Jamdani has enjoyed immense popularity right from the beginning, however, the art form blossomed during the Mughal period. The name Jamdani has Persian roots, with the “jam” meaning flower and “dani” meaning vase. The name is suggestive of the beautiful floral motifs on these sarees. It reflects beauty and elegance. The intricate designs that adorn our Jamdani have been the work of thousands of years of weavers perfecting weaving on the hand-loom – a tradition that flourished and passed through generations. Considered to be one of the finest variety of muslin, it is rumored that Jamdani could be strung through a ring. Colonization by the British saw a decline in the production of this fabric. Export of cheaper yarn from European countries in the 19th century was one of the primary reasons for the decline of Jamdani.

To restore the pride of yesteryear, a movement has been taking shape to revive this heritage heirloom. Designers in the industry have been working tirelessly to bring back the glorious days of Jamdani, to impart the luxury of our legacy and familiarize the world with the sophisticated fabric that we hold dearly as our national treasure. Farzeen Chowdhury, Samira Rahman Ali, Nitee Mahbub, and Zara Jabeen Mahbub share their views on the versatility of Jamdani, and how the fabric lends itself uniquely to every occasion, working as a crisp business-wear, an elegant attire for a formal event or simply a classy way to stay cool during the summertime.

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Be it a formal or an informal event, Farzeen Chowdhury shares that a good jamdani complements all occasions.

The jamdani worn by Farzeen Chowdhury is from the collection of Bengal Foundation
Jamdani from her own collection

What is your profession? What kind of activities does it entail?

I am a businesswoman. I run two businesses of my own. One is my first venture which I started 18 years ago- Roll Xpress Café, where we serve mainly Indian street food in a European cafe ambiance. My other business is Paper Studio where we provide bespoke stationery printing services and sell the fine paper for a wide range of uses. At Paper Studio we create sophisticated designs, do smaller MOQ print runs, fine value-added technique and details in print conversion on the best-suited paper. Caring for finer details and appreciation of the craft involved in what goes behind a finished printed product has been a mandatory criterion for its success.

What is your daily style mantra?

I believe my attire should never overshadow my persona.  I wear sarees to work every day. I am most comfortable in a saree. I feel it is the most stylish and elegant garment for a woman.
My daily style mantra – words that come to mind are natural, stylish, comfortable, suited to my personality, easy.

What does Jamdani mean to you?

Jamdani is rooted deep in my origin. It exudes simple elegance, uplifting style, and sophistication. I also feel there is a certain gravity attached to a Jamdani. It speaks volumes about the wearer. It is understated and powerful at the same time. Jamdani is mine and I feel I own it as a Bangladeshi. When in college in India, it was my mother’s treasured jamdani sari, I would wear to the international students’ program.

How much do you incorporate Jamdani into your workwear?

I love wearing simple cotton Jamdanis to work, especially during the summer months. They are easy and comfortable to wear. The light color palette is suited to the hot summers. I would be inclined to pick out a Jamdani if I had an important meeting. I feel Jamdanis can be versatile in its use – a simple one can be worn to a regular day at work and a dressier one to formal events.

How can we increase the awareness of Jamdani at home and abroad?

We need to archive the history in detail, along with the knowledge and specimens from earlier eras. Most motifs and patterns in Jamdani have different meanings associated with it, which if documented, would serve future design students. We need to maintain and cultivate deep roots by supporting and developing the community of weavers, to ensure that the knowledge and craft are not lost from this generation of weavers to the next. We need to modernize without ruining the original essence of the fabric. The sanctity of an actual Jamdani design and quality has to be preserved with great caution. We have to think of ways to popularize the saree itself to the young generation. I cannot think of anything being more beautiful than a Jamdani saree, but innovative and stylish product design at par with the richness of Jamdani as a fabric has to be used to reach a younger audience.

