The whole village was filled with the rhythm of the looms. Busy artisans were weaving saris, listening to their radios. Their spindles were weaving intricate and beautiful designs. One of the finest classic fabrics of the world, Jamdani, was being produced here with the old fashioned pit looms.
This was at Bargaon Kazipara in Sonargaon, Narayanganj. A total of 2,000 weavers from 800 families of Sonargaon are involved in Jamdani weaving. Their ancestors once weaved another wonder fabric, muslin. The craftsmanship of these weavers has recently been recognised by the World Craft Council (WCC). On 8 October, WCC recognised Sonargaon as the World Craft City. Sonargaon was the first Bangladeshi region to receive such honour.
In a recent visit to Bargaon Kazipara, a village 22 kilometres away from Sonargaon upazila, this correspondent found a local, Shah Alam, busy weaving the fine fabric. He said he followed in the footsteps of his two predecessors. He was about to finish a sari which he laced with golden threads. It took one year to finish the work which he will sell at 250,000 taka. It was done on an order from a Mumbai-based online businessman.
"He gave me the design of the sari for a famous actress. After the actress wears it, the businessman will sell it again at 500,000 taka," Alam said.
Shah Alam sells his saris in Britain, Afghanistan, and the USA other than India, but at a far less price. His story was echoed by Abdul Jabbar, another artisan in Dorgabari village in the neighbourhood. Jabbar, too, was working on a sari for last six months on an order from an Indian online businessman. He will sell it to him at 250,000 taka and the businessman will sell it later at double the price.
"Two weavers work 12 hours a day to weave a Jamdani, but are not paid as per the thread quality or the labour," Jabbar said.
Almost everyone from every age run pit looms in the village, according to Shah Alam. They are happy with the newly achieved special status as it could attract a broader international market.
How the recognition was achieved
Receiving the status of World Craft City is a lengthy process. The initiative was launched by WCC as China demanded its Fuxin, an 8,000-year old city famous for agate, be declared as the World Craft City in 2012. The city was later bestowed upon the status.
Following China's example, National Crafts Council Of Bangladesh (NCCB) tried to gain the same status for Sonargaon, said Ruby Ghaznavi, former president of the organisation and vice president of WCC-Asia Pacific Region.
Jamdani received the Geographical Index (GI) status in 2016. Formal petition was filed for a special recognition of Sonargaon that year. Other conditions were fulfilled in the next two years. In 2018, WCC decided to send its juries to Bangladesh. In 2019, NCCB arranged a Jamdani festival and a big exhibition was held at Bengal Shilpalay.
On 4 September, two days before the Jamdani festival, three WCC juries reached Bangladesh. In cooperation with several ministries of the government and a number of organisations, arrangements were made for the juries to visit Sonargaon. They inspected various phases of Jamdani weaving while visiting Sonargaon.
For the festival itself, 500 pictures of 250-years old Jamdanis were collected and some 80 saris were woven in association with Aarang, Tangail Sari Kutir, and Aranya and Kumudini. A section of the saris were woven by the Sonargaon artisans who used 200 counts of khadi threads for the task.
The final recognition came on 8 October.
The status established the reputation of the traditional craftsmanship of Sonargaon as well as confirmed that Bangladesh owns Jamdani, said NCCB president Mohammad Rafiqul Islam. This is a pride for the whole nation, he added.
The title will lift the artisans' standard of life as well as ensure their status, Anjan Kumar Sarker, Sonargaon upazila nirbahi officer said.
Education minister Dipu Moni, Narayanganj city mayor Selina Hayat Ivy and deputy commissioner Jasim Uddin contributed to the recognition, Abul Khair, Bengal Group chairman, said. He put emphasis on setting up a tourist city and weavers' village at Sonargaon upazila.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten here in English by Nusrat Nowrin.