Nakshi Kantha: The lore of Bengalis

Nafisa Anjum Ahana

Nakshi Kantha is a type of embroidered quilt which dignifies the art tradition of Bengalis. It is centuries old tradition of the Bengal region, notable in Bangladesh and Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam. The Nakshi is originated from the Bengali word “Naksha”. Naksha means design or pattern and “Kantha” means needle embroidery practices. Have you any idea about the warmth behind it? The Bengali women stich them with great love and is a unique creation of Bengalis which conveys their pride. 

Nakshi is a Bengali word which means “carving.” Such designs are mostly used in Kundan jewellery of North India and Temple Jewellery  of South India. It entails a lot of manual work finely. The concept of Nakshi Kantha exists in almost all parts of the world. It is primarily considered as a women’s art since the art of kantha appeared from creative expression of rural women for their dearest persons. There are many materials used to make a single Kantha like- saris, lungis, dhotis, etc. These are the several layers of used or worn out materials.  

The kanthas that the rural women stitches, represents their emotion and sentiments. These kanthas are unique because it involves the maker’s imagination. Some motifs related to it are- lotus, solar, moon, chakra (wheel), swastika tree of life, kalka, water, mountain, boat, fish, animals and agricultural items. There are a lot of women for whom the revival of Nakshi Kantha has become a source of their income. It has created a treasury for the aboriginal folks as an art of Bengal. 

Nakshi kantha in religious & literature 

In the 19th century, the Hindu women used humans and animals as a form to tell stories of their Gods and Vahanas. They used to narrate stories about their native surroundings. In 1930, Rabindranath Tagore and his daughter-in-law Pratima Devi trained Santali women in Birbhum district. Therefore, the quality work was produced beneath the tutelage of ‘Kalabhaban’  artist. On its simplest stitch it compromises of the ‘Language of embroidery’. Nowadays Nakshi Kantha is treated as a traditional form of folk art and caters to the top designers. These valuable works act as a testimony of past, present and future gracefully.  

The Bengal Kantha was found in the book of Sri Chaitamya Charitamitra by Krishnadas Kaviraj, five hundred years ago. The famous poet Jashimuddin wrote a famous poem ‘Nakshi Kanthar Math’ on Nakshi Kantha.

Varieties of Nakshi Kantha : 

You may have noticed that such Kanthas are divided into specific names depending on it’s size and purpose which ameliorate the beauty of a thing heavenly. Such as- 

Quilt (lep in Bengali)  

. Large Spread (Nakshi Kantha in Bengali)  

. Puja floor spread (Ason in Bengali)  

Cosmetic wrapper (Arshitola in Bengali)  

Wallet (Batwa thoiley in Bengali)  

Cover for Quran (Ghilaf in Arabic and Bengali) 

. Prayer mats (Jainamaz in Bengali) 

Floor spreads (Galicha in Bengali)  

Clothes wrapper (Gurthi in Bengali)  

Cover (Dhakni in Bengali)  

. Ceremonial meal spread (Dastar khan in Bengali)  

. Pillow cover ( Balisher chapa in Bengali)  

. Handkerchief (Rumal in Bengali)  

Bangladesh Government’s initiative on Nakshi Kantha designs 

Bangladesh government has taken steps to represent the traditional and artistic works of its country. It has created a vast indicator to enlarge the embroidery textile market. Recently Bangladesh Handloom Board has concluded Tk 21.13 billion projects through this connection. The aim of the project is to create employment opportunities especially for women as Nakshi design entrepreneurs. This would be one of the biggest projects for the whole textile sector and will create a bigger market with its aid. Nakshi Kantha is playing a great role in the government and international market through its pervasiveness soulfully.  


How many types of Kanthas are there? 

There are seven types of kanthas. Among them –Lep Kantha- It is rectangular wraps heavily padded to make warm coverlets. The entire piece would be stitched in wavy, rippled design over which simple design in depicted. Sujani Kantha- These are rectangular pieces of cloth used as blankets on different occasions.  

Why are quilts now in great demand? 

The colorful pattern designs are embroidered on them which is a very unique thing to be considered. That’s why they are of a great demand. 

What is Kantha cloth? 

Kantha is a type of embroidery-craft in Bangladesh, eastern region of Indian sub-continent and West Bengal. The stitches are used to make a thin piece of cushion and old saris are stacked on each other (In Odisha). 

Hence, Nakshi Kantha is a form of a beautiful heritage for Bangladesh. The art of the Bengali women is reflected through their designs on the Kanthas. Such mesmerizing patterns are filled with romance and sentiments. This precious work has been integrated in Bangladesh’s cultural life and is making its way to international levels. Such magnificent cultural heritage is to protect and preserve and Bangladesh is one Southasian Nation that is doing so! Nakshi Kantha is an art that belongs to the women of Bengali heritage and will remain a part and parcel of Bengali culture!