A mother's hand-me-down

MAHAMAYA SIKDAR | Updated on: Oct 06, 2011




Never-dying love for Nakshi Kantha.

On a lazy and lonely rainy afternoon long ago, as I rummaged through long untouched sections of the wardrobe, I was taken on a fascinating journey down memory lane as I carefully opened a package — a gift from my mother at the time of my marriage. It was a precious ‘Nakshi Kantha', a creation of my great grandmother, which has for generations been handed down from mother to daughter in a family tradition.

As my hand gently moved across the aged, soft fabric, I could instantly sense the tender love imbued in this work by my great granny. The embroidery in different coloured threads reflected not just an innovative story-telling aesthetic, but also inherited values, beliefs and hopes. The touching messages from the past filled my heart with comfort.

That dull afternoon, 15 years ago, rekindled in me a passion for the Nakshi Kantha and showed me how relevant it remains in our ever-changing and ever-narrowing world of relationships.

Rich legacy

Handed down from mother to daughter, and mother-in-law to daughter-in-law, these works are akin to unspoken communication across generations of women. The deft needlework served to convey messages of family values and relationships, as also record the emotional and cultural life of the women.

It is all the more amazing that the origin of this art dates back to a time when women enjoyed few liberties and had practically no access to formal education. This needlework, therefore, was in some ways their voice across centuries. Besides their inner world, the passage of history in the wider world too finds echoes in the women's art — including the partition of Bengal, the transit through East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh.

“Kantha is an example of a strange contradiction, for here is an object created at an endeavour at thrift by transforming worn-out textile, that would normally be thrown away, into objects of rare beauty and which have in course of time become legendary,” said none other than the redoubtable Kamaladevi Chattopadhaya.

Keeping the tradition going

Changing preferences and economic conditions have periodically threatened the survival of Nakshi Kantha. A dedicated band of people are working to protect and preserve this timeless art.

High on aesthetic value, a work of Nakshi Kantha can equally embellish a garment as it does a living-room display or lend itself to a dream bedroom.

This communicative folk art is accommodative by nature, periodically reworking the stories it conveys to reflect the changing times and social mores.

In keeping with tradition, I am going to gift my Nakshi Kantha to my daughter at the time of her marriage. Decades later, on a rainy afternoon, holding the Nakshi Kantha in her tender hands, she will establish a timeless connect with me.

Published on October 06, 2011
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