Fabrics and Sarees of India Part 2

In this part, we continue to check out more fabrics and sarees across India.

Karnataka

Ilkal Sarees: Known because it is produced in the town of Ilkal, an ancient weaving centre since the 8th century, the uniqueness of the Ilkal saree is in the joining of the body warp with the pallu warp with a series of loops locally called the tope teni technique. The border colour is very dominating and is usually red or maroon. The distinctive feature of the Ilkal saree is the use of a form of embroidery called Kasuti. The designs used in Kasuti reflect traditional patterns like palanquins, elephants, and lotuses which are embroidered onto the saree. The main body design is usually made up of squares and rectangles. The Ilkal saris are woven using cotton warp on the body and art silk warp for the border and pallu portion. In some cases instead of art silk, pure silk is also used. The Tope Teni seragu has been regarded as a state symbol and was greatly respected during festival occasions. The sarees that are made for bridal wear are made of a particular colour called Giri Kumukum which is associated with the sindoor worn by the wives of the priests in this region. The weaving of the Ilkal saree is a household enterprise involving the participation of female members. One Ilkal saree takes about seven days to weave and are produced on pit looms.

Mysore Silk: One of Karnataka’s most famous exports, the Mysore silk is synonymous with the city of Mysuru and the silk factory was founded in 1912 by Sri Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore. Initially, the silk fabrics were manufactured & supplied to meet the requirements of the royal family and ornamental fabrics to their armed forces. After Indian independence, the Mysore State Sericulture Dept took control of the silk weaving factory. The saree zari contains 65% pure silver and 0.65% of gold, which is also the most distinct feature of the saree, along with the use of genuine silk that gives it a natural sheen and rich texture. Karnataka produces almost 45% of the country’s mulberry silk. Mysore silk has also received geographical identification. Mysore Silks are also one of the most expensive silk sarees in India and this has led to the production of duplicate Mysore silk saree production and sales. To avoid these issues, KSIC has implemented a unique ID, hologram-based design, and unique identification barcodes woven on each saree produced.

Kerala

Kasavu Saree: Symbolic of Kerala’s tradition and culture, the traditional Kasavu saree was made by hand from cotton yarn with borders made of golden threads. Believed to have originated in the Buddhist era, the white and gold sarees are unique due to their natural hues, texture and gold border which adds to their elegance. No occasion in Kerala feels complete without the Kasavu saree. The term kasavu refers to the zari or gold thread used in the border of the saree and the name comes from a material used in the weaving and production of these sarees. The origin of the kasavu saree can be traced back to when women would wear a two-piece cloth called settu mundu, more popularly known as the mundum neriyathum. The mundum neriyathum rose in popularity during the Buddhist era, and its design has been inspired by the Greco-Roman attire, Palmyrene, a long piece of unstitched cloth with a coloured border.

The identity of the saree comes from the geographical cluster they are associated with. The Indian government has identified three clusters in Kerala – Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam and Kuthampully – that have been given a Geographical Indication or GI tag and all three clusters produce kasavu sarees. A plain saree with a simple border takes roughly around three to five days. Ones with motifs and heavier work take longer than that. The sarees are priced depending on the time taken on their production, along with the gold used in the zari or kasavu.

Madhya Pradesh

Chanderi: Emerging between the 2nd and 7th centuries, Chanderi sarees are produced from three types of fabrics – pure silk, cotton and silk cotton and are synonymous with the town of Chanderi which is on the boundary of Malwa and Bundelkhand. In the 11th century, the trade locations between Malwa, Medwa, central India and south Gujarat increased the region’s importance. Around 1350, Koshti weavers from Jhansi migrated to Chanderi and settled there and the textile business of Chanderi reached its peak during the Mughal period. Traditional coin, floral art, peacocks and modern geometric designs are woven into different Chanderi patterns. The saris are among the finest in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade or zari, fine silk, and opulent embroidery.

Maheshwari: Originating from the town of Maheshwar, the Maheshwari saree is made of silk and cotton in a variety of designs woven using brocade and zari. Dating to the 18th century, the sarees were initially made of pure silk, but over time, cotton also came to be used. An interesting story behind the origin of these sarees is that a famous queen had once ordered a large number of artisans and craftsmen from Surat and Malwa to design a unique saree of 9 yards, later termed the Maheshwari saree. These cloth pieces were used as special gifts for the royal guests of the palace. A unique feature of the Maheshwari saree is that each has a specific name of its own, which indicates its distinctness. The sarees may be plain at the centre and have neatly designed borders, or they may have different variations of stripes and checks. The sarees fall under 5 broad categories namely Chandratara, Chandrakala, Beli, Baingani Chandrakala and Parbi. The Baingani Chandrakala and Chandrakala are plain ones, while the Beli, Chandratara, and Parbi come with stripes or checks.

