In Bengali ‘kantha’ means quilt. Kantha is an age-old Bengali tradition of making soft quilts with old and torn sarees and dhotis. It began with women re-purposing old saris and other house cloths into several layers and then finishing the layers with running stitch.
As it was a part of Mughal dynasty, Murshidabad is famous for its royal textile, embroidery, natural fragrance etc. Murshidabadi kantha embroidery is rare and intricate. The speciality of Murshidabadi kantha is that the patterns are developed by lazy daisy stitch along with plain running stitch and it is a freehand embroidery style. This craft is completely practised by Muslim women and is a very time consuming craft that requires utmost patience.
Afang Reza is a calm and polite gentleman in his early 50’s who is a master Kantha artisan that helps co-ordinate within a cluster of nearly 200 women Kantha artisans from Nima, Pathanpara, Mohisgram, Boroa, Marikpur, Kuli, Haribati, Mondikandra and other villages in Murshidabad. The women used to do kantha for household use, but over the last 12 years, Reza has been working to help empower them and grow their potential. They refer to him fondly as Reza Da, as someone who is aware of their conservative backgrounds and helping them find balance between culture and economic opportunities.
Reza supplies the team of women with new fabric and embroidery threads and sells their handicraft in different exhibitions. He even takes orders from boutiques. He is keen to learn about urban colour combinations and contemporary designs. “I distribute work to those women as per their skill-set, experience and responsibility.”, he says.
Reza’s team comprises of women from the age of fourteen to seventy-five. They are generally homemakers and school & college students. They practice Kantha in their free time. Young girls pay their tution fees from these meagre earnings.
The team is constantly changing as some women get married and leave for other villages while others join in as new brides. Reza is intent on maintaining the legacy of the beauty behind Murshidabad Kantha.