‘Begum Bahar’ - the very term is suggestive of royalty, spring, and all things ethereal. This was the name given to a light, superfine, beautiful saree from Tangail. Originally from the Tangail District (now in Bangladesh), this handloom saree is testimony to the glorious history of a rich weaving heritage. This heritage, in fact, also finds mention in the chronicles and logs of ancient explorers and travelers like Ibn Batuta and Hiuen Tsang.
Tangail is a weavers’ village in Bangladesh famous for its handloom industry and its trademark Tangail sarees. This thousand-year culture has been passed on from generation to generation and has evolved into an income-generating cottage industry today.
Tangail weavers are direct descendants of the famous Muslin weaver community. So naturally, the fine art of their weaving is inimitable and unique. During the partition of Bengal (1942), a dozen families of the Basak community from Nowakhali and Tangail came and settled in and around the Bardhaman (Burdwan) district in West Bengal. With them, came their looms and their specialised weaving of Tangail sarees with finer counts of yarn.
Today, ‘Tangail’ and ‘Jamdani’ are two types of sarees that are the best heirloom and handloom examples of the West Bengal textile industry.
WARP, WEFT AND WONDER!
A Tangail saree was originally woven on a pit loom and shuttle with a silk warp and cotton-weft or fillers. It was light, soft, and comfortable. The silk was later replaced by local cotton yarn owing to the scarcity of silk yarn and the infamous partition. The early weaving process was very complicated where the yarn was spun with a takli (spindle) instead of a spinning wheel.
Over time, new-age techniques, processes, and materials have evolved to support this old-age industry. Nowadays, pure cotton, khadi cotton, linen, tussar silk, matka silk, resham silk, rayon, blended silk, and zari are used to weave a Tangail saree. The threads are found to be organic, pure or blends. Indigenous bleaching and dyeing materials have made way for chemical dyes and ingredients. But the output stays true to its original art form and is as lovely as its predecessor.
This 5.5-meter masterpiece can be woven in two styles: Jacquard and Nokhshi Buti. For the Jacquard, the desired pattern is fed in the loom itself. When the entire yardage is ready, the loose threads are cut off to give it a smooth and clean finish. As opposed to this, in Nokshi Buti, everything including the fabric, motifs, and border is worked on entirely by hand. That is why no two sarees come out exactly the same.
The Tangail is a close cousin of the Jamdani and shares its technique of drawing and weaving wherein an extra weft is woven in for patterns. The only difference being, two plain picks (for Tangail) instead of one (for Jamdani) are inserted after each extra weft.
The beauty of any saree primarily rests on its border ‘Par’ (border) and ‘Pallav’ (top end). Silk, gold, or silver yarn is used to embellish these and special attention is given to their detailing and finishing. The entire saree’s appeal depends on how well the borders and Pallav turn out.
TYPES OF TANGAIL
Tangail cotton sarees can be classified into:
1. Ordinary striped or checked Tangail - simply striped or checked with an occasional gold or silver thread highlight but no decorative designs
2. Butidar Tangail - usually woven on a light background with soft bright buties (motifs repeated in a pattern all over the saree)
3. Bordered or Naksha Tangail - made on Jacquard looms giving the weaver the freedom to use any number of design motifs
The magic of the Tangail saree lies in the touch and feel, and the finish of the saree. A sizing mixture - Kali - made with rice and lime is applied by hand during the weaving process itself. As soon as a meter of cloth is woven, this mixture is rubbed on by hand to give the fabric a bit of body and crispness. This is repeated meter after meter till the entire saree is coated and becomes stiff like paper. It is then folded in a particular manner and tied with a piece of cloth. When one holds such a perfectly folded saree, unravels the tied cloth, and feels the fabric, one cannot help but fall in love with it.
Spread the word, save the weave.