Maharashtra

Karvati: Hailing from the Vidarbha region, Karvati silks are made from Tussar with a grainy, textural feel. What is unique about the silk used in Karvati saris is that it is exclusive to this specific region that is rich in high-quality silk cocoons, straight from the wild. The tribes hailing from this area assume the responsibility of protecting the silk cocoons until they are ready to be harvested. The Tussar is unlike any other silk; it has a unique shade of deep yellow-brown.

The word karvat is a Marathi term that refers to a saw-tooth pattern. Karvati is the name lent to the style of the border rather than the fabric itself. What is different about the saree is the technique and the mixed usage of yarn. The border is woven out of mercerized cotton yarns with traditional temple motifs of various sizes, using an extra warp while the rest of the sari is woven using pure, hand-reeled Tussar silk which provides a texture that has irregular stubs all over. The saree is woven using a three-shuttle, tapestry style of weaving with a pit loom mounted with a wooden lattice dobby in the Nagpur style on the top of the loom. This means that it uses three different styles of weaving at the same time.

Paithani: Dating to the Satvahana Dynasty that ruled between the second century BC and the second century AD, Paithani sarees are fine silk handloom sarees get their name from the town in which they originated, Paithan in Aurangabad. Available in both six and nine yards, the most interesting part about the Paithani handloom is that both sides of the saree look the same, including the border and the pallu. This feature is the telltale sign of a handloom Paithani. As Paithani sarees are woven from naturally dyed threads, they can usually be found only in basic colours. Each saree usually has two dominating colours, one on the saree and the other on the border and pallu. The Paithani is characterised by borders of an oblique square design, and a pallu with a peacock design. Among other varieties, single-coloured and kaleidoscope-coloured designs are also popular. The kaleidoscopic effect is achieved by using one colour for weaving lengthwise and another for weaving width-wise.

The Paithani is a sari made of silk and zari with a plain weave, with weft figuring designs according to the principles of the tapestry. Traditionally, Paithanis had coloured, cotton muslin fields that often contained considerable supplementary zari patterning. However, in the 19th century, silk fields were also woven. Due to its proximity to the Ajanta caves, the influence of Buddhist paintings can be seen in the woven Paithani motifs. These sarees are made of silk in which there is no extra weft forming figures. Weaving could take between 18 and 24 months, depending upon the complexity of the design. In the days of Peshwas, the borders and the pallu were made of pure gold mixed with copper to give it strength spun into a fine wire called the zari. In recent times, zari is made of silver, coated with gold plating. In the border woven with a zari, ground-coloured silk patterns are added as supplementary weft inlay against the zari usually in the form of a flower or a creeping vine.

Odisha

Bomkai: Also known as the Sonepuri Saree, the Bomkai Saree is a handloom saree from the Bomkai village and has a GI tag. Usually made of cotton, these sarees are also made of silk for special occasions. During the time of Ramai Dev the then ruler of Patna, it was introduced in Sonepur. The borders and pallus are usually designed with fishes as it is believed to be a sign of success and affluence. The sari is normally dyed in red, black and white.

Khandua: A traditional bandha or ikat saree, Khandua is also known as Maniabandi or Kataki and is worn during weddings with a special type of fabric worn by Lord Jagannath which contain texts of the Geeta Govinda on them. The word Khandua in Odia translates to the cloth worn in the lower half of the body. Traditionally Kentuli Khandua is offered to Jagannath as lower cloth. The weaver communities of Maniabandha and Nuapatana of Cuttack traditionally wove this kind of fabric and during the rule of the Gajapatis, the sarees were made and transported to the Jagannath Temple. Nilakantha Deva, the King of Badakhemundi was offered khandua sari made of one piece of khandua silk called caukandika. Khandua is traditionally red or orange in colour with the red colour prepared naturally from the sal tree. The design motif has an auspicious elephant that represents Buddha surrounded by a trailing vine with peacocks in it, a large many-petaled flower, an animal  unique to Orissa known as Nabagunjara. The elephant in Khandua ikat from Nuapatana usually varies from elephant motives in ikat from the Sambalpuri saree as well as the ikat from other parts of Orissa. The Khandua has plain borders contrary to borders with motifs in the case of the other ikats from the state.

Pasapali: Also known as the Saktapar, the Pasapali saree is a bandha or Ikat handloom sari woven mainly in the Bargarh district. The name Pasapali is derived from pasa or gambling games using a chess board and these sarees have intricate check patterns of contrasting colours resembling the chess boards which gives it its name.

