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Museum or collector's piece. Circa mid 20th century traditional hand-stitched NAKSHI SUJNI KANTHA cloth

Museum or collector's piece. Circa mid 20th century traditional hand-stitched NAKSHI SUJNI KANTHA cloth


I went to West Bengal specifically to find a fine traditional old NAKSHI SUJNI KANTHA  (Bengali, 'naksha = artistic patterns) a decorative quilted blanket, spread or cloth - a textile art that originated in the 18th century and is specific to Bengal (divided West Bengal and Bangladesh). SUJNI kanthas are embroidered ceremonial wraps and are used specifically during religious rituals or other occasions and are offered as a seat to honored guests and at weddings. These are thin and represent the highest culmination of the embroidery artwork. There are many different sizes and uses of kantha - each with a specific purpose - to cover or wrap special items like mirrors, boxes and pillows or to sit on, sleep under, wrap around and often for babies to be swaddled in.    

In Kolkata (Calcutta) I visited the renown Gurusaday Museum with the world's largest collection of 19th and 20th century traditional kantha cloths. They are exquisite and covered with thousands of tiny white stitches on a white cotton backing, combined with beautiful motifs, both abstract and real representations of the world around them.  I was unsuccessful at finding one as, unfamiliar with the congested Kolkata traffic - I miscalculated the time it took to take a tuk-tuk to my contact (a  textile collector) and she had another appointment - so I missed her. After 10 days in Kolkata experiencing the Goddess Durga festival and markets to buy gorgeous silk kantha shawls I made my way to Delhi and there in Haus Kaus Village I stumbled across the little shop of a textile conservator and among his mountains of old and breath-taking textiles I found some traditional NAKSHA KANTHA cloths. This is one and my most expensive purchase ever.

It is circa mid 20th century, soft and mellow from washing and use and exactly as I had seen in the museum - covered with thousands of fine running stitches. Predominant colours are red and blue with added black, a few highlights of pale yellow and green. The solar motif is quite common on these traditional kanthas and is the central feature of this large cloth too. The solar motif is closely associated with the lotus motif. Often, the lotus and the solar motifs are found together at the centre of a nakshi kantha. The solar motif symbolizes the life giving power of the sun. The sun is associated with the fire which plays a significant part in Hindu rites, both religious and matrimonial.  This cloth also features a large tree of life worked from each corner and radiating towards the sun. 7 birds peck around the edge of the sun. The cloth is edged in a circular pinwheel-like design known as  shostir chino or a swirling form that is an ancient symbol  referred to as 'the movement of the universe' and is seen in Hindu, Buddhist, Native American and other indigenous cultures throughout the world. Each corner of the cloth also features a large kalka or paisley motif which originated in Persia and Kashmir and has become an integral image of the subcontinental decorative motif. It can be compared with a stylized leaf, mango or flame.  Similar motifs can be found in traditional kashmiri shawls. A beautiful piece I am very proud to sell to an appreciative textile and history lover.  No wadding. The back of this cloth is almost as perfect as the front - an example of exquisite embroidery. 

202cm x 163cm (79"x64")