Fabrics and Sarees of India Part 3

This last part showcases some more fabrics and sarees plus the different drapes to wear them.


Gadwal: The Gadwal saree is a handcrafted woven sari style in Gadwal of the Jogulamba Gadwal district and has been registered as one of the Geographical indicators of Telangana. The sarees, which consist of a cotton body with a silk pallu are most notable for the zari which is also given a new name as Sico saris. The weave is so light that the saree can be packed in a matchbox. The Brahmotsavas at the Tirupati temple begin with the deity’s idol being adorned with Gadwal Saree.

Mythology tells us that Gadwal weavers are the direct descendants of Jiveshwar Maharaj – the first weaver of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The sarees were originally popular as festive and religious wear, worn during pujas and other functions. The weavers of the sari were sent to Benares so that they could perfect the art of weaving but retained no influence from Uttar Pradesh, and instead relies on South Indian aesthetics. These sarees are woven traditionally according to the interlocked-weft technique or the Kuppadam or Tippadam or Kotakomma, also called Kumbam in terms of the border designs. Therefore, these are also known as Kotakomma or Kumbam saris. The most noteworthy feature remains the gold and silver zari work on the border of the sari, which is always made of silk.

Narayanpet: Dating to the 17th century when the Maratha King Shivaji visited the town of Narayanpet, it is believed some weavers came with the king and settled down here and continued the traditions of this saree, which is influenced by both Maharashtra and Telangana. Narayanpet sarees are made from cotton as well by mixing silk with cotton. Their borders and pallus are very traditional and come in contrasting colours with special pallus and simple borders. Regarded as the garment of the gods, Narayanpet saris have been used to drape the idols of deities and were worn exclusively by aristocrats.

A unique process is employed for the manufacture, where eight saris are made at one go on a loom. Hence, instead of seven yards of fabric being mounted on the loom, 56 yards of silk are mounted on the loom at a single time. One Narayanpet cotton sari takes a day or two to be made, while silks take longer depending upon the complexity of the design.

Pochampally: Created in the Bhoodan Pochampally, the Pochampally saree has traditional geometric patterns in the Paagadu Bandhu or Ikat style of dyeing. Pochampally Ikat’s uniqueness lies in the transfer of intricate design and colouring onto warp and weft threads first and then weaving them together globally known as double ikat textiles. The fabric is cotton, silk and sico, a mix of silk and cotton. Increasingly, the colours themselves are from natural sources and their blends. India’s flag carrier, Air India has its cabin crew wear specially designed Pochampally silk sarees. Pochampally fabrics has found a place in UNESCO’s tentative list of world heritage sites as part of the iconic saree weaving clusters of India.

One of the most telling signs of a Pochampally silk saree is the intricate geometric design over the fabric. Another characteristic of Ikat textiles is an apparent blurriness to the design, a result of the extreme difficulty the weaver has in lining up the dyed yarns so that the pattern comes out perfectly in the finished cloth and is a feature that is almost prized by textile collectors. A standard saree takes a weaver family of four around ten days to make. The saree received the GI tag in 2005.

Uttar Pradesh

Banarasi: Known for their intricate artwork inspired by the Mughals with intertwining florals and foliate motifs, the Banarasi saree is synonymous with the city of Benaras or Varanasi. The sarees are among the finest in India and are known for their gold or silver brocade or zari, fine silk and opulent embroidery. The weaving process involves three people – the weaver, the person who revolves the ring to create bundles and the motif artist. It takes between two weeks to a month and even longer 15 days to six months to weave a Banarasi sari depending upon the complexity of the design and pattern. There is historical evidence of the existence of these fabrics since the Rig Vedic period which is between 1750 and 500 BCE and these fabrics are said to have gained immense popularity during the Mughal era.

In 2009, the Banarasi saree secured the Geographical Indication or GI rights for the Banaras Brocades and sarees. There are four main varieties of Banarasi saree, which include pure silk or Katan, Organza or Kora with zari and silk; Georgette, and Shattir, and according to the design process, they are divided into categories like Jangla, Tanchoi, Vaskat, Cutwork, Tissue and Butidar. Primary colours and bright jewel tones form the typical colour palette of this craft. With a focus on environmental sustainability, a new generation of Benarasi brocade weavers are starting to use vegetable-dyed yarn to attain the same effect.