Sambalpuri: A traditional handwoven ikat where the warp and the weft are tie-dyed before weaving, the Sambalpuri saree is known for its incorporation of traditional motifs, all of which have deep symbolism in red, black and white that represent Odia culture. The high point of these sarees is the traditional craftsmanship of the Bandhakala, or the tie-dye art reflected in their intricate weaves, also known as Sambalpuri Ikkat. In this technique, the threads are first tie-dyed and later woven into a fabric, with the entire process taking many weeks. These sarees also have a Geographical Indication or GI tag associated with them. Traditionally, craftsmen created the ikats with images of flora or fauna or with geometrical patterns, but recently the ikats depict portraits and landscapes are also being designed. The unique feature of this form of designing is that the designs are reflected almost identically on both sides of the fabric. Once the fabric is dyed it can never be bleached into another colour. It is believed that this art migrated to western Odisha along with the Bhulia community who fled north India in 1192 after the fall of the Chouhan empire at the hands of the Mughals.

Punjab

Phulkari: Punjab’s folk embroidery, Phulkari which means floral work also includes motifs and geometrical shapes. In Punjabi, Phul means flower and Akari means the shape and so Phulkari means the shape and the direction of flowers which symbolise life. The main characteristics of Phulkari embroidery are the use of darn stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth with coloured silken thread. The traditional varieties of Phulkaris are large items of cloth and include Chope, Tilpatr, Neelak and Bagh. Sometimes, the Bagh is given separate categorisation of its own as on other varieties of a Phulkari, parts of the cloth are visible, whereas, in a Bagh, the embroidery covers the entire garment so that the base cloth is not visible. Today, in contemporary designs, the simple and sparsely embroidered dupattas and shawls made for everyday use, are referred to as phulkari, while clothing items that cover the entire body, made for special and ceremonial occasions such as weddings are called baghs or large gardens. The Phulkari continues to be an integral part of Punjabi weddings to the present day.

In the past, as soon as a girl was born, mothers and grandmothers would start embroidering Baghs and Phulkaris, which were to be given away at the time of her marriage. Depending on the status of the family, the parents would give a dowry of 11 to 101 Baghs and Phulkaris which were also passed from one generation to the next as heirlooms. The hallmark of Phulkari is making innumerable patterns by using long and short darn stitches. There were no pattern books and embroidery was worked entirely from the reverse of the fabric and the designs were not traced. Techniques and patterns were not documented but transmitted from word of mouth and each regional group was identified with the style of embroidery or design. The most favoured colour was red and its shades. Animals and birds represented success, beauty, pride, and goodwill and different fruits symbolised wealth, prosperity, and fertility. Wheat and barley stalks with ears were also common motifs. Silk and mulmul or soft cotton muslin fabrics were used because of their purity and longevity and it was believed that the virtue and character of a woman gave shape to the Phulkari.

There are different theories about the origin of Phulkari. One such belief is that this embroidery was prevalent in different parts of the country as far back as the 7th century, but survived only in Punjab. Motifs similar to the ones found in Phulkari are also found in Kashida of Bihar and some of the embroideries of Rajasthan. Another thought is that this style of embroidery came from Iran where it was called Gulkari, also meaning floral work.

Rajasthan

Gota Patti: Gota patti or gota work is a type of Indian embroidery that originated in  Rajasthan. Small pieces of zari ribbon are applied onto the fabric with the edges sewn down to create elaborate patterns. Gota embroidery is used extensively in South Asian weddings and formal clothes. Originally real gold and silver metals were used to embroider, but these were eventually replaced by copper coated with silver as it would become very expensive and today, even more, inexpensive options are available.

Kota Doriya: A handloom fabric, Kota Doriya is woven on a traditional pit loom in such a way that it produces square checks pattern on the fabric. The delicately wrought checks are locally known as khats. Onion juice and rice paste are smeared onto the yarn making it so strong that no additional finishing is needed. Kota Doriya sarees are made of pure cotton and silk and have square-like patterns known as khats on them. The chequered weave of a Kota sari is very popular with a very fine weave and weighs very little.

It is said that Jhala Zalim Singh of Kotah brought weavers from Mysore, in the mid-17th century, as they wove a characteristic small squared lightweight cotton fabric that looked like graph paper and was suitable for turbans. Since the weavers had come from Mysore, the fabric produced was called Kota Masuriya and was woven on narrow 8-inch looms to make the traditional paags or turbans and later on, broader looms were used for gossamer-light saris. Silk was added to the cotton in a 20:80 ratio approximately to give the sari strength. Nowadays hand woven silk Kota Doriya saris have also become popular. At first, the design known as a buti was small and regular but larger designs are now made according to fashion and taste. A very ornate saree can take one month to make and is an heirloom piece to be treasured. A genuine Kota Doriya sari will contain the GI mark woven in one corner indicating that it has been hand woven using real silver and gold thread.

