Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)

Artist/maker unknown, Bengali

Made in Faridpur District, Bangladesh, Asia
or West Bengal, India, Asia

Late 19th century

Cotton plain weave with cotton embroidery in back, buttonhole, darning, running, dot, eye, and arrowhead stitches

32 1/4 x 33 inches (81.9 x 83.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Stella Kramrisch, 1968

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The process of making a kantha began with gathering pieces of used, unstitched cotton cloth, especially saris and dhotis (women's and men's garments respectively). Carefully placed and layered fragments-sometimes as many as two dozen-were then stitched together. Kanthas could be created with as few as two and as many as seven layers of cloth. The enigmatic imagery here includes a man embracing a hookah-smoking woman on an armchair, his unfinished lower body sketched onto the cloth. Four horsemen (the top of the fourth visible only in underdrawing) seem to battle a nest of cobras and perhaps also the nearby crab. At top may be the parable of the blind men and the elephant, a story that originated in South Asia.

Additional information:
  • PublicationKantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal

    Between the diamond-stemmed trees are four figural groups that Kramrisch labeled “satyrical scenes” (see Stella Kramrisch, Unknown India: Ritual Art in Tribe and Village. Exhibition catalogue. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1968, p. 221, cat. 444). At bottom a man embraces a hookah-smoking woman on a fashionable armchair. His unfinished lower body is sketched onto the cloth. The scene at top may be the familiar parable of the blind man and the elephant, a story that originated in South Asia but had spread worldwide long before the nineteenth century. Even more enigmatic are the scenes at left and right. The former shows four horsemen (the top of the fourth rider visible only in underdrawing) apparently battling a nest of cobras and, perhaps, the nearby crab as well. The latter depicts a pair of possibly bearded men, one of whom holds what appears to be a flower and a stalk of grain, the other what may be a stringed satchel or toddy pot, suggesting their possible identification as either religious mendicants or revelers. Darielle Mason, from Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal (2009), p. 205.