Kantha, a popular style of embroidery that comes from West Bengal, is a significant symbol that displays the skill and talent of the rural women. Interestingly, Kantha embroidery derives its name from the same word with two different meanings. “Kantha” means “rag” in Sanskrit, which reflects the fact that Kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments. The word also means “throat” and was named due to its association with Shiva.
Its origins can be traced back to the ancient pre-Vedic ages; however, Kantha embroidery as we know it today was found in Krishnadas Kaviraj’s 500-year-old book, Chaitanya Charitamrita. Motifs found in early Kantha embroidery include many symbols that were derived from the ancient art. These symbols such as the Sun, the tree of life and the universe are reflective of nature.
Day to day life has been the most significant source of inspiration behind this craft. The motifs traditionally designed on clothes and bedspreads were of birds, animals, fish, folk scenes and imagery that depicted different livelihoods in Bengal. Fabric reprocessing was another incentive for this craft since women used to recycle their old clothes in those times and turn them into something more practical, like furniture covers or blankets. Kantha embroidery is economical, practical and yet beautiful at the same time.
Kantha work has been around for ages and has been a favorite among those who love taking fashion and style to levels beyond the ordinary. While natural motifs were used in the conventional design, modern-day designers also like to experiment. One can find cave art, Egyptian murals, Hindu mythology, or even pop art being projected through this fine stitch work.
With the current development in its technique and the different styles it brings, Kantha embroidery has become the favorite form of stitch work for designers across the globe.