Kantha, a popular style of embroidery that comes from West Bengal, is a significant symbol that displays the skill and talent of the rural women in Bengal. Kantha, which basically means ‘throat’, is associated with Lord Shiva. The story revolves around how Lord Shiva consumed poison while stirring up the ocean, and therefore the significance of this word goes all the way back to the Vedic times. This type of stitch is basically the ‘running’ stitch, and is very simple.
Traditionally this embroidery was used for quilts, dhotis and sarees, but over a period of time it has evolved and made its way right into the heart of Indian fashion.
Origin and history
Kantha is perhaps the oldest forms of Indian embroidery as it can be traced back to the first and second A.D. The thought behind this needlework was to reuse old clothes and materials and turn them into something new. This is what makes kantha embroidery only one of its kind.
Kantha work is approximately 500 years old, and there is a myth surrounding it which points out that Lord Buddha and his disciples used old rags with different kinds of patch work to cover themselves with at night, and this gave the kantha embroidery its origin. Traditionally women would take 4 to 5 sarees, layer them together and create different running stitches on them which they then used as blankets to cover their children with. However, what started as a way to make life more comfortable went on to become a big trend in clothes and furniture as well.
Sources of Inspiration
Day to day life was the biggest source of inspiration behind this craft. The motifs designed on clothes or bed spreads were of birds, animals, folk scenes, fishes and imagery that depicted different views of livelihood for the people living in Bengal. Reprocessing was another form of motivation, since initially women recycled their old clothes and turned them into something more practical, like covers for furniture, or blankets. Economical, practical and yet beautiful is what Kantha embroidery is all about.