india bangladesh border

Glorious Gems of MP - The Woven History of Chanderi

The fabric of Chanderi has great tales woven into them. The name of the town itself is synonymous with the world of exquisitely hand-crafted saris. The unique warp and weft of chanderi saris are one of the best kept secrets of this town. The saris are woven out of very fine threads making them extremely lightweight and wearable all year long. And the trade of these sarees has been passed on from one generation to the other, and each member of the family makes a significant contribution to the craft.

Chanderi saris use cotton and silk for the base, and zari butis are woven using extra weft technique. It is amazing to watch each motif being created by hand, one thread at a time. The more complex designs on borders and pallu are now made by dobby and jacquard (complex cards are added to the loom). The beautiful colours (neembu-lemon, narangi-orange, tamatari-tomato) and motifs (leaves, mango, chana-peas) are all inspired by nature.

With a background in Textile Design, I was completely drawn to the painstakingly detailed process of weaving. During my graduate programme I had to make a number of table loom samples and if that was challenging for me, Chanderi weaving is a class apart in its mastery. The simplest of Chanderi sari takes at least 3 days to weave, depending on the motifs and complexity of the design. All the weavers have soft hands enabling them to work with extremely fine threads. There are about 5000 weavers working on looms in Chanderi today.

Later, I got an opportunity to meet a few master weavers and visit their homes. The little time I spent with them will remain in my memory forever. The honesty and sincerity of these talented craftsmen humbled me. I was gazing with wide eyes at the beautiful sari being made right in front of me and in that moment I gained deep respect for these guys, for it takes a colossal effort to set up the loom. With the meticulous addition of each buti (motif), I saluted them for the enormous creativity, patience, skill and sincerity required to master this process. 

Looking at my enthusiasm, one of the weavers narrated a small couplet for me:

“Sheher Chanderi Momenbada,
Tiriya Raj Khasam panihara”

“In the city of Chanderi where weavers dwell,
women rule whereas men fill water”

Master weaver Abdul Fareed, who has been in this business since the last 20 years, showed me some of his sarees. His favourite color is Gajari Pink (Carrot Pink) and favourite motif is Keri (Mango).

Spending time at the weavers’ basti, I was curious to know about the origins of these Bunkars (weavers). “How did the city of looms come to be?”, I enquired. And my guide Kalle bhai, a very erudite man told me the story of the weaver community.

It is believed that they came from the lost city of Gaur Lakhnauti - an ancient city that thrived on the India-Bangladesh border. Kalle bhai’s quest to search the origins of this ancient city led him to Bangladesh in 2011 where he discovered art, crafts and even dialect similar to that of Chanderi. He has penned his research and findings in a deeply engrossing book.  

Another highlight of Chanderi saris is the kaala tika (black spot) that each weaver puts on the sari marking its originality and more importantly to protect it from the evil’s eye - a practice common in India.

Some of the traditional designs are Masrai Dadia Sari, Do Chashmi (both sides can be worn), Daadi Dar, Baane Bar and Mehandi Bhari Haath. One master weaver has been weaving the Mehandi Bhari Haath sari since 1976. Chanderi fabrics are so precious that they are treated like a newborn baby, with utmost care. Legend has it that Chanderi was the most prized fabric of Akbar’s court. With diminishing royalty, Chanderi fabric also saw downfall in production and skilled craftsmen. When Madhav Rao Scindia I inherited the throne, he established a training centre for the weavers of Chanderi.

A centre that is making waves across the city and the country is Chanderiyaan- a cluster of weavers part of Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and Media Lab Asia. It is a social entrepreneurial initiative towards sustaining livelihoods of the Chanderi weavers community. Set up in the Raja Rani Mahal where heritage seeps through each and every wall, Chanderiyaan is an opportunity for weavers to bypass the hefty network of middlemen and sell their creations directly in the global market. That’s why they call it the Digital village of Chanderi.

Designers from all over the country come to Chanderiyaan to develop their weaves and saris. It felt great to see digital empowerment allowing the craft to live long and prosper.

The looms shall be etched in my memory for years to come and the weavers shall continue to remind me of their rich heritage, pride and modesty. The exquisitely crafted saris will wrap me around in their sheer radiance. With a hope to return someday, I bade salaam and left this magnificent city.

About the artist 

Neethi Goldhawk is an independent illustrator and textile print designer who loves drawing all things dreamy, inspired by nature and life. She has illustrated for platforms like Redbull Amaphiko and Launchora. Her pen name (Goldhawk) was concocted in the crowded space of her mind full of absurd characters, who are but little children at heart. She is an avid Tumblr blogger and can be found here

By Neethi Goldhawk
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Fun Geography Fact,

The most confusing international border in the world is located in the Dahala Khargrabari District between India and Bangladesh.  Dahala Kharbagrabi is an enclave of Indian territory, which in turn is surrounded by an enclave of Bangladeshi territory, which in turn is surrounded by an enclave of Indian territory, which in turn is surrounded by Bangladesh itself.

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The Indo-Bangladeshi enclaves,

In geographical terms an enclave is a piece of land belonging to a sovereign nation which is entirely surrounded by the territory of another sovereign nations.  These geographical oddities are actually quite common and most nations have at least a few small enclaves situated in foreign territory.  For example: Germany has a handful of small enclaves located in Belgium and Switzerland, Russia is the proud owner of Kaliningrad, surrounded by Lithuania, Poland, and the Baltic sea.  One of the most complicated international borders is between India and Bangladesh, where both sides of the border are spotted with numerous Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves.  According to legend, ancient and medieval kings would bet plots of land in games of chance such as cards or chess, leading to patchwork of different territories in the region.  In 1713, a treaty between the Kingdom of Koch Bihar and the Mughal Empire further complicated the mess of small territories that dotted the land.  In 1947, the partition of British India into India and Pakistan led to a border between India and East Pakistan (later to become Bangladesh).  By then there were scores of Indian and Bangladeshi enclaves along the border. Over the decades several diplomatic attempts were made to “de-enclave” the border, but all failed.  In 2013 an agreement was made that allowed residents of the enclaves to travel freely throughout the region.

So how many enclaves line the Indian-Bangladeshi border.  In 1997 a joint survey of the area was conducted, and it was discovered that there are 106 Indian enclaves within Bangladesh, and 92 Bangladeshi enclaves within India.  Most are less than 1 square kilometer in size, the largest are Dahagram-Angarpota (Bangladesh) at 18 square kilometers, and Balapara Khagrabari (India) at 29 square kilometers.  The most confusing of all enclaves are located in the Cooch Behar District of West Bengal, where Dahala  Khagrabari (India) is located within Upanchowki Bhajni (Bangladesh), which is located within Balapara Khagrabar (India), which is a located within Bangladesh itself.