My Top 5 Traditional Indian Sarees – depicting India’s diversity
An Indian woman looks the best in sari. As regressive and gross generalization it may sound, it is the truth. Well, true for most Indian women to err on the cautious side. The nine-yards of fabric spins a magic and transforms all body types into perfection. This post is dedicated not to the brands and designers whose works sell at unimaginable prices, but to the weavers of India. The weavers in the remote corners of India who are keeping age-old art forms alive through their work. Here in this post I will take you on a tour of India through the weaves. I will discuss about some of my favorite traditional saris and you can pitch in with yours.
Banarasi – Varanasi, UP
Banarasi originated from UP but has become a quintessential part of the Bengali weddings. It’s main feature are Golden and Silver threads (zari) finely woven into bright-colored silk-brocades. Along with florals patterns called “kalka” and “bel” dominate the Banarasi Silk Sarees. These intricate patterns are often embellished by multi-colored threads in petals and leaves. This type of embroidery is called Meenakari .Bengali brides wear matching Gold jewelry with similar designs as the Zari-work in the sari.
The sari gets its name from the ancient city Banaras a.k.a. Varanasi. It became a powerhouse of textile industry in the 15th century during Mughal period. This unique combination of Persian and Indian motifs is what makes Banarasi the queen of saris. Earlier the silk used to be imported from China by the ancient Silk route. Later the silk was procured from South India. “Normally 3 weavers are required in the creation of this saree. One weaves the saree, the second one handles the revolving ring in making bundles, and the third one assists in border designing.” – says the article on history of Banarasi, Caleidoscope. UP , specifically Varanasi, Azamgarh, Mirzapur, Jaunpur, Bhadohi and Chadoli own the GI tag for Banarasi silk.
A genuine Banarasi silk sari will start from Rs. 5000 and go up to Rs. 20000.
Kanjeevaram – Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu
When I called Banarasi the Queen of Saris, I was aware of a possible backlash from South. Kanjeevaram is another richly embroidered silk sari which originates from Tamil Nadu. Kanjeevaram , also called Kachipuram after the name of the place it originates from has a history dating back to the Vijayanagara empire. Weavers of Kanjeevaram silk are believed to descend from mythological sage Markanda – the master weaver of Gods. Well, this just goes on to show the love and respect people have for this art and their artists. Veteran Bollywood actress Rekha has been the unofficial ambassador for Kanjeevaram sari for decades now.
Kanjeevaram are known for their vibrant colors and the soft texture of mulburry silk. The “pallu” is distinctly different, and much heavily embellished than the rest of the body of the sari. So the two parts are woven separately and then joined with zig-zag patterns. Originally the zari was made of three silk threads twisted with silver and golden wires. That added to the durability as well as weight of the sari, not to mention – the cost. The cost of original hand-woven Kanjeevaram saris can go up to 2 lakhs. But now mostly copper wires are used instead of precious materials. That maintains the same sheen, but reduces the cost of production drastically. The main characteristic of this sari are the motifs inspired by Hindu temples in south India – pyramidal shapes, florals etc. These rich motifs can be found on the border and the pallu, while the rest of the body is usually simple with checks and stripes.
Usual price range of an original Kanjeevaram Sari is Rs. 8000- Rs. 20000/- in Tamil Nadu. The price may go higher depending on the design, material and brand.
Baluchari Silk – Baluchar, West Bengal
Baluchari Silk saris are famous for their strikingly rich pallus depicting stories from Hindu mythology. The art started in a small village called Baluchar in Murshidabad district of unpartitioned Bengal, 200 years ago. In the 18th century the nawabs patronised this incredible art form and the industry flourished. After a tragic flood the weaving village was washed away and this industry moved to Bishnupur in Bankura district. The intricate work on the pallu often depicted the life of Nawabs, muslim queens smoking hukah, and sometimes even British officers of East India Company. But the predominant theme when it moved to Bishnupur was the Vaishnavite paintings. Radha-Krishna stories are the most common theme of Baluchuri saris. Apart from that you will find various other episodes from Hindu mythology on them – Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas.
