Fabrics and Sarees of India Part 3

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

Telangana

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.

Source

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.

Source

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.

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.

Fabrics and Sarees of India Part 1

A flowing six-yard drape of beauty and grace, the saree can be called India’s national dress for women. Every state and community has their fabrics and materials that are unique to the region and drapes that instantly brings a specific community to mind. The saree consists of an un-stitched stretch of woven fabric arranged over the body as a robe, with one end tied to the waist, while the other end rests over one shoulder as a stole or shawl, with a part of the midriff showing. It may vary from 4.1 to 8.2 metres or 4.5 to 9 yards in length, and 60 to 120 cm in breadth. The saree is part of the traditional wear of women of the Indian subcontinent in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & Nepal. There are various names and styles of sari manufacture and draping, the most common being the Nivi style. The sari is worn with a fitted bodice commonly called a blouse and a petticoat.

This post started as my ode to the different fabrics and sarees available in the country and I soon realised this is much larger than just naming the various fabrics in the country. So this is now a three-part short series because I wanted to showcase as much as I can of the amazing fabrics available. And on a personal note, this is also a repository for me to refer to because one of my dreams is to have a saree from every Indian state.

Sadee is a Hindustani word that means a strip of cloth that evolved to sāṛī in modern Indian languages. The word śāṭika is mentioned as describing women’s dharmic attire in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist literature called Jatakas which could be equivalent to the modern-day saree. The term for female bodice, the choli evolved from ancient stanapaṭṭa. Rajatarangini, a tenth-century literary work by Kalhana, states that the choli from the Deccan was introduced under the royal order in Kashmir. The petticoat is called sāyā in Hindi and Urdu, parkar in Marathi, ulpavadai in Tamil, sāẏā in Bengali and eastern India, and sāya in Sinhalese. Apart from the standard petticoat, it may also be called an inner skirt or an inskirt.

The history of a sari-like drapery is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, which flourished during 2800–1800 BC around the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. Cotton was first cultivated and woven in the Indian subcontinent around the 5th millennium BC and dyes used during this period are still in use, particularly indigo, lac, red madder, and turmeric. Silk was woven around 2450 BCE and 2000 BCE.

The word sari evolved from śāṭikā a Sanskrit word mentioned in earliest Hindu literature as women’s attire. The sari or śāṭikā evolved from a three-piece ensemble comprising the antarīya or the lower garment; the uttarīya which was a a veil worn over the shoulder or the head; and the stanapatta, a chestband. This ensemble is mentioned in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist Pali literature during the 6th century BCE. This complete three-piece dress was known as poshak, a generic term for a costume. The ancient antariya closely resembled the dhoti wrap in the fishtail” version which was passed through legs, covered the legs loosely and then flowed into a long, decorative pleats at front of the legs. It further evolved into the Bhairnivasani skirt, today known as ghagri and lehenga. The  Uttariya was a shawl-like veil worn over the shoulder or head, and evolved into what is known today known as dupatta and ghoonghat. Likewise, the stanapaṭṭa evolved into the choli by the 1st century CE.

It is generally accepted that wrapped sari-like garments for the lower body and sometimes shawls or scarf like garments called uttariya for the upper body, have been worn by Indian women for a long time, and that they have been worn in their current form for hundreds of years. Based on sculptures and paintings, tight bodices or cholis are believed to have evolved between the 2nd century BCE and the 6th century CE in various regional styles.

After this short history about the saree, let’s take a trip around the country to see the various fabrics and sarees available in the different states of India. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I have probably missed many regional varieties, so apologies in advance if I have missed something I should not have.

Andhra Pradesh

Chirala: A coastal town also known as Kshiraputi, Chirala, which means saree in Telugu is renowned for its handlooms that are soft and durable. With more than 60% of the town’s population belonging to the weaving community, the looms used in the town are mostly pit or fly shuttle looms and the motifs in the fabrics and sarees are usually geometrical designs. The weavers of Chirala produce, cotton sarees, seico sarees that are a fine blend of cotton and silk fibres and kuppadam or the Gadwal type. The hand butta is another fascinating design feature of Chirala sarees, where colours are manually added in-between the zari design. Kalamkari printing is also a speciality of the Chirala saree.

