Shataranji is a creative art of weaving and technically it is similar to modern tapestry. In the past, Shataravji was considered as a status symbol of aristocratic families. This very attractive and colorful fabric was used to make seat cover, bed sheet and wall mat for interior decoration of their houses. Even extra large size shataranjis were produced and used to cover a place of big public gathering to hold meetings or music conferences. Now-a-days, shataranji is used to make diversified creative products like coin purse, ladies hand bag and table mat.
During the British rule in India, the diversified usage of shataranji in the upper class society was very much common. Hunter in an article in the Rangpur Gezetteer published in 1912 referred to the quality artisanship of shataranji weavers of Rangpur and the marketing aspect of their products. He wrote that collector of Rangpur district Mr. Nisbet volunteered himself to be the lead patron of the local shataranji weaving artisans in 1880.
He was impressed very much to see the artistic design and knitting of shataranji there. Mr. Nisbet extended his all out assistance to the weavers of that region for the development and marketing of their shataranji products. An exclusive industrial park for shataranji weavers was built at a place 5 kilometre from Rangpur town. That place, later known as Nisbetganj, turned into the production hub of shataranji materials. A huge volume of Nisbetganj shataranji was exported to many countries including Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia after fulfilling the demand of domestic markets across India. It is believed that the tradition of shataranji weaving was there even before 1830. Historical evidences found locally reveal that Rangpur was a leading shataranji production centre during the Mughal rule. So it is evident that the art of shataranji weaving is a deep-rooted tradition of North Bengal crafts. After the partition of India in 1947, the demand of shataranji started declining as its substitute goods manufactured in mills and factories undersold shatranji. As a result, most of the shataranji weavers had to change their occupation. However at present, the art of shataranji weaving still survives in a very limited extent in Rangpur although the artisans concerned face many limitations including inadequate capital, unplanned marketing, poor attention of the consumers and the traders and overall a very small market. As a result, shataranji; a unique, industrial and potential art form of weaving is now disappearing. '
The principal raw material for weaving shataranji is yarn. Cotton yarn, jute yarn, wool and different type of fibers, after buying from the market, are dyed and dried by the weavers, 10 to 35 feet long bamboo frames are used to dry the yarn. Then the bundles of yarn are made and those bundles are fixed in the loom or laid down on the floor to knit a shataranji by hand following a set design. The art of shataranji weaving mainly depends on skillful operating of fingers. A comb like instrument called panja is used to tighten the knitted yarns. Thus, one to three hours time is required to make one square feet of shataranji. The common designs of shataranji include: face of a women, animals-birds, a farmer boy, a lady with pitcher, boats, king and queen, gods and goddess, mythological characters and scenery of the nature. New designs are also depicted on demand of the buyer. Red, blue and black colours are very much dominating in there designs.
The common shape of Shataranji is rectangular, but shataranjis are made by hand in any other shape including oval and square. Its set minimum size is 30 inch by 20 inch and maximum size is 30 feet by 20 feet. However, the shape and size of a shataranji depends on the demand of the buyer. At present, the weavers themselves develop the designs or the buyer supplies the design. But earlier, there were specialized artists to finalise the designs for shataranji.
A shataranji reveals not only the professional excellence of its artisan but also his or her level of the sense of aesthetics. So both the excellence and the sense of aesthetics of an artisan are equally important for shataranji weaving, which is not only his profession but a professional craze indeed. If the existing problems like dearth of raw material, absence of governmental patronisation, lack of co-ordination and marketing facilities at home and abroad can be solved, the art of shataranji weaving will expand successfully and get back its past glory. [Mahabubul Haq]