As a traveler, I have been to lots of places including Varanasi, Surat and Kanchipuram. However, there is something magical about visiting Bisnupur, the hub for Baluchari Sarees. Bisnupur has been a cultural melting pot from the days of yore, a place where artisans converged and where encouraged to practice and exhibit their art and virtuosity in the art. While years and generations have gone by, there still are remnants of those art forms kept alive by truly passionate descendants. In and around Bisnupur, one would expect to see gorgeous terracotta temples, the famed terracotta horses, dokra art and the most beautiful of all, the Baluchari Sarees.
A few hours drive from Kolkata, you are in the enchanted world of narrow bylanes with colourful strands of silk strayed around and the air is filled with the mellifluous rhythm of the Handloom. Peeking from some of those workshops would be a sepia tinted old framed picture of an Indira Gandhi awarding one of the artisans. There is an old world charm about the Baluchari Sarees and the methods that are deployed in making one piece. If there is one weaving art and saree production method which has truly withstood the test of time and has emerged stronger than ever before, it is the Baluchari sarees.
Baluchari sarees, are handmade in every step of the process. The fabric itself, interlacing warp and wefts over Bangalore silk and locally made silk yarns extracted from cocoons is where the process starts to take shape. Nearby place of Sonamukhi is a huge support system in terms of providing handmade silk not only for Bisnupur but also in Bolpur, where the popular Kantha Stitch Sarees are made. These silk is hand-dyed into a variety of colours and shades. Seasoned eyes of the craftsman are aware of the proportion of dyes to be used to ensure final reproduction of a desired colour. With amazing regularity, they are able to produce 10 different shades of a Pink or Red.
The art of graphically depicting stories is most evident in Baluchari sarees. Stores and lores from Ramayana, Mahabharat, Shakuntalaetc find a gracious depiction through intricate weaving. These stories, manifested through motis and handiwork in Pallu are reproduced on card-boards. These card-boards are tied to an end of the Handloom to ensure reproduction of the graphic into fabric during the process of weaving and stiching of a Baluchari Saree.
Over days and weeks, the handmade silk is woven over a handloom to produce desired patterns over yards of hand-made and hand-dyed silk. Contrasting coloured threads and zari highlight the motif patterns which are interwoven into the fabric to further embellish the handiwork.
The result is a gorgeous piece of Baluchari saree with pure handmade silk in colours which are achieved through hand-dyes, with attractive motifs interspersed through the length of the Saree concluding with a grand graphic story telling in the Palla by a skilled weaver. Only a few wearable products compare with the radiance of a hand-made Baluchari saree. It is the crème de la crème amongst all the weaving art forms from Bengal and truly, can be termed as the Pride of Bengal.