“Today, only one balaposh practitioner remains: Sekhawat Hussain Khan, the great-grandson of Atir Khan. Featured in Balaposh – A Fragrant Inheritance, a beautiful film installation and photo exhibition at designjunction, London Design Festival 2015 by designer Neishaa Gharat and acclaimed street photographer Vineett Vohra, Khan’s role is crucial to preserving the balaposh legacy and ensuring its future. By supporting this artisan, Biswa Bangla aims to revive balaposh, elevating it into international awareness and, thus, contextualising it within the realm of art history.”
Brief highlights about Balaposh
Balaposh or silk quilts are steeped in history and deft craftsmanship, with Balaposh of Murshidabad being one of West Bengal’s finest creations that has travelled near and far and has won appreciation for the sweet scented warmth – spread by a layer of attar-scented cotton wool between two layers of silk cloth, using no quilting stitches at all apart from the stitches on the edges.
It is said that a single sheet of Balaposh would cost thousands of rupees during the rule of the Mughals; if converted this would amount to millions of rupees in present times, thus proving the exquisite nature of these traditional works of art.
The mild scent of Balaposh – that wafts through the quilted layers and lures one in, is often its main attraction, and the government is taking active measures – such as training to the younger generation of weavers, to ensure that this art is kept alive.
History of Balaposh
Finery and complexity are always intertwined as they set the standards for a high life. Take the faintly fragrant Balaposh for example; whether these silk quilts got the word posh into it for the same reason is for the user to decide. Actually, it’s quite hard to differ after you have used one; you won’t have too many options.
A surprising thing about the balaposh is its usage as an elegant shawl. This proves furthermore the fine craftsmanship that originated and still exists in Bengal, Murshidabad district. A sweet-scented warmth its characteristic, the balaposh is a spread of layered, attar-scented cotton wool between two layers of silk stitched at the edges.
The Nawabs of Bengal are to be given credits for the advent of the Balaposh in the 18th century. Nawab Sujauddin’s sense of perfectionism (then ruler of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) and his demand for an extravagant quilt is said to be what brought the balaposh into existence. He wanted something that’s soft as wool, warm as the lap and gentle like a flower” to wrap himself in. Needless saying, this tall order was way beyond the reach of the then craftsmen of the region, except for one Atir Khan who took a vow to create that exclusive piece. Following the King’s specifications, the balaposh was quilted to perfection. Thus it was born and in its initial years, they only served the Royals. Today as well, the art remains a well-hidden one – a closely guarded legacy carried forward by Sekhawat Hussain Khan, Atir Khan’s great-grandson, the only true karigar (craftsman) existing in this near-extinct trade. His production technique is vastly different from the commercialised variety. How the three layers (a thin sheet of attar-scented cotton snuggled between silk two blankets of silk) should be laid is still a mystery to the rest of the world but to one person.
What sets Balaposh apart ?
Quilts come and go, but the balaposh is forever! Born in adroit and artful hands, the unsurpassable aesthetics of these lightweight, hand-crafted, exquisite creations never cease to intrigue. It’s the quality that distinguishes the balaposh from other quilts and that’s more than the stitches along the edges. The real secret is how not to let the middle layer of cotton wool lump up into a ball; so when you are looking at one, remember that just ornamental borders and contrasting colours are not the only defining criteria. They are not least responsible for the characteristic softness and its sublime fragrance wafting through the layers; a true balaposh must seep its sense of posh-ness into the senses of the one who uses it. The art is, however, in a deplorable state as of now; close to dying and it’s the deliberate conservatism of the artisans to blame.
All these years, the art of making balaposh has been passed on as a family heirloom; the only way to save the art is passing it on to the future generations. It’s the only way to save the legacy from going extinct and the craft from fading into obscurity. That’s exactly what Biswa Bangla is up to; it has taken the initiative to train artisans on this art form, spearheading to protect the ancient techniques and production methodologies.