Dharmavaram: Handloom silk sarees, Dharmavaram fabrics are textiles woven by hand with mulberry silk and zari which is fine thread traditionally made from gold or silver. The Dharmavaram fabric has a GI or Geographical Indications tag.  Kriya Shakthi Vodavaru Swamy named Dharmavaram after the name of his mother, Dharmambai around 1153–54 and by the 19th century, the silk handloom industry emerged as the main occupation. Paintings on the roof wall of Lepakshi temple and the Latha Mandapam depict the designs of Dharmavaram sarees. These saris are worn in the winter months or when it is cold and on special occasions and are mostly used by dancers of Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi.

Kalamkari: A type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, Kalamkari is produced in Isfahan in Iran and Andhra Pradesh. Only natural dyes are used in Kalamkari, which involves twenty-three steps. There are two distinctive styles of Kalamkari art in India, the Srikalahasti style and the Machilipatnam style. The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari is where the kalam or pen is used for freehand drawing of the subject and filling in the colours and is entirely hand-worked. This style flourished in temples centred on creating unique religious identities, appearing on scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners as well as depictions of deities and scenes taken from the Hindu epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The Machilipatnam style of Kalamkari involves vegetable-dyed block painting, where the dye is applied to the fabric with the help of wooden blocks. The natural dyes for the cloth are obtained by extracting colours from various roots, leaves, and mineral salts of iron, tin, copper, and alum and mixing them with cow dung, seeds, flowers, and milk.  Historically, Kalamkari used to be termed Pattachitra, an art form still found in neighbouring Odisha and other parts of India and Nepal. The term Pattachitra translates to patta, meaning a cloth, with picture or chitra. Paintings made on fabric and fabric scrolls are mentioned in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Jain literature. Under medieval Islamic rule, the term Kalamkari is derived from the words kalam, which means pen in Telugu, and kari, which means craftmanship and this style became popular under the patronage of the Golconda sultanate.

Mangalagiri: Mangalagiri Sarees and fabrics are produced by handloom weaving in Mangalagiri, a town in Andhra Pradesh. Mangalagiri cotton silk sarees are a unique variety, woven from cotton, and feature characteristic features such as zari on the border and no woven pattern on the body. Borders in thick gold thread or zari, traditional patterns in Nizam, and simple mono or multicoloured striped pallus adorn the fabric. The sarees have various designs like leaves, mango, parrot, and gold coins. The soft and comfortable all-weather fabric generally has no pattern on the body and is known to have no gaps in its weaving with missing saree threads rarely found. As the town is also the abode of Lord Narasimha Temple, the saris are also used by the devotees for devotional purposes.

Uppada: The Uppada Jamdani Sari is a silk sari style woven in the town of Uppada in Andhra Pradesh and is known for its light weight. The saree was also accorded the Geographical Indication tag from Andhra Pradesh. The name Jamdani is a Persian terminology, in which Jam means flower and Dani means a vase. The Jamdani style of weaving originated in Bangladesh and was brought to the south and Uppada village in the 18th century and recreated with a local flavour. old The Jamdani style of weaving is about 300 years old and in 1972, Uppada weavers were recognised by the Indian government with the President’s award. The Uppada Jamdani saree is a beautiful textile with a silk-like texture and is lightweight. The weaving of the saree takes between 10 to 60 days for which least 2-3 weavers spend 10 hours a day. There are around 3000 looms producing Jamdani sarees in and around the Uppada and Kothapalli area. Around 40% of the local weavers are women. The saree consists of a cotton body with a silk pallu and is completely handwoven. The saree is woven in such a way that it can be folded and fit inside a matchbox. The speciality of the Jamdani saree is that the design is shown on both sides of the fabric.

Venkatagiri: Woven in Venkatagiri near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, this fabric has also been accorded the GI tag and is known for its fine weaving. The history of the saree dates back to the early 1700s in the Venkatagiri village and were encouraged by the Velugoti dynasty of Nellore and also by the Bobbili and Pithapuram dynasties. In those days, they were mostly woven fabrics for royalty and landowners.

Assam

Assam Silk: Assam silk refers to the three major types of indigenous wild silks produced in Assam —golden muga, white pat and warm eri silk. Assam was well known for the production of high-quality silk since ancient times. The knowledge of sericulture probably arrived with the Tibeto-Burman groups which arrived from China around 3000-2000 BC. Genetic research on silkworms shows that Assam silk originated in two specific regions of Assam, the Garo Hills in the ancient Kamrupa Kingdom and Dhakuakhana in the ancient Chutia kingdom.