Chikankari: Chikankari is an ancient form of white floral embroidery, intricately worked with needle and raw thread. Translated, the word means embroidery or thread or wire  and the embroidery is done on cotton, organdy, voile, silk, cambric, georgette, and terry cotton. The origins of Chikankari are shrouded in mystery and legend. Some historians say that it is a Persian craft, brought to the Mughal Court of Emperor Jahangir by his consort Mehrunissa or Noorjahan. Today, this delicate traditional craft is practised in and around the city of Lucknow. Chikankari has six basic stitches and over thirty-five other traditional stitches used in various combinations. The embroidery is Mughal-inspired and the motifs show a strong influence from the screens present in the Taj Mahal. The base fabric is usually in pastel colours and is lightweight which highlights the embroidery. Chikan began as a type of white-on-white or whitework embroidery. White thread is embroidered on cool, pastel shades of light muslin and cotton garments though today chikan embroidery is also done with coloured and silk threads in colours to meet fashion trends. The piece begins with one or more pattern blocks that are used to block-print a pattern on the ground fabric. The embroiderer stitches the pattern, and the finished piece is carefully washed to remove all traces of the printed pattern. Chikankari received the Geographical Indication status in December 2008.

West Bengal

Baluchari: A fabric worn by women in West Bengal and Bangladesh, Baluchari is known for its depictions of mythological scenes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana on the pallu of the saree. During the Mughal and British eras, they had a square design in the pallu with paisley motifs in them and depicted scenes from the lives of the Nawab of Bengal. During the Mughal and British eras, they had a square design in the pallu with paisley motifs and depicted scenes from the lives of the Nawab of Bengal. The main material used is silk and the sari is polished after weaving. It used to be produced in Murshidabad but presently Bishnupur and its surrounding areas of West Bengal are the only places where authentic Baluchari sarees are produced. It takes approximately one week to produce one such sari. In 2011, the Baluchari saree was granted the status of Geographical Indication for West Bengal.

Two hundred years ago Baluchari was produced in a small village called Baluchar in Murshidabad district, from where it got its name. In the 18th century, Murshidkuli Khan, the Nawab of Bengal patronised its rich weaving tradition and brought the craft of making this sari from Dhaka to the Baluchar village in Murshidabad and encouraged the industry to flourish. After a flood of the Ganges River and the subsequent submerging of the village, the industry moved to Bishnupur village. The Baluchari saree is made of tussar silk but started dying during the British colonial rule as most of the weavers were compelled to give up the profession. In the first half of the 20th century, the rich tradition of the Baluchari craft was revived. The colours used in Baluchari sarees are bright and cheerful.

Garad Silk: Woven in the Mushirabad district, Garad or Gorod means white refers to undyed silk. The silk is pure, very light and paper-like. Garad silk sarees are thus, characterised by a plain white or off-white body, an unornamental coloured border and a striped pallu. The most traditional of Garad sarees have a white body and red border and pallu. They are also called Garad – Korial Sarees where korial also means plain, which are white or off-white plain sarees. The whiteness and blankness represents purity and these sarees are generally worn during festivals. For example, during Durga puja, Bengali women can be seen offering their prayers to the Goddess draped in one of them.


Kantha: Originating from Bolpur in the Birhum district, Kantha is an embroidery style which was traditionally used in adorning quilts, but today is popular on sarees and other fabrics. Sarees with Kantha embroidery are typically made of pure silk, tussar silk or cotton. Each saree takes weeks or sometimes even months to prepare.

Also spelt Kanta, and Qanta, the Kantha embroidery is practised in Bangladesh and eastern regions of India, particularly West Bengal, Tripura and Odisha and is often practised by rural women. Kantha embroidery derives its name from the same word with two different meanings. Kantha means rag in Sanskrit, which reflects the fact that Kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments. The word also means throat and was named due to its association with Shiva. The traditional form of Kantha embroidery was done with soft dhotis and saris, with a simple running stitch along the edges. Depending on the use of the finished product they were known as Lepkantha or Sujni Kantha.

The motifs traditionally designed on clothes and bedspreads were of birds, animals, fish, folk scenes and imagery that depicted different livelihoods in Bengal.


Tant: A traditional Bengali saree, the typical Tant saree is characterised by a thick border and a decorative pallu, woven using a variety of floral, paisley, and other artistic motifs. The traditional art of weaving jamdani, considered the best variety of tant, has been showcased by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Tant sarees are woven from cotton threads and distinguished by their lightness and transparency.

Tant and especially Jamdani and Muslin became famous in and around Dacca, now Dhaka in Bangladesh and Murshidabad in West Bengal during the Mughal era. The British colonial government tried to destroy this art to protect the textile industry of Manchester, but the tant culture managed to survive. With the division of the Bengal province during the partition of 1947, some of the weavers migrated to West Bengal and continued their craftsmanship there. Thus the tant weavers are now seen in both parts of Bengal.

The process of weaving Tant saris is elaborate and requires planning. First, the cotton threads are washed, bleached, re-washed, sun-dried and then dyed to achieve the desired colour. They are then starched and processed to make the yarns finer. To weave it, the patterns of the border, pallu and body are sketched out on cardboard and perforated to suspend from the loom to guide the weaving process. A few years before India’s independence, the jacquard loom was introduced into the Bangalar Tant technique and was so well-accepted that it is preferred even today.

