Synonymous with Bengal cotton handlooms, tant (or taant, tat, taat) sarees are among the most popular sarees worn by the women of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Their light, airy texture makes them especially suited for the warm and humid summers of this region. Tant sarees are characterized by a thick border, a decorative pallav and are woven with a variety of floral, paisley and other artistic motifs.
The term “tant” refers to the handlooms in Bengal that are used to weave cotton sarees along with dhotis and other garments. The earliest record of handloom saree weaving in Bengal can be traced back to the 15th century in Shantipur (in the Nadia district of West Bengal). The art continued to flourish during the Mughal rule (16th – 18th centuries), when it received extensive royal patronage along with muslin and jamdani weaving. While the fine muslins adorned the royal class, cotton sarees or tants were used for draping by the common folks. This weaving tradition continued during the British rule and the decades prior to independence witnessed an inflow of modern weaving techniques in Shantipur such as improvements in the handloom and introduction of the jacquard loom that is still used today.
After the partition of Bengal in 1947, many Hindu weavers from Bangladesh migrated to India and were rehabilitated in West Bengal. Fulia (or Phulia), a town neighbouring Shantipur, became a new home for these weavers from Tangail (of Bangladesh), who brought with them the weaving traditions of their ancestral land. Other migrating weavers were settled in the Hooghly and Burdwan districts of West Bengal. Over the years, each of these regions developed their own style of weaving and today, they are the homes of the most well-known varieties of tant sarees.
Bundles of cotton threads coming from the mills are first washed to remove any chemicals, sun-dried, bleached, again dried, and then dipped in boiling coloured water to dye them. They are then starched and processed some more to make them finer and stronger. The threads are wound on bamboo drums to feed them into the loom for weaving.
Every tant saree is characterized by the design on its border, pallav and body. These designs are drawn by an artist and transcribed onto soft cardboards by perforating them which are then suspended from the loom. Now all is in place for the weaving to begin. The simplest of tant sarees take about 10-12 hours to weave. More intricate designs could even take 5-6 days to complete a saree.
Tant sarees can be classified based on the region where they are woven, or the motifs depicted on the sarees. The major regions of tant production in West Bengal today are:
1. Fulia and Shantipur (in Nadia): Combining the weaving styles of the original Shantipur weavers and the migrant weavers from Tangail who settled in Fulia, this region has developed the “Fulia Tangail” style of weaving and produces among the best quality tant sarees today. These tants are soft and fine in texture, come in vibrant colours and have large, intricately woven motifs.
2. Dhaniakhali (or Dhonekhali in Hooghly): Tant sarees from this region are of good quality, mainly come in pastel shades and have striped patterns and fewer motifs.
3. Begampur (in Hooghly): Begampur specializes in loosely woven, light-weight and translucent sarees in deep, bright colours.
4. Kalna (in Burdwan): Tants from this region are based on the Tangail style of weaving.
5. Atpur (in Hooghly): This town was known for producing coarser sarees and dhotis for everyday wear. The term “Atpoure” which means “common wear” denotes the Bengali style of wearing sarees which used to be the traditional way of draping for women of this region.
A variety of traditional motifs are woven in the borders and pallav of the tant sarees. Some of the popular ones are: bhomra (bumble bee), tabij (amulet), rajmahal (royal palace), ardha-chandra (half moon), chandmala (garland of moons), ansh (fish scale), hathi (elephant), nilambari (blue sky), ratan chokh (gem-eyed), benki (spiral), tara (star), kalka (paisley) and phool (flower).
In keeping up with contemporary tastes, tant sarees today also feature designs which are hand-painted, printed and embroidered on the fabric. A variation of the traditional tant has zari work woven into the borders and pallav along the patterns of a Banarasi silk saree giving rise to the ‘tant banarasi’ saree.
Tant saree. In Wikipedia, Retrieved 21 March 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tant_saree
“Phulia”, Retrieved 21 March 2015, from http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Phulia
“Bengal Handloom”, Retrieved 21 March 2015, from http://www.westbengalhandloom.org/htm/beng_hand.html
“Woven Dreams: Tant Sarees of Bengal (Fulia & Shantipur”, Retrieved 21 March 2015, from https://www.behance.net/gallery/12497371/Woven-Dreams-Tant-Saris-of-Bengal-%28Fulia-Shantipur%29