Bangladeshi Crafts: Nakshi Pakha

The ancient craft of decorative fan-making, known as Nakshi Pakha, is still practiced in many areas of Bangladesh today, both for practical and decorative purposes. Different natural materials are used in making the basic framework of the fan, including bamboo, cane, sponge wood, palm leaves and flax. Threads or fabric are drawn across the framework and decorated with a variety of colorful designs or pictures of flowers, birds and animals, or meaningful phrases and folklore scenes. The decorations on the fan may be woven or embroidered, or colorful feathers, such as those from a peacock, may be incorporated into the pattern. A strip of colored cloth, usually red, is stitched around the edge of the frame and gathered into a frill as the fan’s finishing touch.

Fans are generally made in round, square or triangular shapes, although creative Nakshi Pakha crafters may make a variety of other shapes. In Bangladesh it is popular to make fans out of palm leaves, with the palm leaf cut into the desired shape and then framed with bamboo strips. Sola, or sponge wood, is another natural product popular in the manufacture of Nakshi Pakha. Sponge wood is made from the fibrous cellulose of plants such as jute and is very lightweight and easy to decorate.

In the 18th and 19th centuries fans made from sandalwood were very fashionable among the wealthier class. Sandalwood is one of the few types of timber that retains it fragrance for years after being chopped down and processed. Today, sandalwood is no longer used, but many crafters have the skill to use other materials to imitate the fans made from this beautiful fragrant wood.

In rural areas, Nakshi Pakha serve both a practical and decorative use, while in urban areas that have become accustomed to using electric fans to cool down, the decorative factor may be more important. For visitors to Bangladesh, these colorful and skillfully crafted fans make a wonderful keepsake to take home.