This beloved needle art is not just an embroidered quilt; it’s a tale of life in Bengal, a staple in every Bengali household – it piqued the interest of famed art historian, Dr. Stella Kramrisch, whose interpretation of the fable is widely popular.
1. According to the tale, the Nakshi Kantha tradition began with a guru named Kanthalipa, a sweeper by caste who collected torn rags and old clothes he found every day. On a day like any other, a needle pricked his finger, and he wailed in pain. A dakini, a spirit possessing magical powers heard his pitiful cries and rushed to help. She reproached him for crying over a needle and taught him how to be one with the Universe. The Nakshi Kantha made of rags sewn together to make a new piece altogether was her metaphor for rebirth and unity. And this was how the Kantha came to be.
2. Over years, Nakshi Kantha has been a part of many memorable stories. In the poet Jaismuddin’s tragic poem ‘NakshiKanthar Math’, the Kantha was where a young, abandoned wife sowed her heartbreak and sorrow. She died in wait for her lover to return. So poignant was her love and the wistfulness she embroidered, that she was buried in the Nakshi Kantha. And since then the land she was buried in was called, ‘NakshiKanthar Math’ or ‘The Field of the Embroidered Quilt.’
3. As time passed by, the Nakshi Kantha transformed into a canvas for women to express themselves. Just as how they had to be different persons like a home-maker, a farmer and a seller, the Nakshi Kantha too was a compilation of different pieces of cloth and saris. Motifs of prosperity and blessings such as the tree of life and the lotus would adorn the blanket, weaving a prayer that completes the tale. Their tale.
4. And that is why the Nakshi Kantha is so close to every Bengali’s heart. It is passed down from generation to generation and used till its last fraying threads. It’s not just a blanket it’s a testament to the lives of our families.