Resurgence of ‘Shakti’: Shamlu Dudeja’s Kantha Crusade in Bengal

Each piece of work is a labour of love, in its patterns, the story of simple women, their joys, sorrows and aspirations.

180615_Shamlu_Dudeja_Riddhi_Siddhi_Moodshot_1The origin of Kantha can be traced back to the Buddhist era when devotees had to seek alms for their daily survival. The ‘bhikshus’ often received old fabrics which they layered and tacked together to make sturdy and warm wraps for shielding them from the cold. This was the age old common practice by the rural women in Bengal. They re-fashioned their worn out cotton saris into warm quilts by sewing the wad of fabrics with tiny running stitches, using threads drawn from the colorful woven sari borders. This was an ingenious way of tapping air between the multi-layers. The stitches were often so precise that the overall ruche effect made the reconstrudcted ‘quilt’ an object of unmatched beauty. This was the original Kantha, the tangible cultural heritage of rural Bengal.

The centuries old Nakshi Kantha of Bengal was a dying village craft in the wake of printing. This is when Shamlu Dudeja, along with her daughter, Malika, began working on popularising this form among designers, showcasing it to the world.

Setting up SHE (Self Help Enterprises) nearly twenty five years ago, they trained seamstresses to go the villages and look for women with sewing skills, and a little time to spare everyday. The inherent needlework skill of these women are honed, till they are able to vary the simple common garden running stitch with stunning results.

Kantha revival has been the harbinger of the resurgence of ‘shakti’, the empowerment of women. The enhancement of their status in the family and within their community has reawakened their inner sense of self worth.

mkkacj000047832-1_4The women under SHE, work at their own will to make their lives more meaning full while earning some extra money. It also helps sustain their family. They collect the material and get their briefing as regards design and colour scheme, and then return home to work at leisure. There are no deadlines and they work at a comfortable pace between various household chores. Shamlu feels that since Kantha began as a community home craft where women would sit during free time and chat while stitching together old pieces of cloth, it is essential that a similar spirit be maintained today.

As the demand for Kantha grows nationally and internationally, a second rung of team leaders has emerged amongst the talented artisans. SHE is currently giving ‘dwar pe rozi’ (income generating opportunity at the doorstep) to nearly 900 artisans with the help of eight senior team leaders.

Shamlus’s endeavors have successfully ensconced Kantha into the upper echelons of society. She has been able to unshackle Kantha from the traditional confines of a quilting stitch and let it soar to the top range of haute couture, haute decor and stitch portraiture.

Shop for finely detailed Kantha-embroidered wall hangings by SHE here

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