Interestingly, Kantha embroidery derives its name from a word with two different meanings. ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ in Sanskrit, which reflects the fact that Kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments. The word also means ‘throat’ and it was thus named due to its association with the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva.
Its origins can be traced back to the ancient pre-Vedic ages, however, Kantha embroidery as we know it today was found in Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s book - Chaitanya Charitamrita - which dates back to more than 500 years. Motifs found in early Kantha embroidery include many symbols that were derived from ancient art. These symbols depict the elements of nature, such as the sun, the tree of life and the universe.
Day-to-day life was the most significant source of inspiration behind this craft. The motifs designed on clothes or bedspreads were of birds, animals, folk scenes, fish, and imagery that depicted different views of livelihood of the people living in Bengal. Reprocessing was another cause for motivation the women then recycled old clothes, refurbishing them into something practical - covers for furniture, blankets, bed linen. Kantha embroidery is economical, practical and yet beautiful at the same time.
Kantha work has been around for ages and has been a favourite among those who love taking fashion and style to levels beyond the ordinary. Conventionally, the motifs used were of animals or birds, with modern-day designers, however, trendy designs are being experimented with. One can see cave art, Egyptian murals, Hindu mythology, and even pop-art being illustrated through this fine stitch-work.
With the current development in its technique and the different styles that it brings to the table, Kantha embroidery has become a favorite form of stitch work with designers across the globe.