Rainbow on a woman's waist

Text by Amit Shrestha

Would you be surprised to witness a rainbow on a woman’s waist? A bangdian is a rainbow-like woollen apron worn by women in the Himalayas. It functions perfectly as a shield against the cold, just as much as it does as a decoration on the waist, or even the walls of parlors.

With a history spanning over 1,500 years, the bangdian captures the essence of the living culture, arts, and livelihood of the Himalayas. Traditionally, only married women are supposed to wear bangdians, but its appeal has spread to young unmarried girls as well. The graceful charm and lucid colorsbring out a harmonic elegance on the bearer of the apron. The bangdian is tied around the waist, and is hung down to the lower hem of the skirt.

Historically, bangdians were presented as tributes to landlords and aristocrats. Today, women use them for household purposes as aprons.

Making of a bangdian
A bangdian is made from sheep or yak wool, dyed in colors of blue, green, red, yellow, purple, white, and black. The shades are arranged in an increasing or decreasing tone, so as to display a harmonic gradation.

The making of a bangdian spans across a year. During the mid summer, men shear wool from sheep. In the winter, women spin the wool into threads.The spun wool is then dyed with mineral colors (red, orange, yellow, blue)derived from mud, stone, and blue clay. Stems, roots, leaves, and barks are also used bring out red, green, brown, black, and yellow ink. The chosen color material is boiled after which spin glue is added to it. The dye is filtered into another vessel, where the spun wool is soaked.

After the wool is dyed and brushed, it is ready to be woven. This is usually done during the cold months. The wool is woven into horizontal strips, and then three of such separate vertical pieces are sewn together to make a complete bangdian. There are two kinds of bangdians – wide, and narrow striped. The wide striped ones consist of contrasting bright colours, and are preferred by women from farming and pastoral societies. The narrow striped bangdians are woven with harmonic colours of homogenous tonality. They look mild and graceful, and are favoured by women in the cities. Bangdians are elaborately woven from about 20 kinds of dyed yarn.

In remote regions like Mustang, women exhibiting generations-old craftsmanship in their daily lives are a pleasing sight. Almost all households possess at least one or multiple weaving machines, and relaying artistic flairs such as these to generations to come is an act of preservation – a tribute to the forbearers. Let the rainbow keep beaming gracefully, with ever more charm and elegance, on the waists of women who adorn themselves with crafts of time unsung.