The Distinctiveness of Dhakai

Anybody who is even a little into sarees has definitely heard or come across these two eponymous words – Dhakai Jamdani.

Dhakai, as in the place of origin – Dhaka, Bangladesh. And Jamdani, the intricate weaving technique used in making this saree. Jamdani is a union of two words viz Jama, which is clothing and Dani, (or dana) which is small motifs.

Therefore, Dhakai Jamdani is fabric born out of an intricate weaving technique that involves overall spread of motifs. The base fabric is a soft and thin sheer yarn and the motifs are woven with a thicker yarn for which wefting on the fabric is manually done twice with threads interlaced using spools made of fine bamboo.  This simplistic explanation of the weaving does not and cannot do justice to the rigour and ardour of the weavers who produce each piece with precision, detailing and craftsmanship. The weaving process takes more than two months, each day 18 hours long.

The final product looks like tiny flowers are wafting through air, giving the Dhakai Jamdani, a dreamy and breezy appearance. Motifs are usually in the shape of paisley (kalka), polka dots (butidar) or rectangular motifs (charkona) which adorn the saree.

The spread of motifs can be diagonal or tercha, and meshlike or jhalar. The aanchal is heavier than the rest of the saree, where threads of gold and silver are also woven together using a brocade loom. The designs on the aanchal are usually pictorial representations of stories of the weaver’s village, who usually take inspiration from things around them. 

This ilk of sarees is probably, one of the most, (and this is my view only) underrated sarees in the world of six yards. While Jamdani happens to be a mainstream weave, unfortunately so, the exclusivity of a Dhakai Jamdani is I’m afraid not understood. Revival efforts haven’t been done with as much gusto as have its other siblings.

This is a tall claim, but a number of reasons could be attributed to this – a part of it is because there is a clear demarcation between Dhakai Jamdani and Bengal Jamdani. Jamdani weavers from Bangladesh left Bengal at the time of its partition, post the India Bangladesh war in 1971. Only Jamdani from Dhaka has the IPR ( or what they as Geographical Indication) to call itself original Jamdani.

Those woven in West Bengal do not enjoy that stamp.

Secondly, West Bengal Handloom, though an established handloom sector is much smaller as compared to Bihar or Andhra Pradesh. Sorry for the digression but it had to be said.

A spate of faux-jamdanis, who are masquerading as original Dhakai Jamdanis have further marred its revival and growth. In my passion to promote a Dhakai Jamdani, it becomes imperative for me to tell my readers how to identify an Original Dhakai.

This is me in an original Dhakai Jamdani . Copyright Sixyardsoffinery.com

How to Identify an Original Dhakai Jamdani

The market is full of fakes and it can get daunting to understand, which Dhakai is original and which isn’t. Jamdani is an heirloom piece and if maintained and cared for properly, it can last for nearly three generations. But this necessitates, firstly, buying an original Dhakai.

For this identification, one needn’t have a deep knowledge of weaving and textiles. One just needs an observant eye.

To find out whether a Dhakai is original or not, you will have to turn the saree inside out. The detailing can be observed on the reverse side, wherein you need to give a deeper look at the motifs.

You will see that the yarn used on the motifs is continuous. On the aanchal too, you will notice that the threadwork is continuous. In a fake Dhakai, which is machine-manufactured, and not handcrafted the threadwork is discontinuous. The wefting is broken and re-started to complete the motif design. It is very clearly shown in the images below.

Original Jmadani work – the stiches make a u-turn

The faux Dhakais are, needless to say cheaper. The muslin is coarser and uncomfortable to drape. The market is inundated with these fakes and if you go to renowned stores in Kolkata and ask them to show you a Dhakai Jamdani, the first thing they’ll show you is the counterfeit one, which is a third in terms of prices. The colours are loud and the poorness of quality is apparent.

This is a FAKE JAMDANI

Price considerations may drive you to choose a faux Dhakai, but I must warn that it would definitely not be durable. I am a propounder of products that have a lasting quality and when anything does not promise that, I refrain from using it.

Original Dhakais are extremely classy and demure. And once you own an original Dhakai, you will consider it one of your treasured possessions. But, it would be a disservice to you if I didn’t tell you, how to treat your Dhakai Jamdani.

Vidya Balan in a DESIGNER DHAKAI JAMDANI

Maintaining a Dhakai Jamdani

We usually store our sarees in folded form in our wardrobes. Sarees in folded form, if not worn over long periods of time, can fray at the creases. Even if you want to keep them in folded form, do so lengthwise, making large folds. Cover them in a light cotton fabric so that it doesn’t come in contact with other sarees piled on top of them. The best way to lengthen the life of Dhakai is to store them on hangers. Fold them lengthwise (or horizontally), hang them on a hanger, wrapped in a light cotton cloth. This protects the cloth from catching dust, and at the same time allowing the fabric to breathe while it sits in your cupboard.

Washing a Dhakai Jamdani

Machine washing a Dhakai Jamdani is an absolute no- no. Fold the saree lengthwise and the soak your Jamdani for 10-15 minutes in lukewarm water, with a mild detergent. Gently hand-scrub it in areas that need attention. Do not wring the Jamdanis at all. Instead, hang it over the tap for the excess water to drain off. Hang it in a dry shaded area as direct sun-rays will cause the saree to fade.

What looks best with a Dhakai Jamdani

There are several patterns and designs of Dhakai Jamdani. The most common ones are dual coloured ones (red and white, or black and white) where the base fabric and the motifs have contrasting colours. My favourite kinds are the monochromatic ones.

If you are choosing your first Dhakai Jamdani, I would recommend you go for a monochromatic Dhakai. Wear it with a bright coloured blouse, and pair it with large jhumkas and a statement neckpiece. 

A Dhakai Jamdani is an heirloom piece and has a majestic weave with an emotional story to tell. It is only when people recognize and consume this luxurious product, is when this magical weave will get its due in the fashion world. So, make sure you wear your Dhakais and not keep it only as occasion-wear.

Wear it often and flaunt it. Only then, can we make the Dhakai great again.

I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or write to me on sixyardsoffinery@gmail.com

Vidya Balan Pic courtesy – google images.