Asian Paints Colour Journey (Season 3): Kantha:With every piece telling compelling tales of the land and its people, Bolpur

Showcase 08 Jan 2017

Bolpur: Stories Embroidered in Vivid Colours

Juxtaposing the splendor of travel with splashes of art; Colour Journey weaves a motley of narratives to take you on an expedition through the hues of our country. Navigate the plains and plateaus to see a kaleidoscope of crafts come alive – from scattered work desks to brightly coloured homes.

Asian Paints Colour Journey (Season 3): Kantha:With every piece telling compelling tales of the land and its people, Bolpur

Boundless fields packed with paddy, lined with sugarcane and dotted with cotton outline Bolpur, a town tucked in Birbhum district, 145 kms away from the bustle of Kolkata. Open red-soiled lands, sultry winds and little meandering streams weave a warm welcome to this land of rich colours and culture. With a small population of a little over 3000 people, Bolpur is also well known for its proximity to Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan, home to a community of students, artisans, musicians and academics from across the world.

Warm summers and cold winters make their way in and out of the town, but the bubbling streak of energy running through the soil and spirits of the locals keep it alive all year round. Baul singers hum melodious tunes with their ektara (a one-stringed plucked drum), pouring out their hearts and heads, while others spend their long days on the fields, celebrating ripened paddy.

Filled with skilled artisans of different kinds, it doesn’t end at music and agriculture in Bolpur. Locals stitch tales of music and agriculture together with colourful threads, knotting different stories from their lives every time the needle makes its way through. Kantha embroidery, a delicate craft woven together with multiple slivers of colour is an integral part of the legacy of Bolpur. Typically embroidered on cushioned quilts filled with stacks of old cloth, Kantha has travelled to different textures and canvases through the years.

Though practiced across Bangladesh and West Bengal, Kantha threads itself into each artisan’s hand in a different way, buzzing with their personal stories through every pattern and colour used. Transferring the design to cloth begins with sketching motifs and patterns on crisp tracing paper, after which little holes are poked through the cloth and paper to outline the design. Precision is crucial to Kantha, ensuring that every dot is part of the larger story that materializes. Black paste is passed through the holes from the tracing paper onto the cloth, making visible marks for artisans to etch.

The tedious process of Kantha embroidery is a meditative one for artisans who have been watching, learning and doing, all their lives. Sahibar Banu started making Kanthas at the age of 13 trained by her mother. 70 years later, after a winning a national award in 2004, she continues to practice while also holding workshops and entwining her learning through the canvases of the 500 women she teaches. Like her, Umma Salma Khatoon, another national award winner in the town learnt the first stitches from her mother, now spending her time between her own practice and teaching the craft to over 1500 students in and around Bolpur every year.

But working on their Kanthas doesn’t end after the Sun goes down. These skilled artisans take their dedication and love for the craft back home and continue weaving in open fields and on terraces, oblivious to the time of the day. Serene teal blue birds, exciting orange fields, lush green leaves and vivid purple-red flowers are motifs that make their way through generations of Kantha stitches and take on new hues each time, shaded by the experiences of the artisan working on them.

Embossing their daily lives and homes onto shawls, pillow covers, quilts and sarees, artisans from Bolpur bring their commitment to Kantha through tireless hard work, creativity and concentration. They continue to pass on their craft and culture while etching Bolpur on canvas, with every thread making its way to our memories and homes alike.

Photographer: Abhishek Dutta
Bolpur was part of the expeditions of Season 03 of Colour Journey. There have been 4 successful seasons of Colour Journey in all. For all the stories of Season 03, visit