The early history of Jamdani


The early History:

The earliest mention of the origin of Jamdani and its development as an industry is found in Kautilya's book of economics (about 300 AD) where it is stated that this fine cloth used to be made in Bengal and Pundra. Its mention is also found in the book of Periplus of the Eritrean Sea and in the accounts of Arab, Chinese and Italian travelers and traders. Four kinds of fine cloth used to be made in Bengal and Pundra in those days, viz khouma, dukul, pattrorna and karpasi. From various historical accounts, folklore and slokas, it may be assumed that very fine fabrics were available in Bengal as far back as the first decade before Christ. Cotton fabrics like dukul and muslin did not develop in a day. Dukul textile appears to have evolved into muslin. Jamdani designs and muslin developed simultaneously. The fine fabric that used to be made at Mosul in Iraq was called mosuli or mosulin In his 9th century book Sril Silat-ut-Tawarikh the Arab geographer Solaiman mentions the fine fabric produced in a state called Rumy, which according to many, is the old name of the territory now known as Bangladesh. In the 14th century, Ibn Batuta profusely praised the quality of cotton textiles of Sonargaon. Towards the end of the 16th century the English traveler Ralph Fitch and historian Abul Fazl also praised the muslin made at Sonargaon.

The accounts given by travelers to the Indian continent have however often given meticulous details about the people's dress. Thus if one is to go through the revealing descriptions from "Periplus of the Erhythreai Sea" and follow it by Megesthanes records of King Chandragupta's court and again read on in the travelogue of Chinese historian Hieun Tsiang in the 7th century A.D. moving on to Alberuni in the 11th century, one finds a continuity of the textiles produced and, perfected in different parts of the country through the ages. Abul Fazal's Ain-e-Akbari, is perhaps our most informative recent account of woven loom textiles developed under the Muslims and records by Abul Fazal in Ain-e-Akbari describe the intelligent patronage of Emperor Akbar. The delicate muslins of ancient Dhaka were used for both male and female attaire in the Moghul court and the province of Bengal flourished both in commercial trade and agriculture at this time. In 1628 we find the writings of Italian traveller Manrique, which describes the patronage of the court of Emperor Shahajahan, and later Emperor Aurangzeb, who received annual tributes of these fine cloths from their governors in Bengal and which were so special as to cost ten times the price of any other cloths made for Eurpeans or others in the Empire.

We are further informed that Muslim merchants in 1887 protested against the monopoly of the East India Company's hold on weaver's throughout East Bengal (48, 000 persons), which was done by issuing permits which prevented the weavers from taking on work from private traders. The entry of Muslim immigrant-travelers and traders proceeded the of Islam (11th century AD) to the subcontinent by at least a hundred years. Even though it was not till the early 1200s AD that Muslim conquerors settled in Bengal, contact with Arab traders, and Persian and Turkish religious mendicants had already taken place via the coastal ports in the Bay of Bengal and through the northern western land route.

Muslim rule which commenced in Bengal in 1268 with the reign of the Tughlaks, the area of western Bengal then called Lakhnauti, and in the eastern part called Bangalas was receptive to the message of Islam which spoke of social equality. By the time of the first independent Sultan Shams-uddin Ilyas Shah in 1342 an area considered to be a Sultanate was declared, although it did not constitute the entire region of Bengal as we know it after the British held their sway. The excellence of cotton mulmul or muslin produced on the Dhaka loom was raised to an art par excellence by Moghul patronage, and achieved a uniqueness which has remained unparelled among handloom cloth all over the world. When woven for royalty the muslin was called Mulmal Khas (king's special) and the viceroys who placed orders for the Emperor gave it poetic names such as Ab-e-rawan (running water), Shabnam (evening dew) and Sharbati (winelike). The pinnacle of perfection came in the evolution of a special weave with motifs 'embroidered' along the weft and this fabric was named 'jamdani' which became renowned as the figured or flowered muslins. Dhaka jamdani, more than any other woven craft, became synonymous with Muslim weaving skills. The origin of the word Jamdani has no substantiated etymological explanation, but it is a Indo-Persian word and in its strictest meaning describes 'jama' or clothing.

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