Unless you grew up in a traditional Bengali family, you may often find it confusing to distinguish a garad saree from a korial or a jamdani from a muslin. They often look similar from a distance and only knowing the characteristics of each saree will help you identify them correctly. Here’s a quick overview on the different types of handloom sarees from West Bengal.
1. Tant: A tent is a cotton handloom saree with a light and airy texture. These sarees are suitable for everyday wear, especially during summers. Tant sarees are characterized by a thick border, a decorative pallav and a relatively plain body. Floral, paisley and other artistic motifs are woven on the sarees giving rise to a rich variety of colourful patterns.
2. Jamdani: A jamdani saree (often called ‘dhakai jamdani’ or just ‘dhakai’), is a feather-light, finely woven saree. They were originally woven in pure muslin, but today are woven in a blend of cotton and silk for a glossier finish. These sarees are characterized by intricately designed motifs that appear to float on the surface of an almost transparent, ultra-fine fabric, giving it an ethereal look by using an extra weft technique that requires a very high level of skill.
3. Muslin: A muslin saree (also called ‘dhakai muslin’) is an ultra-fine saree in an exotic sheer fabric made of the finest count of cotton that grows particularly in the Bengal region. Muslin is defined as hand-spun cotton greater than 160 count. Delicate motifs are woven on the transparent sarees in a manner similar to jamdani sarees. Weaving these sarees is a very skilful and laborious art, making these among the most expensive sarees from the region.
4. Garad: A guard is a pure silk saree characterized by a plain white or off-white body and a simple coloured border and a striped pallav. The most popular garad sarees have a red border and pallav, but they are also available in other colours. The sarees with the red borders are cherished and worn widely as "pujo" sarees.
5. Korial: A korial saree (also called ‘garad-korial’) is a grand version of the simple garad saree. Like the garad, it has a white or off-white silk body and a coloured border and pallav. The texture of the silk is richer in a korial saree, and it is decorated with more ornamental and intricate motifs. These days it has a paper like texture to it as it is made with yarn heavily coated with starch during the weaving process. The starch comes off in the first wash.
6. Baluchari: A baluchari is one of the most well recognised silk sarees from Bengal. It is characterised by an exotic border and elaborate pallav filled with intricate weavings depicting scenes from ancient epics and religious texts. The weavings are done in colours that stand out in contrast against the silk base of the saree. The most opulent baluchari sarees have weavings done in gold and silver coloured threads.
7. Tussar: Tussar is a type of silk that is found in the wild as opposed to cultivated silk. It is produced from larvae of several species of silkworms belonging to the moth genus Anthrea, These silkworms live in the wild forest in trees belonging to Terminalia species as well as other food plants like Jamun and Oak , eating the leaves of the trees. A tussar silk saree has a natural, pale golden sheen. When undyed, these sarees come in shades of beige, cream, honey or tawny. They are often dyed to take up more vibrant colours. The traditional tussar silk sarees from West Bengal are defined by decorative woven borders and pallav and the motifs used are similar to those in tant and jamdani sarees.
8. Murshidabad silk: Murshidabad is a district in West Bengal known for weaving silk of very good quality. Fine, light-weight pure silk sarees from this region are very popular as formal and casual wear. They are easy to drape and come in a variety of colourful, printed designs. These sarees are collectively known as Murshidabad sarees.
9. Kantha: Kantha is a style of embroidery that originated in the Bolpur-Santiniketan region of West Bengal, and is widely used to pattern sarees in all kinds of fabrics. The kantha embroidery is characterized by the 'running stitch', which is always done by hand using coloured threads, and can form very elaborate and intricate patterns. Originally old sarees were joined together withe patterned running stitch embroidery to make quilts for cold winters. Today Kantha embroidery is priced for it's vibrant colours and artistic intricacy.