Art history/ Historiography, Craftspersons/ Artisanal

BALAPOSH: The fragrant silk quilt of Bengal

Roy, Purabi

Issue #008, 2021                                                                              ISSN: 2581- 9410 Balaposh, a fragrant silk quilt, is an intriguing story of superb craftsmanship. Intriguing because only a single family in Murshidabad (West Bengal, India) know the secrets of the Mughal era Balaposh-making craft. In the 18th century, Murshidabad had reached the zenith of prosperity and was the biggest centre of trade and commerce in north India. The story goes that Nawab Shirajuddin , the heir of Murshed Kuli Khan, found the traditional quilts and wraps, made of animal hair and wool, a bit heavy for Bengal winter. He wanted something different, a quilt which would not be prickly or heavy. It was to be soft as a mother’s lap, warm and comfortable, yet light like a beloved’s embrace and fragrant like a flower! Those were the days of incredible flamboyance and glory. The Mughal love for beauty was still fresh in everyone’s mind. The master craftsman who took up the challenge was one Atir Khan and thus, Balaposh was born. It was expensive and at first, only used by royals and nobles. Even now the craft remains a closely guarded secret of the family of Atir Khan. His great grandson Sakhawat Hossain, who passed away recently, was the only master craftsman. Balaposh is not like kantha, razais or dohars. To appreciate why Balaposh is so special in a country where the art of quilt- making is so very common, we have to understand how it is created. In the last decade of his life, under gentle pers...
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