Leheriya: Leheriya is a traditional style of tie and dye practised in Rajasthan which is bright in colour, with a distinctive pattern. The word Leheriya comes from the word leher, meaning wave and the tie-dye technique results in diagonal stripes, which look like waves on the fabric. To create diagonal stripes, the craftsmen use a special method of resist-dyeing, where the material, is rolled up diagonally length-wise and then tied tightly at intervals before the actual dyeing process begins. Delicate, light fabrics such as thin cotton voile, fine silk and chiffon are preferred, as they allow the colour to penetrate through the rolled cloth. The fabric is wrapped around a wooden pole, usually while it is still wet or in a semi-dry state. The thread that ties up the fabric acts as a resist, yielding a pattern of diagonal stripes after dyeing. The thickness of the thread and the distance between the ties may be varied to obtain stripes of different widths.

An astounding variety of Leheriya fabrics are produced using this simple process. A panchranga or five-colour design is the most auspicious since the number five is considered special in Hindu scriptures. Another beautiful pattern is the satranga, flaunting the seven colours of the rainbow.

Tamil Nadu

Kanjeevaram: A silk saree which is worn on special occasions, the Kanjeevaram or Kanchipuram is made in the Kanchipuram region. This saree has also been recognised and given the Geographical Indication tag by the Indian government. The sarees are distinguished by their wide contrast borders with temple borders, checks, stripes and floral patterns as traditional designs. The patterns and designs in the Kancheepuram sarees are inspired by the images and scriptures in South Indian temples or natural features like leaves, birds and animals and have rich woven pallus showing the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. As of 2008, an estimated 5,000 families were involved in sari production with 25 silk and cotton yarn industries and 60 dyeing units in the region.

The saris are woven from pure mulberry silk thread, which along with the zari or gold thread comes from South India. To weave a Kanjeevaram saree. three shuttles are used. While the weaver works on the right side, his aide works on the left side shuttle. The border colour and design are usually quite different from the body. If the pallu has to be woven in a different shade, it is first separately woven and then delicately joined to the saree and the part where the body meets the pallu is often denoted by a zigzag line. In a genuine Kajeevaram silk saree, the body and the border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the saree tears, the border will not detach and this differentiates the Kanjeevaram silk saree from the others. The sarees vary widely in price depending on the intricacy of work, colours, patterns, craftsmanship and materials used.

Koorainaadu: A traditional handloom weaving centre, Koorainadu sarees are by their checks and stripes pattern for which plain looms are used. It is made with pure silk and fine-twisted mercerized cotton yarn, in both warp and weft, in the ratio of 2:1, giving every Koorainadu saree a silk look. A peculiar characteristic of this saree is the formation of cotton checks by the interlacing of warp and weft during weaving which can be woven only by an experienced weaver. The sarees are hence stiffer and easier to hold the pleats which make them easier to wear. Koorainadu sarees are mostly worn by the womenfolk of the Hindu community green and yellow colours are used to make it auspicious and so it is often worn by married women wishing for long-lasting wedlock. The nine-yard Koorainadu saris are made with cotton or cotton and silk, in checks or striped patterns with a contrasting border in yellow. Saris with wide borders are called temple saris because they are offered to the deities in the temple.

Sungudi: Traditional cotton sarees from the Madurai area, Sungudi sarees are defined by the pattern of block prints and tie and dye designs. The origins of Sungudi can be traced back to the Sourashtrians who brought the art with them when they migrated to South India under the patronage of King Thirumalai Naicker in the 17th century. In Saurashtra, the word sungudi relates to the Sanskrit word sunnam meaning round, representing the circular dots that are printed on the fabric as a prominent and special motif.

The dots in the saris are said to be inspired by the cosmos which is why most Sungudi sarees remind one of a starry night. Tying the knots of the sari demands a great amount of precision from the craftsman. Ideally, a three-inch gap between the body and the zari border and also with the pallu lends a neat and symmetrical look to the crude dots. The designs are sometimes marked with a pencil on the fabric for ease in the process. The Sungudi art has seven basic designs that can be modified with different permutations and combinations to provide variety and highlight the creativity of the craftsman. The smaller the dot the better the expertise and this comes only with extensive practice and time. In the early days people used rudimentary methods like tying the knots with mustard or peppercorn seeds. Although this seems like a rural and unpolished method, its success lay in its simplicity. Authentic Sungudi is more than just tying knots. There is a lot of meticulousness that goes into producing a piece that looks effortless.  Once the knots are tied in the desired pattern, the sari is clamped which involves pleating, twisting, folding and wrapping it tightly before dyeing it for around two hours. Then the sari is subjected to two rounds of washing with cold water with an organic fixing agent followed by drying and ironing. The resultant fabric is a beautiful sheet like stars in the sky. In 2005 the art of Sungudi tie and dye got the GI recognition tag.

In the next part, the last one, we will do the last few states and also learn about some interesting saree drapes.

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