Kantha, an ancient technique (It is an exclusively woman’s activity) here in India is a form of embroidery, (pronounced “kahn-thah”). Kantha quilts are made out of their worn sari’s (the traditional dress of Indian women) for hundreds of years. Much like the quilts that your own grandmother may have made, these blankets are pieces of art that are cherished for generations.
The word Kantha originated from the Sanskrit word ‘Kontha’, which means rags or patched garment. But, Kantha is not actually a rag! Kantha is a type of embroidery that produces these unique quilted blankets and the style of the running stitch itself is also known as Kantha. It is a centuries old tradition which is practised solely by women since the duties of the household chores fell on them. Also, it helped women gain a supplementary source of income.
This goes further back than the pre vedic period, i.e, 1500 BCE and this art was passed down from one generation to the others. This was never commissioned by the king. It was free to practise this art however women liked it.
As a matter of course, old cotton sarees, which had turned incredibly soft through its usage, were used to make Kanthas. Also, the thread for the Kantha was drawn out of the saree, taking recycling to the whole new level!
In the process of making Kantha, about 5 to 7 layers of clothes are stitched together. The lighter colour is placed on the top, making the stitch and the pattern highlighted. Women in every household then used to spend their leisure time on this beautiful practice of producing Kantha.
However, in today’s time, Kantha generally refers to the type of stitch used. Running stitch, being simple and basic, was the earliest and the most popular kind of stitch that was used. Over time, this art form evolved and more artistic stitches were developed. This came to be known as ‘Nakshi Kantha’. Nakshi is derived from the word Naksha which in Bengali means artistic patterns. These motifs of Nakshi Kantha were influenced by religion, lifestyle and the culture of women creating them.
This most modest of the clothes gave women a free canvas to spill out all of their imagination. It gave them a means to express their thoughts and their creative minds played with their imaginations. The Kantha told the stories of folk beliefs and practices, themes from mythology, religious beliefs, stories from personal lives, their everyday village lives, their dreams and hope and so much more. It was left up to the women to tell whichever story that they wanted to tell. All the power was left in the hands of the women.
Traditionally, this piece of cloth used to be an intimate art and an item of utilitarianism. Other than blankets, one of the early uses of Kantha cloth was for swaddling babies. Mothers who were expecting used to spend their months stitching Kantha for their babies. They believe that this will bring them good fortune and help their babies remain healthy. During the season of weddings, Kantha is prepared by the mother and gifted to her daughter as dowry with a lot of stories, love and wishes embedded in them. Hence, Kantha used to hold quite an emotional value to the people then.
Today, Kantha has gained popularity all over the world. It has attracted people from all walks of their lives. Every piece of Kantha is equally beautiful and intricate. They carry a ‘wow’ factor in them. As we are growing culturally, we are tending to shy away from disposable goods and turning more towards environmentally friendly products. Kantha, in this case, comes at the forefront since ingredients that it uses are recycled at their best. Also, it’d be worth mentioning that producing Kantha leaves no by-product behind.
A study by Journal of Social Work and Social Development has disclosed that the majority of the Kantha Artisans never received the payment owed to them. Most of them suffered from irregular and late payments. They were left immobile due to advance payments that they had to make. It was revealed that the average annual income from Kantha production was merely Rs 2,000 – Rs 4,000. In American dollars, they are earning approximately $ 25 – $ 50 annually!
We, at HEM Crafts, are helping these artisans to make their living through the practice of fair trade. Apart from that, we are also providing them training on various grounds like education, social issues and helping them by providing them with medical facilities.
To read about how we are helping them, you can check out our projects, namely, Education and Child Development, Women Empowerment and Community Development.
To help us with our cause, you can either check out our products and buy the one that feels home to you or you can donate to us. Your help goes a long way in changing the lives of these people.