Muga silk is the product of the silkworm Antheraea assamensis endemic to Assam. The silk produced is known for its glossy, fine texture and durability and has a natural yellowish-golden tint. It was previously reserved for the use of royalty. This silk can be hand washed with its lustre increasing after every wash. Very often the silk outlives its owner. The silk has been given the Geographical Indication (GI) status since 2007.

Pat silk is produced by the Bombyx textor silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves. It is usually brilliant white or off-white and must be dried in the shadows and not in direct sunlight. Eri silk is made by the Samia cynthia ricini which feed on leaves of castor oil plant. It is also known as endi or errandi silk. Because the manufacturing process of eri allows the pupae to develop into adults and only the open-ended cocoons are used for turning into silk, it is also popularly known as non-violent silk which is soft and warm and is popular used as shawls and quilts.

Bihar

The Bhagalpuri or Kosa or Tussar Saree is Tussar silk that is valued for its rich texture and natural deep gold colour. The tussar silk weaving industry in Bhagalpur is more than a century old and has about 30,000 handloom weavers working in producing the sarees. Bhagalpuri silk is made from cocoons of Antheraea paphia silkworms which are only found in India and is processed at Nathnagar at Bhagalpur. The unique dyeing technique of these Bhagalpuri silk sarees sets them apart from the art silk sarees. The saree was supposed to have been produced in ancient times and even Mughal rulers patronised the weavers. But the technique soon got extinct and was revived about 200 years back by the weavers. The silk fabric is extremely soft and lightweight and is known as the queen of fabrics.

Chhatisgarh

The Chattisgarh Kosa saree is Tussar silk similar to the Bhagalpuri Kosa. Kosa silk is mainly derived from Antheraea mylitta, an Indian silkworm and is special type of tussar silk that is drawn out of the cocoons grown on trees like Saja, Sal, and Arjun mostly grown in Chattisgarh. The silk is widely popular owing to its sturdiness, purity and soft texture. The dull golden brownish texture of the silk is its signature trait, but can also be found in natural shades of dark honey, fawn, orange, pale golden and cream. The actual colour of kosa is a dull gold, but the finished fabric is dyed with natural dyes extracted from natural dyes. The towns of Champa and Korba are known for their production of Kosa Silk, and the silk produced in Champa is considered to be the best silk.

Gujarat

Bandhini: A type of tie-dye textile decorated by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design, Bandini or Bandhani dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization where dyeing was done as early as 4000 BC. The earliest example of the most pervasive type of Bandhani dots can be seen in the 6th-century paintings depicting the life of Buddha found on the wall of Cave 1 at Ajanta. The main colours used in Bandhana are natural. As Bandhani is a tie and dye process, dying is done by hand and hence best colours and combinations are possible in Bandhanis. The fabric used for making Bandhani sarees and dupattas are loosely woven silk called Georgette, or cotton known as Malmal. The knots are tightly tied, and the rest of the fabric is dyed in multiple stages. This leaves the knots undyed and hence a beautiful flower-like pattern appears all over the cloth as a design.

The term bandhani is derived from the Sanskrit verbal root bandh which means to bind or to tie. Today, most Bandhani can be found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Sindh, Punjab and Tamil Nadu where it is known as Sungudi and is known as chunri in Pakistan. The art of Bandhani is a highly skilled process with the technique involving dyeing a fabric which is tied tightly with a thread at several points, thus producing a variety of patterns, depending on how the cloth is tied. The main colours used in Bandhana are yellow, red, blue, green and black.

The Bandhani work has been exclusively carried out by the Khatri community of Kutchh and Saurashtra. Bandhani work is also done in Rajasthan, where different colours and designs are used than in the Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat. Establishments of varying sizes in the entire Kutch belt in Gujarat produce many varieties of Bandhani. This Bandhani style is called Kutchi Bandhani. Bandhani tying is often a family trade, and the women of these families work at home to tie patterns.

Patola: A double ikat woven sari, usually made from silk, the Patola saree comes from the town of Patan. Similar to Bandhani, Patola sarees are also a type of tie and dye process and are well known for not losing their colour at all. They are very expensive, once worn only by those belonging to royal and aristocratic families. Patola sarees are found in two different types – the Rajkot Patola and the Patan Patola. These two are differentiated with the Rajkot Patola having a single ikat weave that is dyed vertically, while the Patan Patola has a double ikat weave and is dyed horizontally. The word patola is the plural form; the singular is patolu.

