|Picture from the International Quilt Study site, well worth a visit|
One paper, a graduate thesis by Ruhee Das Choudhury, is titled Semiotic Study of the Motifs in Nakshi Kantha, and it is very readable (in spite of the poor grammar). She discusses the symbolic significance of the motifs in the kantha cloths stitched in Bangladesh and East Bengal. Early on there is this amazing story which I just had to share with you:
Dr. Stella Kramrisch has described a mythical story to indicate the origin of this art form. According to this story, there was a guru by the name of Kanthalipa(plastering guru). By caste he was a sweeper. He used to collect old rags and torn cloth which he found while sweeping. One day a needle pricked his finger; it hurt so much that he started crying. Hearing his wailing a dakini (witch or spirit) appeared before him. She reproached him: “If you cry at such little pain, how you would be able to bear the pathos of rebirth over and over again?” Kanthalipi answered to her “That is true but I do not know what I should do.” The dakini advised him:
“The sky is nothing but a great void in endless space. Between the earth and the sky is also a vast emptiness. While sewing the pieces of rags you should achieve unity of spirit and purpose with all living creatures in the world. The sewing of rags symbolizes the use of all discarded things. To do this you need to consolidate your deep feelings and knowledge. Sitting in the void you will have to combine your thoughts and knowledge with the help of the needle of kindness. The pieces of rags sewn together to make a new cloth of new Kantha will turn into a complete piece. Similarly all the universe's living things will be able to create their own entities.” (Stella Kramrisch, 1983)Ah, there's a concept I can live by.