Tradition of a few Thousand Years. This is another noteworthy part of Bangladeshi culture. Nakshi Kantha (embroidered quilt), said to be indigenous to Bangladesh, is made from old cotton clothes, predominantly discarded sari, dhoti and lungi.
Kanthas range from utilitarian quilts to exquisitely embroidered heirlooms. Depending on the thickness required, three to seven saris are layered and quilted with the simple running stitch, which typically produces a rippled effect. Thread drawn from coloured sari borders would be used to embroider motifs or border patterns imitative of sari borders.
The term nakshi kantha, popularly used in Bangladesh, is found even in medieval literature. The name nakshi kantha became particularly popular among literate people after the publication poet of Jasimuddin's poem Naskhi Kanthar Math (Field of Embroidered Quilt) (1929). From time immemorial there has been a tradition of Bangladeshi women recycling worn-out cotton saris by converting them into usable and durable quilts, bags, book covers, mirror cases and such articles.
Both the Hindu and Muslim women are adept at making Kantha textiles. These nakshi kanthas are made during their leisure, particularly during the rainy season or before winter invades the villages of the Ganges delta. Kanthas serve primarily as pallets and light wraps. Small kanthas are used as swaddling clothes for babies.
Depending on their size and use, kanthas range from lep kanthas (winter quilts) and sujni kanthas (spreads and coverlets) to one-foot square rumal (handkerchief) kanthas. Others include the asan (a spread for sitting), the bastani or gatri (a wrapper for clothes and other valuables), the arshilata (a wrap for mirrors or toilet articles), the dastarkhan (a spread for placing food and plates for dining), the gilaf (an envelope-shaped kantha to cover the quran), and jainamaz (prayer rug).
The motifs of the Nakshi Kantha depict Hindu festivals, folk festivals, marriage ceremonies, the lotus, Lord Buddha s footprint, fishes, snakes, boats, horses, carts, flowers, elephants, umbrellas, Rathajatra (Procession of Chariots), Jhulanjatra (Swing festival of Krishna and Radha), Swastika (symbolizing the early Indus valley civilization), trees, wheels, etc. Muslim women especially concentrate on geometric and floral motifs, the crescent, star, domes, minarets, verses of the holy Quran and the like.
Expectant mothers spend the last trimester of their pregnancy in making Nakshi Kantha for the new-born baby, believing that wrapping the newborn baby in a Nakshi Kantha herald’s good fortune for the family and protects the baby from disease.
A large number of kanthas show the ingenious use of the running stitch for working motifs and border patterns. The Chatai Nakshi Kantha stitches are found in some places of Jessore, Kushtia, Pabna, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Mymensingh. Other types of kanthas include the pad tola kantha, which is embroidered entirely with sari border patterns, and the lohori kantha, in which thick yarn is used for close pattern darning. In the most intricate of pad tola kanthas, there is no space between the concentric border patterns, so that the entire kantha seems apparently to be a piece of woven cloth.
One can never find two identical Nakshi Kanthas on this planet. Since the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 Nakshi Kantha has regained its aesthetic appeal.