To create a patola sari, both the warp and weft threads are wrapped to resist the dye according to the desired pattern of the final woven fabric. This tying is repeated for each colour that is to be included in the finished cloth. The technique of dyeing the warp and weft before weaving is called double ikat. The bundles of thread are strategically knotted before dyeing. Patola saris from Surat, Ahmedabad and Patan are renowned for their colourful diversity and geometrical style.

Silk weavers of the Salvi community from Maharashtra chose Gujarat as the home for their renowned patola fabric. It is believed that the Salvis went to Gujarat in the 12th century to acquire the patronage of the Chaulukyas Rajputs, who ruled Gujarat and parts of Malva and south Rajasthan, with Anahiwad Patan as their capital. Legend says that over 700 patola weavers came to the palace of Raja Kumarpal, at the personal request of the king. The Solanki or Chalukya rulers used to dress in patola silk on special occasions. The art of Patola weaving is an ancient one. According to some historians, the art of Patola weaving was known also in the 4th century as seen by the carvings at the Ajanta caves. After the decline of the Solanki empire, the Salvis founded a rich trade in Gujarat. Patola saris quickly became a sign of social status among Gujarati women and girls, especially as part of streedhan or the items that a woman can claim as her wealth.

There are four distinct patterns which are woven primarily in Gujarat by the Salvi community. In Jain and Hindu communities, double ikat saris with entire designs of parrots, flowers, elephants and dancing figures are generally used. In Muslim communities, saris with geometric designs and floral patterns are typical, being worn mostly for weddings and other special occasions. Maharashtrian Brahmins wear saris woven with plain, dark-coloured borders and body and a bird design called Nari Kunj.

Tanchoi: Tanchoi sarees are one of a kind, having spots all over the surface and woven with a dual colour warp. The stand-alone feature of the Tanchoi saree is that the fabric texture background has a satin finish. Extra threads are added to give these sarees the appearance of being embroidered. Famed for the intricate and small weaving patterns over the fabric, the commonly used motifs are those of flowers, small birds in flight, peacocks and parrots. Tanchoi silk is said to have been brought to India by Chinese traders in the 19th century and later adapted to suit the preferences of the Indian market. Three Parsi brothers are said to have travelled from India to China in the 19th century and were enamoured by the technique. After learning the skill, they came back to Surat, Gujarat and trained the weavers in the technique and then evolved the Tanchoi weaving technique into Indian versions.

Tangaliya: A handwoven, GI-protected textile, made by the Dangasia community, the 700-year-old indigenous Tangaliya is native to the Surendranagar district in the Saurashtra region. The textile was usually used as a shawl or wraparound skirt by women of the Bharwad shepherd community. Woven on pit looms at homes, the technique involves weaving knots in colours contrasting to the warp colour to create the effect of raised dots. The weaving is based on precise mathematical calculations. The weaver has to count the warp yarns each time, before hand-knotting the dot in acrylic yarn, to produce geometric patterns. A single mistake can lead to the final design looking faulty. The effect of the pattern also has a tactile feel, similar to braille, because of the raised surface of the dots. This has become the signature style of the textile. Another important aspect is the visual effect of dots, which is most striking and appealing on dark colour bases, especially black. The graphic quality of white dots mixed with other bright coloured dots gives the craft its special appeal. Moreover, due to the ease of knotting the white colour yarn compared to coloured yarns, white dots were common. Traditionally, most woollen shawls featured graphic patterns of white and maroon coloured dots on a black base. With every wash, the cotton textile tends to become denser and integrates the dots even more finely between the warp and weft. Today, there are only fifteen families in Surendranagar pursuing this craft.

Jammu & Kashmir

Jamawar: Jamawar is believed to have been derived from the word jam which means a shawl or robe and war, which implies the chest, in either Persian or Kashmiri. The fabric is believed to have found its way to Kashmir from Persia and reached its peak during the heyday of the Mughal dynasty in India. Owing to the elaborateness that goes into the making of the weave, it takes months on end to craft a finished Jamawar piece, and sometimes, even years, depending on the level of intricacy involved. Jamawar is traditionally woven with a rich blend of Pashmina wool, cotton and silk. Given the generous use of colours and motifs, the finished weave is highly iridescent. One of the many distinguishing factors of the Jamawar is that it is so intricately woven that its front and back, both look identical, with no stray thread sticking out of its surface. A dominating design element of the weave is the paisley, which derives inspiration from Persia; other motifs of flora and fauna, too, are seen. Jamawars also feature a wide use of hand embroidery and traditionally, a single jamawar piece was woven with up to 50 varying hues.

