Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra


Kantha is a traditional art from Eastern India.  Old pieces of textiles – usually worn out saris and dhotis (usually made of mulmul or thin cotton cloth) were layered and stitched together to form quilts. The stitches used to attach the layers together took on artistic forms and these forms evolved to be known as Kantha work.  The original concept was to use the layered cloth as quilts – one of the many ways of ‘recycling’ old used garments.



Every poor woman in the villages and towns of Bangladesh continued to stitch kanthas as women had in the past—putting together old saris and lungis when their initial purpose had been served and the cloth become too trail and worn out through repeated washings to stand up Io further wear. Outside the dismal huts in every slum, cotton quilts hung up to air and dry In most middle—class families as well, kanthas were used instead of light blankets during cool nights. But these were put together with a minimum of needlework and were meant for private use, not public display. The kind of kantha that the Sonargaon hotel displayed was a thing of the past, Different modes of life and different ideas of aesthetics had caused a fading of interest in indigenous art. The two- hundred-year domination of the Indian subcontinent by the British had led to a substitution of the western for the indigenous, whether it was in language, dress, education, or art.


In the early years of the twentieth century, the struggle for independence and the swadeshi movement led to the evocation of an Indian identity. Deep-seated emotions, however, soon led, as is well-known, to the two-nation theory and the sense of a Pakistani identity, separate from an Indian one. The attempt at creating a Pakistani identity, however, broke down soon after partition. The proclamation that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan led to protests in East Pakistan as early as 1948. In l952, the language struggle reached such an extreme that people in Dhaka city broke Section l44~prohibiting the gathering of more than three persons-to demand that Bangla be recognized as one of the state languages of Pakistan. Over the years, the celebrations during February, commemorating the Language Movement and the Language martyrs, had emerged in a distinctly Bengali culture. Centering upon the Language Movement grew a Bangladeshi cultural awareness that consciously opposed the cultural domination of Pakistan. This awareness led to the adoption of an indigenous art form at commemorations of the language struggle. The women’s art of alpana in particular was used to ornament the paths around the Shaheed Minar, the monument marking the spot where young Bengalis had laid down their lives.

While alpana art was used almost defiantly in the face of the Pakistani masters who could not appreciate the art of the alpana, and also hated and feared it as unlslamic and suggestive of black magic, the art of the kantha was an almost forgotten one. Kanthas had disappeared from public,…………


Interesting history!

Some pictures from the Gurusaday Museum


Detail of a 19th century Baytan Kantha used as a Food Cover


19th century Sujni Kantha



19th Century Sujni Kantha


A page from Design Book of Mursidabadi Silk collected by Shri Abonindranath Tagore

A new textile category to explore!!


dec 2013


  1. Beth McCormack
    December 23, 2013

    fascinating! so interesting about the role of women’s arts, especially textiles, in a grassroots cultural movement. thanks so much for posting.

  2. Pingback: INDEX | Articles on Art | Wovensouls Journal

    December 31, 2013

    I love kantha as they are made of waste and Bengali woman’s attitudes reflected in their Kantha and also they embroiled their feelings their religious believes their contemporary topics of chaotic life !

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This entry was posted on December 22, 2013 by in Art Kaleidoscope and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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