Jamdani: Originally known as Dhakai or Daccai, an ancient textile weaving centre, after the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh today, Jamdani is a Persian term that came into popular usage during the Mughal rule of Bengal. An early reference to the Indian origins of muslin is found in the book of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and the accounts of Arab, Chinese and Italian travellers and traders. The name Jamdani, is of Persian origin and comes from the word jam which means flower and dani meaning vase. The name is suggestive of the beautiful floral motifs on these saris. Jamdani is a hand loom woven fabric made of cotton, which was historically referred to as muslin. The Jamdani weaving tradition is one of the most time and labour-intensive forms of handloom weaving and is considered one of the finest varieties of muslin. Traditionally woven around Dhaka and created on the loom brocade, jamdani is rich in motifs.

Whether figured or flowered, jamdani is a woven fabric in cotton. This is a supplementary weft technique of weaving, where the artistic motifs are produced by a non-structural weft, in addition to the standard weft that holds the warp threads together. The standard weft creates a fine, sheer fabric while the supplementary weft with thicker threads adds intricate patterns to it. Each supplementary weft motif is added separately by hand by interlacing the weft threads into the warp with fine bamboo sticks using individual spools of thread. The result is a complex mix of different patterns that appear to float on a shimmering surface. The pattern is not sketched or outlined on the fabric but is drawn on graph paper and placed underneath the warp. Decorative motifs are typically in grey and white and often a mixture of cotton and gold thread was used. Patterns are usually of geometric, plant, and floral designs.

Tangail: A light superfine and beautiful fabric and saree from the Tangail district, today in Bangladesh, the Tangail saree is also known as Begum Bahar, a name suggestive of royalty and spring. Tangail is a weavers’ village in Bangladesh famous for its handloom industry and its trademark Tangail sarees. This thousand-year culture has been passed on from generation to generation and has evolved into an income-generating cottage industry today. Tangail weavers are direct descendants of the famous Muslin weaver community. So naturally, the fine art of their weaving is inimitable and unique. During the partition of Bengal in 1942, a dozen families of the Basak community from Nowakhali and Tangail came and settled in and around the Bardhaman or Burdwan district in West Bengal. With them, came their looms and their specialised weaving of Tangail sarees with finer counts of yarn.

A Tangail saree was originally woven on a pit loom and shuttle with a silk warp and cotton-weft or fillers. It was light, soft, and comfortable. The silk was later replaced by local cotton yarn owing to the scarcity of silk yarn and the infamous partition. The early weaving process was very complicated where the yarn was spun with a takli or spindle instead of a spinning wheel. Over time, new-age techniques, processes, and materials have evolved and today, pure cotton, khadi cotton, linen, tussar silk, matka silk, resham silk, rayon, blended silk, and zari are used to weave a Tangail saree. The Tangail saree is woven in two styles: Jacquard and Nokhshi Buti. For the Jacquard, the desired pattern is fed in the loom itself. When the entire yardage is ready, the loose threads are cut off to give it a smooth and clean finish. As opposed to this, in Nokshi Buti, everything including the fabric, motifs, and the border is worked on entirely by hand. That is why no two sarees come out the same.

The Tangail is a close cousin of the Jamdani and shares its technique of drawing and weaving wherein an extra weft is woven in for patterns. The only difference is two plain picks for the Tangail instead of one for the Jamdani are inserted after each extra weft. A sizing mixture or Kali which is made with rice and lime is applied by hand during the weaving process. As soon as a meter of cloth is woven, this mixture is rubbed on by hand to give the fabric a bit of body and crispness. This is repeated meter after meter till the entire saree is coated and becomes stiff like paper. It is then folded in a particular manner and tied with a piece of cloth.

Saree Draping Styles

There are more than 80 recorded ways to wear a saree, with the most common style being where the saree is wrapped around the waist, with the loose end of the drape worn over the left shoulder, baring the midriff. However, the sarei can be draped in several different styles, though some styles do require a sari of a particular length or form. Ṛta Kapur Chishti, a sari historian and recognised textile scholar, has documented 108 ways of wearing a sari in her book, ‘Saris: Tradition and Beyond’ which documents the saree drapes across the fourteen states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. The French cultural anthropologist and saree researcher Chantal Boulanger categorised sari drapes in the following families:

Nivi Style: This style was originally worn in Deccan region and besides the modern nivi, there is also the kaccha nivi, where the pleats are passed through the legs and tucked into at the back. This allows free movement while covering the legs.

Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarati, Rajasthani Styles: In these states, the saree is worn similar to the nivi style but with the loose end of saree pallu placed in the front, therefore this style is known as sidha anchal or sidha pallu. After tucking in the pleats similar to the nivi style, the loose end is taken from the back, draped across the right shoulder, and pulled across to be secured in the back. This style is also worn by Punjabi and Sindhi Hindus.

