Baluchari sari is a fabric woven in plain weave, but brocaded in unique designs with untwisted silk threads. Extremely colourful, a traditional Baluchari is said to have been woven in 17 different colours.
The name “Baluchari” originates from a peripheral town of Ziaganj in Murshidabad known as Baluchar, 23 kms North of Beharampur on the river Bhagirathi; which became the focal point of textile art in the Eighteenth century.
Its chief characteristic is the emphasis on 14 to 32 inches Anchala (Pallu) or end piece; which decorates with utmost skill; the motifs and subjects worked on can now be looked upon as a reflection of contemporary life-style and tradition. A remarkable feature of it is introduction of human figures in their contemporary costumes and modes.
The Baluchari is figured with Hamsa (Swan) and other animal motifs. Peacock motif either single or in pair, rows of deer in alternate colors, floral motifs, flowering shrubs, mango – motif, or Kalka, the tree of life or meandering creeper are used in it. Human motifs with Muslim settings are also used. They are usually decorated with floral designs as a ground work; leaving base a central rectangle which is ornamented by four mango motifs in the corners and human figures are arranged in rows along the sides of the rectangle.
Pictorial representation of subjects includes a seated lady holding a flower, a lady riding on horseback, a lady smoking a traditional Hookah, a pair of ladies with birds in hands or in conversation. Male figures include males on horseback, prince proceeding to battle holding an unsheathed dagger, nobleman smoking Hookah, with falcon in hands, riding on elephant with mahout holding a flag, a lion or tiger hunter and cannoners in panels etc. These pictures had an impact of Muslim environment in respect of their dress, hair – style, posture etc.
These designs had later dominated by European rule such as Locomotive carrying Europeans, sometimes with both Europeans and Indian passengers and attendants, Double – Decker steam launches with passengers and crew inside with a dog in lower section of the launch, European ladies and gentlemen riding coaches drawn by horses, Europeans being driven in chariots etc.
The Baluchari has shades of Red, Yellow, Green, Purple and Chocolate besides while and shot colors and no Black dye. In order to obtain effect of Black, deep indigo and deep Chocolate colors are used. The ground colors are usually dark and the pictorial designs are woven silk threads of lighter colors like cream etc.
The production of this ancient Indian brocaded silk in Murshidabad finally came to an end at the beginning of the twentieth century. The art of Baluchari weaving was revived by the All India Handicrafts Board in the district of Bishnupur in West Bengal and today they are being woven in Varanasi, too. The colours and patterns are woven according to present day consumer needs and though some beautiful Baluchari textiles are produced, the elusive charm of the old sari is lost.