Kantha is one of the popular styles of embroidery that originated in West Bengal. It is considered to be a symbol of the talents and skills possessed by Bengal’s rural women. The word Kantha signifies ‘throat’, in association to Lord Shiva. Kantha embroidery is known as the ‘running’ stitch.

This style of embroidery was traditionally used in sarees, dhotis, and quilts for a long period of time till it made its way into modern Indian fashion. Today this style can be found in several varieties of garments and home furnishings like dupattas, shawls, pillow covers, and so on. Kantha bedsheets are also quite in style.

Origin of Kantha

Kantha has been known as one of the oldest forms of embroidery in India which can be traced back to the first and second A.D. The rationale behind the origin of this style was to reuse the old materials and clothes in order to create something new. This is the reason why Kantha embroidery is one of a kind.

The style of embroidery used in Kantha bedsheets is dated to about 500 years old. According to a myth, Lord Buddha along with his disciples made use of old rags having several patches works in order to cover themselves at night. These old rags supposedly mark the origin of Kantha embroidery. Traditionally, women used this style of embroidery to stitch three or four sarees together in order to cover their children at night. This may have started as a way to make life comfortable, but it has now turned into a huge trend in furniture and clothing.

The Designs

The source of inspiration for this piece of art was the day to day life. The motifs that were used in Kantha bedsheets and clothes were of fishes, folk scenes, animals, birds, and imagery that displayed the livelihood of the people in Bengal. Another kind of motivation was reprocessing, because women needed to recycle their old clothes in order to use them for practical purposes, such as furniture, blankets, or covers. Kantha embroidery is considered to be beautiful, practical, and economical all at the same time.

The Artists

For several decades, Kantha embroidery acted as a source of income to many rural women of West Bengal. But, the literal face behind this great art would be Shamlu Dudeja, known as a teacher and revolutionary, the one who identified the importance of this craft. In the early 80s’, she went to great lengths to empower rural women who were practising Kantha embroidery. She encouraged them to take this craft more seriously in a professional way. She laid the foundation of Kantha embroidery which later became so popular.

Present Day Scenario

Kantha embroidery is known for making a huge impact in the fashion market. Many fashion shows have displayed a beautiful collection of Kantha work, including other types of Indian embroideries. Nowadays, designers are giving a unique twist to the traditional form of Kantha embroidery in different types of clothing, such as kurtas, sherwanis, hot pants, and dhotis. This style of embroidery is a great display of art in whatever way it is represented.  

 

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