What is your top Jamdani tip? (Could be a way to wear it, clean it, a place to buy it, a way to store it, etc)

To have affordable Jamdanis for regular wear, I have made for myself, simple combinations with less work on the inner side of the full saree. I have my Jamdanis dry cleaned. I sometimes have had older Jamdanis in my closet ‘kata kora’ by the weavers. I have collected over the years Jamdanis from Aranya, Aarong, Tangail saree Kutir, Kumudini and directly from the Taati/weaver. I keep all my Jamdanis rolled on long wooden rods, to ensure it doesn’t tear or lose its strength at the folds.

Where would you like to see Jamdani in the future?

The heritage, dignity, richness of a Jamdani needs to be passed on from generation to generation. The significance and history associated with Jamdani should be placed in top textile museums worldwide. The knowledge and craft need to be made accessible to all students studying textiles and design. The treasure trove of patterns and motifs has to reach design students and academics widely. It should be a cherished possession in every woman’s wardrobe over time. I want my daughter to treasure her Jamdani sarees even more than I do.

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The Honorary Consul of Iceland, Samira Rahman Ali, talks about the importance of giving back to the cottage industries who first wove tradition into the fine fabric.

The jamdani worn by Samira Rahman Ali is from the collection of Bengal Foundation
Jamdani from her own collection

What is your profession? What kind of activities does it entail?

I am the Honorary Consul of Iceland in Bangladesh. As their official representative, I am responsible for the well-being of Icelanders here. I also must facilitate trade and friendship between the people of the two countries.

What is your daily style mantra?

Be comfortable but not shabby. Wear one piece of accessory that makes a statement and makes you feel good about the way you look.

What does Jamdani mean to you?

It reflects beauty and elegance. A Jamdani cannot be woven just anywhere, anyhow, under any condition. It has to have the water and humidity of an exact area of our country to come out precisely as it should. The weavers say anyone who hasn’t had ancestors weaving Jamdani cannot weave one himself. So the weaver has to be from the exact family as well with the exact mathematical knowledge of a pattern that has not been written down.

How much do you incorporate Jamdani into your workwear?

I try to wear Bangladeshi sarees for diplomatic engagements all the time, be it a Nakshikantha, Tangail Taant, Manipuri or Rajshahi silk or a Jamdani. However, I tend to reserve the Jamdani for formal work engagements as I feel it to be the most elegant of all.

How can we increase the awareness of Jamdani at home and abroad?

Nowadays, many entrepreneurs are working with Jamdani weavers to make scarves, kurtas and dress material for contemporary wear. I find that commendable. I know the Jamdani weave is also being incorporated in household items like lampshades and cushion covers, which, although feels like a degradation, is keeping the art form in international markets.

I feel that more Bangladeshis, home and abroad, should invest in Jamdani pieces a little more to showcase it. Even the low range Jamdanis have heritage woven into it and should be worn and displayed with pride.

What is your top Jamdani tip?

Have fun with it but please do not cut up or put the sequin on a saree to remodel it. Jamdanis are not a passing trend, it’s a fashion statement that has been around for hundreds of years so take care of the ones you have and invest in some more.

Where would you like to see Jamdani in the future?

I would like to see more of the old designs revived and weaver families being compensated well enough for them to stay interested in this craft. I would, like any conscious citizen of the world, want our future generations to know the history of Jamdani and want them to care enough to protect and patron the craft.

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With growing consciousness about climate change, Nitee Mahbub insists that reviving the age-old Jamdani traditions will help the environment while keeping a national legacy alive and thriving.

The jamdani worn by Nitee Mahbub is from the collection of Bengal Foundation
Jamdani from her own collection

What is your profession? What kind of activities does it entail?

I am an Architect. The profession of architecture involves planning, designing and construction of form, space, and environment that reflect functional, technical, social, environmental, and aesthetic consideration.

What is your daily style mantra?

I tend to edit my outfit just the way I do my design. I tend to, and to some extent, I need to convey my design sartorially. I prioritize comfort, as well as humility. I follow slow fashion principals; wearing local, taking care of my clothes, buying fewer, buying better.

What does Jamdani mean to you?

