Woven with big dreams and enthralling narratives, a traditional Tant saree is synonymous with one of Bengal's finest and oldest weaving technique, wherein a medley of Mughal and Hindu patronage along with a Bengali sense of design gave it a unique identity. The word 'Tant' refers to the handlooms used to weave yards and yards of awe-inspiring creations and dates back to the 15th century, in the Nadia district of West Bengal. Tantshilpa or the art of weaving of handloom sarees ranks second as an economic and industrial activity that provides livelihood to the weaving community across Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam. Through this week's blog, we will be exploring more of this in-depth about this preferred everyday cotton drape.
From the 15th to 18th centuries, the art of Tant flourished to great heights under the Mughal rule along with its sister weaving techniques of muslin and jamdani. It was predominantly preferred by the common people as it was more affordable, comfortable and suitable to sub-tropical humid weather. While the craft grew over the years, it wasn't until the pre-independence years that it incorporated modern techniques like the Jacquard loom which is still in use today. In the years after the partition of Bengal, many weavers migrated from Bangladesh's Tangail district and settled in the towns of Phulia, Shantipur, Hooghly and Burdwan. Carrying their own ancestral legacy and adapting to their new environment, they each created a distinct weaving style and in the process giving the world some of the most well-known varieties of Tant weaves. Here are some of the weaves categorised based on regions:
1. Fulia and Shantipur: Soft and fine-textured, with vibrant colours and large, intricately woven motifs.
2. Dhaniakhali: Pastel shades with minimal motifs and mostly featuring striped patterns.
3. Begampur: Light-weight and translucent weaves in deep, bright colours.
4. Atpur: Coarser weaves known for the production of everyday wear sarees and dhotis.
While so much of patience and precision goes into the making of each handloom saree, it is only fair that we take care of it appropriately. A great tip for Tant sarees is to soak them in warm water mixed with rock salt before the first wash to ensure it does not bleed colours in the subsequent washes.
The distinct hallmark of a Tant saree is the use of locally procured Bengal cotton, whose fine handspun yarn gives the saree its soft and feather-like feel. The process that goes behind bringing this weave to life starts with washing and sun-drying the yarn to remove any impurities or chemicals. It is then bleached, dyed and starched before being wound on bamboo drums for weaving. The artisans then hand draw the designs and transcribe it onto soft cardboards which are then fit into the loom, taking almost 12 hours to 1 week to complete based on the complexity of the designs. Characterised by a big 4-inch border and decorative pallu, some favourite motifs of this weave include Bhomra (bumblebee), Tabij (amulet), Chandmala (garland of moons), Ansh (fish scales), Benki (spiral) and Kalka (paisley).
Inspired by India's diverse traditions and cultures, we seek is to bring forth the country's handloom heritage to the world, through the finest fabrics from across the land and the magical hands that work the loom, such as the breezy and beautiful Bengal cotton sarees.