Famous for its illustrative themes exhibiting traditions and social life, baluchari is a saree made in Murshidabad, a historical city in West Bengal. Handwoven with rich silk, baluchari encompasses intricate artwork that strongly represents Indian mythology and folktales.
Baluchari’s history can be traced back to 1704 CE, when Murshid Quli Khan, the first Nawab of Bengal, changed his capital from Dacca (now Dhaka) to Maksudabad (now Murshidabad). The Nawab’s artisans shifted along with his court from Dacca and were given space to settle in Baluchar (now Jiaganj) village. After the Ganga river flooded, the village of Baluchar submerged, and the artisans consequently moved to Bishnupur, a village in the Bankura district. They developed their unique style, setting a statement in the saree industry during the Malla era.
Types of Baluchari
While there isn’t a lot of variation in the type of silk or method of weaving used today, balucharis can be broadly categorized based on the threads used in weaving the patterns:
Baluchari (resham): the simplest balucharis have resham threads in a single colour to weave the entire pattern
Baluchari (meenakari): these balucharis have threads in 2 or more colours with attractive meenakari work that further brightens the patterns
Swarnachari (baluchari in gold): They are the most gorgeous balucharis, woven with gold or silver coloured threads (often with meenakari work in another colour) that illuminate the patterns to a much larger extent.
The cost of these threads and the intricacies in the patterns determine the resulting price of a baluchari saree.
The process was very elaborate, taking between 15-18 weeks to weave a saree and gave rise to a large variety of very intricate patterns. During the revival of baluchari weaving in the 20th century by the artist Subho Thakur, jala was replaced by the jacquard technique of weaving. Here, the design is first drawn on a graph paper and then punched into cards accordingly. These cards are then arranged sequentially, sewed together and finally fixed into the jacquard machines. The jacquard technique is simpler and faster, reduces the weaving time to 1 or 2 weeks, but is not as flexible as the jala technique and cannot produce patterns with as much diversity or intricacy. This is the technique that is used in modern times to weave baluchari sarees.
In the present era of contemporary global fashion, baluchari sarees are often donned as a status symbol and, more than that, a sign of aristocracy, good style, and appreciation for their importance in history. You can be sure that with every baluchari saree you add to your wardrobe, you are in fact bringing home and eventually draping around yourself seven yards of India’s complex and rich history.