Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)

Artist/maker unknown, Bengali

Made in West Bengal, India, Asia
or Bangladesh, Asia
Made in Undivided Bengal, Asia

19th century

Cotton plain weave with cotton embroidery in back, buttonhole, darning, satin, running, eye, and fern stitches

32 x 34 5/16 inches (81.3 x 87.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Costume and Textiles

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Stella Kramrisch Collection, 1994

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Crisscrossed by innumerable rivers and embankments, Bengal centered around the lush and frequently flooded deltaic lowlands where the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system empties into the Bay of Bengal. Wet rice cultivation has long been the primary agricultural activity, and fish a favored food. It is not surprising, then, that aquatic imagery-both prosaic and divine-figures so prominently in the arts of Bengal. At the bottom of this kantha, for example, the four-armed goddess Ganga, personification of the Ganges River, sits atop her makara (a fish-crocodile with elephant trunk). Continuing the riverine theme, the flute-wielding god Krishna is shown at top ferrying the gopis (cowherd women) across the Jamuna River in a boat with a peacock prow and makara stern, a form of pleasure craft peculiar to Bengal.

Additional information:
  • PublicationKantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal

    Krishna ferries the gopis (top) and steals his mother’s butter (right). While this embroiderer reduces the number of gopis in the boat and minimizes the architecture compared to the same scenes in other kanthas (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1994-148-705), she retains the essential narrative elements. For example, she indicates the women’s married status by house keys at their waists rather than sindur (vermillion powder) in their hair. At bottom, the four-armed goddess Ganga, personification of the Ganges River, sits atop her makara (a mythical fishcrocodile with elephant trunk). Near her, two dandies ride an elephant while, at left, three turbaned men sit atop a single horse. Darielle Mason, from Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal (2009), p. 186.