The Beautiful Art of Nakshi Kantha

In the rural areas of Bangladesh, as it has been for centuries, the communities are much poorer with fewer opportunities than those living in the cities. And it is through the struggles and hardships that the woman of these communities have learnt and passed down through the generations the art of Nakshi Kantha. It is a form of quilting that has taken various shapes, and has not only helped to recycle old cloth and saris but has become a popular traditional commodity found in every home across Bangladesh.

The most common Nakshi Kantha products are quilts. Its thickness depends on whether a summer or winter wrap is required, and old discarded saris and cloth are layered accordingly. The women then use various forms of a running stitch to embroider the borders and to decorate the quilt with different designs. Oftentimes the women reuse the cotton pulled from the saris and are able to create colorful and vibrant quilts.

Each Nakshi Kantha item is unique in design and color. By manipulating the stitches, the women are able to create various ripple effects, creating different textures and looks. Most Nakshi Kantha makers follow a basic pattern for embroidery, using a lotus as a centre piece with vines, representing the tree of life, running from each corner towards the lotus motif. In between the spaces of the vines, decorative motifs are embroidered and can range in various forms. Some of the most popular motifs are elephants, peacocks, horses, kitchen items, boats and tigers. Sometimes the quilts tell the stories of myths and legends through their pictures, with dancing, hunting and other everyday tasks being depicted.

It is also said that the Nakshi Kantha items are blessed with protective powers, able to keep harmful spirits at bay. They can also ensure happiness, happy marriages, fertility and fulfillment, as the creator is believed to be able to stitch her wishes into the fabric. Over the years, as the need for various items has evolved, the Nakshi Kantha art has expanded, offering a variety of specialized items such as ceremonial and ritual items, cloths for wrapping toiletry items, mats, pillowcases, bedspreads, placemats, wall hangings, spreads for seating, prayer rugs, mirror covers and handkerchiefs.

The art of Nakshi Kantha has survived from ancient times into the modern day, still inspiring needle workers to create new designs and remaining a sought after item in every home. Visitors often purchase these items as souvenirs and gifts for loved ones back home. It is a part of the tradition and culture in Bangladesh that has helped many communities to survive, and brings joy and color to those who own them.