The art of decoration of fabric or other material with threads, wires or leather using a needle may be defined as embroidery. With the advent of sophisticated machines, embroidery is possible by machines also, especially for repetitive volume work. But, it is the hand embroidery that continues to fascinate mankind for thousands of years. Traditionally, women have been practicing this art from time immemorial.
The Kantha Embroidery was almost the lost art until a few years ago, is the predominantly the most popular form of embroidery practiced by the rural women. The traditional form of Kantha embroidery was done the soft dhotis and saris. The oldest reference to Kantha is in “Sri Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita” by Krishnadas Kaviraj Which was written some 500 years back. Kantha was said to be lady’s self expression. The real kantha narrates a story ,the emotions and life of artist. There, a young woman pining for her loved one decided to express her story using running stitch to sew together old clothes and create beautiful blankets. The Kantha sarees have helped in keeping alive a folk art of Bengal. The tradition of Kantha embroidery is very old and it is mentioned in Sanskrit Grammar written by Panini around the sixth century B.C. The Ramayan mentions Chandrabati’s Kantha stitching as one of the skills that Sita excelled.
The word Kantha means patched clothes. Kantha evolved out of necessity to drape or protect against cold. Kontha on Sanskrit means rags. That era thread and cloth were not easily available to common people so they started to use overused saris or dhotis by stitching them up. They used the strand of thread from the colorful border of the saris and stared to make simple designs with them. The real Kantha embroidery is doorukha- double faced- a style in which the stitches are so skillfully made that the details of each design appear identical on either side.
The designs may be roughly divided into illustrations of epic and folk stories, ritualistic motifs, luxuriant vegetation of woods, with animals roaming and deer running, peacocks dancing, houses with balconies filled with peoples, temples with friezes, articles of daily use like caskets, baskets, nutcrackers, hukkas, beds, umbrella, pitcher, comb, mirror, candelabra, personal items like costumes and jewellery, vehicles like chariots, palanquins, elephant with howdahs, horses with saddles.
Kantha is worked by women in their leisure time.
Lotus is the most important amongst motifs and usually fills the centre of piece. An overall lotus pattern is sometimes built up by alternating red and black petals.