Nakshi Kantha is a traditional textile craft in Bangladesh featuring elaborate stitching in a spectrum of different styles. The word "kantha" originally suggests a light quilt for mild winters and cool monsoon nights. Though the concept exists in almost all parts of the world, the form of quilting that prevails in Bengal is unique, and not only serves as a functional article but also represents the cultural identity and folk art of this land. Passed from one generation of rural women to the next, Nakshi Kantha embroidery incorporates natural motifs and abstract themes into a unique expression of the artisan's creativity.
Traditionally, kanthas have a variety of uses for domestic, ritual, and ceremonial purposes. Kantha articles include spreads and coverlets, cloth for covering dishes and wrapping toilet articles, jainamaz (Muslim prayer mats), gilaf (cover for the Quran), spreads for pujas or for seating special guests or a bridegroom, palki topor (spread for the palanquin), pillow covers, and dining mats, among others.
Apart from large kanthas made to fill large public spaces, today's kanthas are also being designed specifically to meet contemporary needs such as bedcovers and quilt covers, wall-hangings, cushion-covers, place mats, and napkins. Kantha embroidery is also used on saris, dresses, and kurtas.
The revival of Nakshi Kantha has not only generated an interest and appreciation for this indigenous folk art of Bengal, but also helps to provide a livelihood for thousands of rural women who would otherwise not be gainfully employed.
Artisan: Nazma Khatun
Where: Ayesha Abed Foundation - Jessore
Photo date: 4th May 2007
Nazma Khatun, age 25, has been selling her embroidery at through Ayesha Abed Foundation in Jessore since the year 2000. She lives in Chacra Check Post, Jessore, with her husband and a 4 year-old son. Nazma married at 14 years old. Her husband is a rickshaw puller who earns around 3,000 Bangaldeshi taka a month, which is not enough to maintain a three-member family. Nazma's embroidery income is vital to keeping the family running.
Nazma learnt kantha stitching from her mother at the age of 7. Her mother is now 45, and still involved in embroidery. Nazma recounts how over the years, her increased experience in embroidery has proved more and more valuable. She looks forward to learning more with time and raising her earning potential.
Artisan: Rubya Begum
Where: Jhikorgacha, Ayesha Abed Foundation-Jessore
Photo date: 4th May 2007
Rubya Begum, age 38, lives in the small village of Jhikorgacha in the Jessore district. She married at a very early age, truncating her schooling. She and her husband farm a small plot of land, and have three children: a 20 year-old daughter, an 18 year-old son, and a 13 year-old daughter.
Throughout her childhood , Rubya learned embroidery from her mother. For the last 17 years she has worked as an embroidery artisan. Her clients rave: "She is very expert and keen in nakshi kantha embroidery and makes the products colorful and attractive."
Rubya earns around 1,800-2,000 Bangladeshi taka a month, which she spends on schooling for her children. She enjoys her work very much, stitching the day's love, sorrows and emotions into each piece.