Today’s ‘Muslin’

Muslin-like items sold in markets today

The Bengal muslin industry was decimated by the policies of the East India Company, causing it to be almost wiped out by the end of the 19th century.  Now, globally, many countries claim to be producing muslin for a variety of purposes.  From India to China and USA, muslin exists as industrially woven, fine and plain cotton cloth.

In Bangladesh, the birth place of this fabric that has a history going back a thousand years, jamdani remains as the sole existing heir. Jamdani is often understood to be Persian for ‘jam’ meaning flowers and ‘dani’ for container, ie the body would be the vase displahing the flowers or motifs.  Due to the determination of a small group of muslin weavers in Dhaka who refused to let the tradition die out despite the failing industry, jamdani saw an efflorescence in the 1960s and a few enthusiastic clothing companies patronised this.  Although the non-availability of fine yarn and increasing cost pressures led to the use of coarser yarns and less elaborate designs, these products retained their historic charm and continued to be coveted by the upper echelons of society.  After the liberation of Bangladesh, Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman set up a special village for the weavers and various NGOs, including Aarong, played a significant part in bringing the fabric to increasing number of customers.

The revival of muslin as jamdani has continued and in 2013, UNESCO declared Bangladesh’s jamdani as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  This can be attributed to the determined and passionate campaigns undertaken by Ruby Ghuznavi, Monira Emdad, Aarong and others, for the revival and recognition of the craft of jamdani in Bangladesh.

The jamdanis of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are rarely high count cotton and are often mixed with silk – sometimes 100% silk.  These jamdanis are admittedly beautifully made and the designs are intricate but they are a far cry from the muslin jamdanis of the past.

Bengal Muslin has succeeded in reviving the fine, high-count (above 250) weaving of the past, including intricate motifs. Its efforts continue as it pushes the envelope, attempting to do more.

Join us in this exquisite and informative journey.