Unlike Banarasi and Kanjeevaram, Baluchari saris often come in lighter shades. The unique and exquisite thread-work stands out and lends it a sophistication. The patterns are hand-stitched with silk threads of a single color or multiple colors. A special type of Baluchari silk where golden threads are used is called “Swarnachuri”. With time Baluchuri Silk saris are becoming extremely popular and designers are imbibing more contemporary themes into them.
Usual price range of an original Baluchari Sari is Rs. 5000- Rs. 20000/- in West Bengal. The price may go higher depending on the design, material and brand.
Kasavu Kerala Cotton – Kerala
With a remarkable departure from the heavily ornamental saris, we move on to something that truly defines “elegance in simplicity”. We are talking about the white or –ff-white colored saris with golden borders that is such an integral part of Kerala’s culture. “Kasavu” is actually the zari border which was traditionally made of pure gold. Not only is it used in saris but also in “mundus” draped by men from waist especially on religious occasions. As I just mentioned, Kasavu is an inseparable part of Malyali culture.The classical dance “Mohiniyattam” cannot be performed without wearing this sari. Similarly these are worn in many folk dance performances and used in religious rituals. The soft breathable fabric makes it perfectly comfortable to wear in the hot and humid climate of Kerala.
A plain sari with the borders take 3-5 days to make. However, there are saris with much more intricate designs on the pallu, that take a lot more time. Personally, I love these saris. I bought some of these in Thekkady as Durga Puja gift last year. My mom and mom-in-law loved them too. You can read some interesting facts about the origin and evolution of Kasavu Saris in this Vogue interview.
Dhakai Jamdaani – Dhaka, Bangladesh
Speaking of soft breathable fabric suitable for the humid climate, how can we forget this gem from Bengal. This originated from Dhaka of the unpartitioned Bengal, now in Bangladesh. After partition many weavers migrated to West Bengal. Till today the production of Jamdani Saris flourish in both Bangladesh and India. In 2016, Bangladesh got its first GI tag for a product, and that’s for none other than Dhakai Jamdani. However, the history of its origin traces back to thousands of years, so it’s not wrong to consider this among the list of Indian sarees.
Interestingly, the earliest mention of Jamdani sarees can be found in Chanakya’s Arthashastra, dating back to the 3rd century BC! The book refers to it as some fine cloth from “Bangla” and “Pundra” region.- Traditional art of Jamdani Weaving, Craftsvilla
Unlike the other sarees I mentioned above these saris are not costly for source material or traces of gold and silver, but simply for the craftsmanship. The main characteristic is the finest of muslin cloth, one that it light and translucent with flower motifs made of thicket threads floating on them. The contrasting colors of the thick cotton threads (mostly white) and the base muslin cloth is what makes Jamdanis striking. Ofcourse there are brighter colors, meenakari (embroidery with multi-colored threads) and half-n-half Jamdani saris. Politicians wear this a lot because it’s an unique combination of style and simplicity. Off-late we saw Indian superstar Priyanka Chopra wearing it while receiving her award. Isn’t it stunning?
Did you know? A genuine, standard Jamdani sari takes 9 months to 1 year to weave!
The sheer effort that it takes makes weaving Jamdani a difficult profession to pursue. The master weavers earn only around Rs. 3000-Rs .5000 a month, and junior weavers even less. Naturally, any pragmatic person wouldn’t want their children to pursue this profession unless there’s a significant change in this situation.
An original Jamdaani will cost atleast Rs. 2000 and above. The price will go up based on the quality of muslin and the intricate details.
So these are my favorites. But India is a land of such diverse textile. The world-famous textile industry that thrived for centuries before it was nearly killed during the British imperialism. Post independence a lot has been done by both India and Bangladesh to modernize the production and popularize the Indian textiles yet again. But a lot is yet to be done. Every time you drape a traditional Indian sari you are not just making a fashion statement but being an ambassador for the thousands of weavers who carry forward the legacy of the great Indian textiles. What do you think? What is your favorite type of Indian sari? Tell me in the comments. If you liked the post please don’t forget to share and subscribe.
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