It’s a piece of art. When I look at it, I see the incredible craftsmanship, the heritage, the passion. I also somehow want to tap into the meditative state of the weavers possibly monastic discipline and focus.

How much do you incorporate Jamdani into your daily wear?

While I do wear it on a wide range of events, I wouldn’t say it is a part of my “daily wear”, per se.

How can we increase the awareness of Jamdani at home and abroad?

By wearing it, as simple as that.I’d also like to see it in smaller pieces; as a scarf, or as homeware like a café curtain; not only to incorporate it more in the vie quotidienne but to make it more affordable to a wider audience. Let’s be honest, how often can we afford to buy a gorgeous piece of Jamdani? Not too often.

What is your top Jamdani tip?

Treat the weavers for what they truly are – artists. We forget that there is no Jamdani without the weavers. End of the day, Jamdani is Jamdani not only because of its beauty, but because it encapsulates an individual’s life’s work.

Where would you like to see Jamdani in future?

Going back to my last answer, if we want to see Jamdani anywhere in the future at all, we have to honor the profession of weaving as a whole.

Today I’m wearing my mother’s Jamdani saree, an article of clothing that is precious enough to be passed down to the next generation; and yet, I don’t even know the weaver’s name. If we buy paintings signed by the artists; then why should a magnificent Jamdani remain anonymous? I want to know the weavers’ name, the time it took to complete the work if there’s a particular inspiration behind a certain thread combination. The Jamdani weaving profession has been passed down from one generation to the next. If we fail to offer their due respect, help them maintain a comfortable and respectful livelihood; at some point, there will not be the next generation weavers.

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Zara Jabeen Mahbub insists on marketing Jamdani on the international level.

The jamdani worn by Zara Jabeen Mahbub is from the collection of Bengal Foundation
Jamdani from her own collection

What is your profession? What kind of activities does it entail?

I work in the IT industry where we provide IT enabled services to clients in the US. As the CEO I work with various internal teams and external customers and other stakeholders locally and internationally. I have long hours and have to travel frequently for work.

What is your daily style mantra?

In the summertime I wear sarees and during winter I alternate between sarees and western suits. A crepe silk or cotton handloom or Jamdani saree with a string of pearls, a bangle, and ear studs are usually what I wear every day. Dark suits with a cotton shirt and silk scarf are the alternate add on during the winter months. I don’t leave home without my kohl and red lipstick!

What does Jamdani mean to you?

This Moghul bedazzling ‘wine cup’ means a lot more to me than simply a saree. It embodies who I am, my existence, my identity, and my heritage and also carries forward my legacy as a Bangladeshi woman. I have Jamdani sarees that my grandmother and mother used to wear and I look forward to handing my Jamdanis to my children. These sarees are more precious to me than all the jewels in the world.

How much do you incorporate Jamdani into your workwear?

I wear cotton Jamdanis to work regularly and I’ve reserved my special ones for formal dinners and events.

How can we increase the awareness of Jamdani at home and abroad?

We have to heavily market Jamdani to all those who wear sarees in Bangladesh and internationally. While I see myself wearing Jamdani sarees mostly, we can try and incorporate western fusion wear made with Jamdani material.

What is your top Jamdani tip? (Could be a way to wear it, clean it, a place to buy it, a way to store it, etc)

Jamdani is best preserved if rolled up in cardboard rollers and aired every few months!

Where would you like to see Jamdani in the future?

I’d like to see all women of Bangladeshi heritage proudly wear Jamdani at all events. At home, I’d like to see women wear more sarees in general. Women today don’t wear sarees every day, it’s become more of party wear. So I’d love to see women wear sarees as a daily wear like our mothers used to at home and work. And yes, I would like to see the Jamdani fabric make a breakthrough into international markets in the form of clothing as well as home decor items like cushions, curtains, table mats, runners, etc.

*Styling by Goutom Saha
*Photographs by Rony Rezaul 
*Makeup & Hair by Aura Beauty lounge