Kani: The Kani weave is said to have originated in Kanihama village of Jammu and Kashmir, and its exquisiteness earned it the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2008. The word Kani translates to bobbins in Kashmiri because the weave involves extensive use of wooden bobbins on which varicoloured threads are wound. Legend has it that the art of weaving Kani shawls was first brought to Kashmir in the 15th century by Persian and Turkish weavers, who introduced this art to Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin, the eighth sultan of Kashmir. One of the most defining characteristics of the Kani weave, colloquially known as Kaniwar, is its impeccably patterned motifs. These motifs, which include flowers, gardens, creepers and paisleys are brought to life through a technique called twill tapestry featuring double interlocking, wherein both the warp and weft yarns are mounted diagonally onto each other on the loom.

Traditionally, Kanis are crafted from the pashmina wool of the local Changthangi goat. At the time of weaving, the loom is packed with bobbins or kanis, through which the craftsmen carry out the fashioning of the weave; a total of nearly a thousand bobbins or more can be used for a single weave. Each colour is woven in individually, with the help of bobbins wound with threads of that particular colour. The designs are first drafted in the form of sketches, in a grid-like format called naksh, after which each step from the draft is dictated to the weaver. An elaborately woven Kani shawl can take anywhere from 9 months to a year to be made, with two artisans working on it.

Pashmina Silk: A fine variant of spun cashmere, the animal hair fibre forming the downy undercoat of the Changthangi goat, Pashmina today may refer either to the material or to the variant of the Kashmir shawl that is made from it. The word pashm means wool in Persian, but in Kashmir, pashm referred to the raw unspun wool of the domesticated Changthangi goats. Both generic cashmere and pashmina come from the same goat, but generic cashmere ranges from 12 to 21 microns in diameter, whereas pashmina refers only to those fibres that range from 12 to 16 microns.

Samples of wool fibres discovered from corroded copper artefacts from Harappa dating back to the Indus valley civilization are extremely fine and resemble Pashmina and Shatoosh. In Mughal times, this was used as an indicator of rank and nobility. Pashmina blankets were also vital additions to a wealthy woman’s dowry in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The wool for pashmina is collected by combing the undercoat of the goat, and not by shearing, as in other fine wools. The entire process is carried out by hand by specialised craftsmen. The approximate time put into producing a single traditional pashmina stole is about 180 hours. Kashmiri embroidery or Kashida as it is known, employs bright and colourful designs, with motifs of floral borders, paisley and chinar leaves and other inspirational settings of nature. The patterns and the colours of Pashmina silk saree harmonises with nature. A heavily adorned pashmina silk sari with zardozi aari embroidery is a must in any bride’s trousseau. China accounts for 70% of the world’s cashmere production.

In the next part, we’ll see more fabrics and sarees from other states.

Poem: Ode to a Saree

The saree is a timeless traditional Indian garment which is more or less worn across the country. Each region and state has their speciality and that’s what makes this garment unique. Multiple people will be wearing the same thing, but none of them will be the same. I love to wear sarees, but living outside India, I don’t have as many opportunities to wear them as much as I like. So here’s an ode to that six yards of grace and elegance.

Ode to the Saree

Six yards of pure joy and elegance
Graceful and flowing, full of brilliance
A symbol of a garment’s unwavering importance
Encapsulating the true Indian woman’s essence

Unstitched and long flowing, in multitudes of colours and fabrics
There is saree accounting for all tastes and pocket economics
The saree has stayed its course over centuries
Even today, every Indian woman has many of these beauties

There is a saree that represents every state and region that is a masterpiece
Craftsmen have spent years perfecting their skills and expertise
With embroidery, sequins, motifs, gold borders and intricate pallus
Many sarees have stories to tell, but only if you are not too obtuse

From the Kashida of Kashmir to the Muga of Assam
From Gujarat’s Patola to Tamil Nadu’s Kanjivaram
The saree is even today essential in every bride’s trousseau
The outfit guaranteed to bring out that very special glow

Modest and sexy, feminine and demure
It’s all in the drape you see, that special allure
Timeless in fashion, ancient, yet contemporary
No wonder the saree is a style statement always in trend