stitch and loop stitch are also used. Kantha stitching is also employed in the making of quilts, known as Nakshi Kantha. Women use old saris and other cloth, layering them with the kantha stitch to make small blankets and bedspreads, for children. Kantha embellishes a wide range of garments, such as sarees, dupattas, shirts, bedding and a variety of other fabrics in cotton and silk. Old saris and dhotis are transformed by kantha work to serve as gifts for beloved ones.
Based on the use of the fabric, Kantha is divided into seven different types, of which Lep Kantha and Sujani Kantha are famous. Kantha is a way of life; a tradition that is still followed meticulously. kanthas are prepared for small babies to lie on, wedding kanthas are made by mothers and gifted to their daugthers and kantha is present on the ceremonial cloth meant for funeral rites.
Kanthas of Bengal
West Bengal districts deserve special mention in the context of Nakshi Kantha . Nakshi Kantha stitching of Murshidabad, Malda, Nadia, Bankura, Midnapore, Howrah, Burdwan, Birbhum and North and South 24 Parganas are beautiful works of Bengali Women.
The dorokho (double-sided) Kantha is also made in West Bengal andare known for its variety of designs and motifs.
Kantha of Murshidabad:
The Kanthas are thick. The running stitch and the small sitich is used. The popular folk works are Sujni Kanthas, Lep Kantha, Roasted Kantha , Arsilata. The Kantha works have lotus motif in the center and alpana and floral designs. The motifs used are flowers, owl, birds, elephant, peacock, betel leaves, etc.
Kantha of Malda :
Malda Known for its beautiful Kanthas. The designs are Lahari and geometric, with small series used in the vacant spaces of the designs. The motifs are seen are those of peacock with feathers spread, betel leaves, boat, mat, sun, and flowers.
Kantha of West Dinajpur
Kanthas are quite heavy in West Dinajpur. The small stitch is used and the reasons are peacock, bird, fish, tiger, elephant, fan, nutcrackers, flowers.
Kantha of Nadia:
The running stitch is mainly used as well as the small stitch. Sujni, durjani, dorokha (two-sided) Kanthas can be found here. The lotus flower motifs dominate alpana. The motifs such as elephant, fish, peacock,kalka, human figures, tree of life, deities are commonly used.
Kantha of Bankura:
Floral and other designs attract special attention. The Motifs are, dog, bear, monkey,the tree of life, peacock, betel leaves etc
Kantha of Burdwan:
The tradition of gifting Kanthas to the bride on her wedding still continues.
Kantha of Birbhum :
Muslim girls emphasize the geometric pattern. Hindus also make Kanthas in Birbhum area. A particular feature is the twisted flower in Kanthas. The most common motif is the flower, although other motifs are also found.
Kantha of North 24 Parganas :
Almost all kinds of Kantha Stitches are found. Wide variety of Motif pattern are common denoting the rick flok art tradition of North 24 Parganas. Kantha of various sizes and designs and high quality of needle emboridery reflects the imaginative power of the Bengali Women. Border designs include geometric, abstract etc. The Motifs are peacock, boat, shell, fish, elephant, scenes from the epics, deities etc.
Origin of Kantha
Kantha Stitch Embroidery captures the essence of Indian roots, crafted with a focus on the traditional artwork, and it is always great to see my designs developing into fascinating embroidered Artwork.
The origin of Kantha embroidery can be traced back to pre-Vedic era. In fact one can see that the symbols used in this form of embroidery are inspired by nature and ancient Indian art. In West Bengal as long as one can trace, this form of art was initiated by rural women who used this form of embroidery to make quilts and to adorn personal garments and fabrics such as sarees, dhotis and handkerchiefs. Interestingly, Kantha embroidery derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Kantha’ which has two meanings. The first one refers to it as ‘rags’ signifying the intent of its origin which was mainly to adorn old clothes and make meaningful and beautiful things out of old rags such as making colorful quilts from old dhotis and sarees etc. The second meaning refers to it as ‘throat’ due to its association with Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity who is also referred to as Neel Kantha after the epic Samudra Manthan episode of Hindu mythology.
One of the oldest forms of embroidery practiced in Bangladesh and West Bengal, Kantha embroidery is an art practiced by rural women of Bengal to adorn women’s shawls and covers for mirrors, pillow covers and storage boxes and most importantly to embellish sarees made out of various textures and fabrics, the most popular of them being Kantha silk sarees. Though Kantha embroidery consists of simple running stitches, it is rather laborious and time consuming. Born from pure imagination of rural women who adorn these Kantha sarees, Kantha embroidery portrays beautiful motifs and designs as it draws inspiration from day to day activities resulting in a close mesh of design in the form of beautiful flowers, birds and animal motifs or human figurines or even simple geometric patterns. The colored silken threads that run through the saree forming these lovely patterns are a treat to view. Eventually as Kantha embroidery gained cultural and religious significance, Kantha sarees gained popularity in religious ceremonies and pujas and auspicious occasions like wedding and child birth.
Photo Courtesy : Biswajit Ghosh.