As a child I was never fascinated with draping saaris. In fact I used to find it messy when my mom had to wear it the whole day. It’s not a comfortable outfit for me, and people who know me would have an idea that I generally prefer to wear comfortable clothes. But there was this one saari in particular that I always used to covet. My granny had gifted this beautiful bright yellow saari with black/brown embroidery on it to my eldest sister. My granny got it especially stitched for her as a wedding gift. And apparently, it took more than a month for it to be stitched. I had no understanding then, of the effort that goes into the making of saaris in general and that one in particular. It was only later that I got to know that it was called a Kantha saari!
Kantha is one of the oldest forms of embroidery that originated in India. Its origins can be supposedly traced back to the ancient pre-Vedic ages. ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ in Sanskrit, which reflects the fact that Kantha embroidery is made up of discarded or worn-out garments or clothes. A unique traditional art, Kantha work is a particular kind of embroidery done on old sarees, dhotis and other apparel. Women often use old saaris and other clothes, layering them with the Kantha stitch to make small blankets and bedspreads, for children. My mom made some kanthas for my newborn too. It is a popular art form practiced in Bengal, especially in Bolpur, and in Bihar. While it was developed mostly to make use of old and worn-out clothes, it began to be used as an embroidery pattern on saaris and other fabrics as well. It generally consists of a simple running stitch in the form of motifs such as animals, birds, flowers, simple geometrical shapes and scenes from everyday life. What caught my attention while I was reading about the art form is that it is a craft widely practiced by women in rural Bengal, and it knows no boundaries of class or status. Be it a woman in a small village or a rich landlady, both devote their skills and talents to use Kantha for their clothing, either out of need or just out of interest.
Ever since I was ok with the idea of draping a saari I wanted to get hold of my sister’s Kantha saari. I requested my sister if I could borrow it for a while and she happily obliged. Finally, one day I got a chance to wear it. It was an office Diwali celebration day where people had to wear ethnic wear. It was maybe not the right occasion to wear that saari but I couldn’t help myself. I definitely shone that day and won the best dressed female at office (Miss Phooljhari).
My love for Kantha did not end there. It has only grown with time. I had explicitly requested my mom to gift me a Kanthasaari whenever she wanted to gift me something. That occasion and the perfect kantha for me came in quite late! My mother had gifted me this saari on the occasion of my baby shower, which among Bengalis is popularly known as ‘shaad’. I had planned to wear it for my shaad which was scheduled for 15th August, 2019. However, my baby had other plans and decided to say hello to the world on that particular day. So I did not have a shaad and neither did I get to wear the saari. I waited for occasions after that to flaunt my Kantha saari but couldn’t manage one.
It was my bestie’s wedding last month and I decided to wear a bright pink silk saari for the occasion but then on that particular day something went wrong with the decided saari and I chose to wear the kantha instead. Incidentally, on the same day in a phone call with my mother, she reminded me to drape the Kantha saari. I was not sure if that was the right choice because it’s not the usual choice for people in North India to wear a Kantha during weddings. But I did, and I think I shone in my own way. The saari brought out the best in me because it’s a colorful kantha and an abstract one making it stand out. I felt beautiful wearing it finally!
That’s my Kantha story and I hope the story continues!