C for Chanderi

A Story

It was like someone had plucked out pages from a tale of yore and placed them in this day and age. Only her name was not Cinderella, rest everything else about Hayaat’s life was like a grim tale. Hayaat led a miserable life, full of oppression. A cruel step-mother and two cruel step-sisters were the source of endless chores, snide remarks, barbs and insults.

Hayaat means ‘life’. Something she did not have. Up until that evening, when she was all alone in the house, refused to be taken to the town’s most talked about wedding where everyone was invited, and everyone was going. Except Hayaat. She could not attend the wedding because she had to attend to a truckload of chores. Yes, that was Hayaat’s life.

So as she sat there contemplating her life, she heard a gentle, kind voice speak to her. “Child, why aren’t you at the town’s most awaited wedding celebration?” Hayaat looked up and saw this woman with the kindest face she had ever seen. She was taken aback. Had she left the front door open?

“I don’t know and I don’t care. But who are you? How did you get inside the house? I’m sorry to be rude, but please leave.”

“I will leave, don’t worry. But first you must listen to me. It is you who should be at that wedding, not your cruel step-mother and step-sisters. It is your destiny that will be fulfilled tonight, not theirs.”

“What are you talking about? Who are you? Please leave, now!!” said Hayaat, now irritated and confused.

“You’re going to take some convincing. Okay, I am your god mother, and I am here to give you a shot at getting your life back.”

And then with one wave of hand, this kind lady changed a lot more than Hayaat’s clothes. She managed to change Hayaat’s mind into accepting that she had to make a bid for her destiny.

Suddenly, almost magically, Hayaat stood there, looking resplendent. Her face beaming, her mind cleared.

A model wearing a red Chanderi saree. Photograph courtesy and copy right Hands of India.

A red Chanderi saree.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India.

“Oh god! Whaaat is this??? Am I dreaming?”

“No you are not dreaming. Now rush to the wedding child, it is late already. Go and claim your destiny!”

“No I mean, what is this I am wearing? It is beautiful.”

“It is isn’t it? This is a Chanderi saree. Once upon a time it was considered the summer attire of royalty. In the Cinderella story, they wore silken gowns. I figured that in a warm climate like ours, you’d be better off in this. Go now child, go.”

“Okay, yes I will. But I was wondering how I would look in green. Errr.. do you think you can organize a green, a dark green perhaps?”

“Sure, I can. Go green! And go now child, go, claim your destiny.”

A dark green Chanderi saree. Picture courtesy and copyright Hands of India.

A dark green Chanderi saree.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India.

“Yes I will…but this saree, it brings back memories…nice memories…like I have seen them a long time ago. What are these memories?”

“Perhaps you remember your mother or your grandmother…”

“O yes!” Hayaat squealed. “You’re right. I recall seeing my grandmother wear such sarees. They were beautiful. Same small gold butis, soft colours and so light and sheer!”

A vintage Chanderi saree with small gold butis filled with colour. Photograph courtesy and copyright Hands of India

A vintage Chanderi saree with small gold butis.  Note the colour inside the gold butis, also called ‘mina’ work as in ‘minakari’ jewellery
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

Much to her own annoyance, the kind lady found herself losing her grip on the urgent situation and getting drawn in this sudden excitement over the saree

“Yes your observation is spot-on! The real Chanderi saree, its characteristic sheer fabric, was a symbol of grace and feminity, not just today, but even during our Vedic times. The gold embellishment was minimal and tastefully done. You see just very small, neatly woven gold butis across the saree and a small gold border – all very subtle. It was for those who did not need to shout out loud about who they were.”

“Why do you speak in the past tense? Are you saying that these sarees are not made anymore?”

By now the kind lady had settled down on a chair. She should have known better than to spring a saree into this rather grave and urgent situation. And now here she was conversing about a saree with this damsel in distress instead of pushing her out to what would be her chance to change her life. She had obviously under-estimated the deep love Indian women of all age had for the saree.

“Child, child you ask too many questions. Making these sarees is very labour intensive. These sarees were made using the ‘ek-naali’ technique. In this technique, the gold string is woven with every single warp, which is why the buti appears closely knit, almost embossed on the saree. Each line of butis takes a day to weave. There are no weavers today willing to this kind of intricate work.”

“It is so beautiful. Do you have this saree in other colours? Perhaps something ‘younger’? How about black? I love black.”

“Okay, only to get this done with quickly. Here you go. Young girl!” And in a wave of a hand, a black saree it was. “You must promise to leave now. No more questions alright?”

A black Chanderi saree. Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

A black Chanderi saree.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

“And what about…” Hayat had one more question. She was interrupted this time.

“I am afraid you will be late in claiming your destiny. You must leave at once. This magic will expire at 11:00 pm. It will not last till mid-night. New security rules!! Go child go. NOW!

And saying thus, the kind lady was gone, pretty much the same way she had come. Hayaat left her home to attend the wedding. It took her longer than 11:00 pm that day, but she did claim her destiny eventually. And no the magic did not expire at 11:00 pm. Because it was within her.

All the information about the Chanderi saree given here is real, the rest of course is a fairy tale.

A Quick Read about the Chanderi Saree

The Chanderi saree hailed originally in a small town called Chander in Madhya Pradesh. It’s most distinct feature is its sheer fabric in pastel colours, usually a blend of silk and cotton. The sheerness represents chic sophistication. These sarees are considered perfect for festive wear in warm and hot regions of the country. Originally these sarees were designed with minimal gold to blend with the ethos and culture of the place where they were invented. Nowadays of course, the gold work is heavier with big butis and heavy pallus. The butis in a vintage Chanderi are difficult to weave and it’s hard to find weavers willing to put in that effort.

If you want to buy a real Chanderi, here are three things that you should look for: small butis, same colour pallus and not contrasts, and finally you need to check for the silk and cotton blend. An almost equal blend would work best. A higher silk percentage would make a saree more expensive. Chanderis made of pure silk are rare, and they are usually very expensive.

A dark red Chanderi saree Photograph courtsey and copyright: Hands of India

A dark red Chanderi saree. Note the colour inside the gold butis, also called ‘mina’ work as seen in ‘minakari’ jewellery’.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

A Chanderi saree’s real beauty is in that it does not swallow you or overshadow you. It lets you be you, only enhancing who you already are. Isn’t that wonderful?

Till we meet again with the next alphabet, adios!

Source: All the information about a Chanderi that appears in this post is courtesy the fairy god mother of Chanderi, the kind lady who set up and runs an organization called Hands of India. All pictures posted here are the kind courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.


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