Interwoven Tales: the rich tradition of Baluchari Sari from West Bengal

This dark purple sari has a typical end panel with equestrian figures surrounding the central rectangular panel  that encloses six floral cones vertically placed in a row. Often Baluchari Saris, named after their town of origin, have figures of hukka smoking men surrounding the rectangular panel of the end piece.  The main field of the Sari has diagonal rows of mango butis, or motifs composed in off white, green and light purple bands. The border of the Sari has a fine lotus creeper in off white and green.

The Sari brocaded in dyed silk, on a characteristically dark maroon to purple ground gives the effect of gold and silver brocade on silk.

Baluchari is a type of sari worn by women across India and Bangladesh. This particular sari type originated in Bengal and is known for depictions of socio political themes and mythological scenes on the pallu of the sari. Produced mainly in Murshidabad, the Baluchari sari has been granted the status of Geographical indication in India.

Murshidabad emerged as a major centre of silk weaving in the early eighteenth century and received a major economic boost during the Company and British rule. The village of Baluchar, situated on the banks of the river Bhagirathi in Murshidabad developed the renowned baluchari sari by replacing gold and silver thread with untwisted silk as pattern thread. And thus these saris got their name as Baluchari. During this period, Murshid Qali khan was the Nawab of Bengal and he patronized this rich unique style of weaving tradition.

In the beginning the Muslim weavers were more into weaving this material and they produced fabrics like tapestry that the aristocrats used. Later Hindus used the fabric to produce saris that could be worn by women; the ground decoration now became much wider often decorated with mango or paisley (buti) motif at the centre, surrounded by smaller rectangles depicting various scenes.

The dimension for a Baluchari sari in cm is (length=558cm, width=112cm, ends per cm=38cm, picks per cm=35cm.). It takes usually one week or sometimes more to produce one sari. Four main steps are usually followed in making these saris which include: –

a) Cultivation of the cocoons from where the silk threads are extracted.

b) Processing of the yarn.

c) Motif designing.

d) Weaving.

After extracting the thread from the mulberry silk cocoons the yarn is boiled in a solution of soap and soda and dyed according to the requirement of the sari. According to the old method the designs were first sketched on a paper, it was then passed on to fabric using Machan and threads, which becomes the master sample. A copy of master is also made on loom and kept safe by artisan, just in case if the jala gets spoiled he can make a new copy from it.

But, this old method is not used nowadays, it so happened that after the flooding of the river Ganga the artisans of Baluchar had to leave most of their facilities and infrastructure behind and the weaving tradition reemerged in the twentieth century when Subho Tagore, a famous artist made efforts to revitalize the rich tradition of Baluchari weaving. He showed Akshay Kumar Das, a weaver of Bishnupur, the technique of Jacquard machine weaving.

With the arrival of jaquard looms, jala system was replaced by punched cards. The designs were drawn on graph paper and then the jacquard artisan punches the cards as per the design. The punched cards are afterwards seamed in sequence and fixed in the jacquard machine. The cards have punched holes which correspond to the design. Thousands of punched cards are required for one sari design. Where there is a hole punched this raises a hook carrying the warp thread to be woven with the weft thread.  These hooks can be connected to more than one thread, allowing multiple weaving of a repetitive pattern. While weaving, the artisan attaches the beams, the smaller one called sisaban and bigger one dhal on the loom and starts weaving.

In appearance as well the weaving technique of the Baluchari Saris look similar to many Banaras brocades although they never contain zari threads but only silk. They have intricate supplementary weft or warp borders and end pieces created in untwisted silk threads of colors that contrast with the ground. The saris woven in Baluchari tradition are characterized by elaborate motifs on border and pallu or end piece. Baluchari saris are hand-woven in richly dyed silk, depicting stories from ancient India, including from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.  The famous characters of Ram, Sita, Krishna and Gopis are displayed exuberantly along the borders, and whole scenes are presented on the large pallus.

Each sari was created with motifs based on a theme, the themes too revolved around the lives of Nawabs. The weaved designs also reflected the lifestyle of the Nawabs sometimes showing a Nawab sitting on the throne and his nobles positioned at their respective places or the Nawab lying on his bed with a cup of wine, while a girl is dancing supported by the musicians are some popular scenes seen on these hand woven saris. The specialty lied in depicting these scenes on fabric through looms with minute details such as royal noble dresses, carpets, chairs and throne. The artisans also started accommodating Persian miniatures and images of sculpture and paintings from temples or monuments in the weaves.

Even color symbolism played an important part. The Sanskrit term for caste is Varna which in literal term means color. Thus, these caste colors have been reflected in the traditional saris, which are adhered till today but in a much diluted form.

  • White: – This color traditionally meant for the Brahmins. But today it I often worn during rituals and Pujas. It is never worn during marriages and usually worn during mourning’s.
  • Red: – Usually meant for Kshatriyas, today commonly worn by brides and regarded auspicious. It symbolizes sexuality and fertility.
  • Yellow: – A color related with religion and asceticism, which the sadhus adorn. But again in Hindu weddings yellow is associated with the brides.
  • Blue: – It was used for Sudras traditionally, but in Baluchari color blue is widely used since its birth.


Even though the tales and images are different now but the vivid colors, intricate fine silk designs and deep traditions of the new generation still are contributing in creating these elegant, beautiful and unique Baluchari Sarees.