Bengali and Odia Style: In this style, the saree is worn with a single box-pleat. Traditionally the Bengali style is worn with a single box pleat where the sari is wrapped around in an anti-clockwise direction around the waist and then a second time from the other direction. The loose end is a lot longer and goes around the body over the left shoulder. There is enough cloth left to cover the head as well.

Himalayan Style: The Kulluvi Pattu is the traditional form of woollen saree worn in Himachal Pradesh, a similar variation is also worn in Uttarakhand.

Nepali: Nepal has many different varieties of draping the saree, today the most common is the Nivi drape. The traditional Newari sari drape is, folding the sari till it is below knee length and then wearing it like a nivi sari but the pallu is not worn across the chest and instead is tied around the waist and leaving it so it drops from waist to the knee, instead the pallu or a shawl is tied across the chest, by wrapping it from the right hip and back and is thrown over the shoulders. Saris are worn with blouses that are thicker and are tied several times across the front. The Bhojpuri and Awadhi-speaking community wears the sari sedha pallu like the Gujrati drape. The Mithila community has its traditional Maithili drapes like the Madhubani and Purnia drapes but today those are rare and most saree is worn with the pallu in the front or the nivi style. The women of the Rajbanshi communities traditionally wear their sari with no choli and tied below the neck like a towel but today only old women wear it in that style and the nivi and the Bengali drapes are more popular today. The Nivi drape was popularized in Nepal by the Shah royals and the Ranas.

Nauvari: This drape is very similar to that of the male Maharashtrian dhoti, though there are many regional and societal variations. The style worn by Brahmin women differs from that of the Marathas. The style also differs from community to community. This style is popular in Maharashtra and Goa. Nowadays this style has become very famous in Indian cinema and is trending in Maharashtrian weddings.

Madisar: This drape is typical of the Iyengar and Iyer Brahmin ladies from Tamil Nadu. The traditional Madisar is worn using 9 yards saree. The saree and the tying style date back to ancient India, at least as far back as the period between 2nd century BC to 1st century AD when the antariya and uttariya garments were merged to make a single garment. Tamil Brahmin women are required to use this style after their marriage. The Iyer and Iyengar styles are slightly different and today this style is hardly worn, except on festive occasions, weddings and religious ceremonies.

Kodagu Style: This drape is confined to ladies hailing from the Kodagu district of Karnataka. In this style, the pleats are created in the rear, instead of the front. The loose end of the sari is draped back-to-front over the right shoulder and is pinned to the rest of the sari.

Karnataka Styles: In Karnataka, apart from traditional Nivi sari, the saree is also worn in the Karnataka Kacche drape, which shows the nivi drape in front and kacche at the back, there are four Kacche styles, Hora Kacche, Melgacche, Vala Kacche or Olagacche and Hale Kacche.

Kerala Style: The two-piece sari, or Mundum Neryathum is worn in Kerala. Usually made of unbleached cotton and decorated with gold or coloured stripes and/or borders.

Kunbi or Denthli Style: The Goan Kunbis and Gauda, use this way of draping sari or kappad. This form of draping is created by tying a knot in the fabric below the shoulder and a strip of cloth which crossed the left shoulder was fastened on the back.

Riha-Mekhela, Kokalmora, Chador/Murot and Mora Gamusa Style: This style worn in Assam is a wrap-around style cloth similar to other wrap-around from other parts of Southeast Asia and is very different in origin from the mainland Indian saree. It is originally a four-set of separate garments and quite dissimilar to the saree as it is a single cloth known Riha-Mekhela, Kokalmora, Chador/Murot Mora Gamusa. The bottom portion draped from the waist downwards is called Mekhela. The Riha or Methoni is wrapped and often secured by tying them firmly across the chest, covering the breasts originally but now it is sometimes replaced by the influence of immigrant mainland Indian styles which is traditionally incorrect. The Kokalmora was used originally to tie the Mekhela around the waist and keep it firm.

Innaphi and Phanek Style: This style of clothing worn in Manipur is also worn with a three-set garment known as Innaphi Viel, Phanek which is the lower wrap and a long-sleeved blouse. It is somewhat similar to the style of clothing worn in Assam.

Jainsem Style: A Khasi style of clothing worn in Meghalaya is made up of several pieces of cloth, giving the body a cylindrical shape.

The Sari Series, a non-profit project created in 2017 by Border&Fall is a digital anthology documenting India’s regional sari drapes providing over 80 short films on how to drape the various styles. The series was created with two objectives, the first to create an accessible and comprehensive cultural documentation of India’s saree drapes through short films and the second to address a needed perception shift of the garment.

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