I for Ilkal

There are as many sarees as there are dimensions to a woman’s personality. The Dhakai Jamdani saree is flirtatiously sheer, the Benarasi Brocade is glamorously resplendent, the Chanderi is quietly elegant and the Gara is provocatively beautiful. Since this is a blog post and not a book, I shall stop here. So which is the saree that shows a woman’s strength and character?

For me, it is clearly the Ilkal saree – a no fuss creation with basic design elements and bold colours. This is a saree created and worn by women who define toil and redefine strength several times over in just a lifetime.

A green Ilkal cotton saree

A green Ilkal cotton saree

The Ilkal saree owes its simple, earthy look to its origin – the Karnataka rural heartland, in a town called Ilkal in the Bagalkot district. This saree is made from locally sourced cotton, is hand-woven in earthy colours like bright green, brown, dark indigo or orange. The body of the saree is of a dark or bright colour, plain or with small checks (called tirki) running across its length.

The most defining feature of an Ilkal saree is its bright red traditional woven border and a matching bright red pallu inspired perhaps from the bright ruby red granite mined in Ilkal.

The distinctive red pallu of an Ilkal

The distinctive red pallu of an Ilkal

The geography of Ilkal – its unique placement in central Karnataka – is the chief reason the Ilkal saree also looks similar to sarees from its two influential neighbours – Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Like the Puneri saree, the pallu of the Ilkal saree has distinct red and white polyester-blend bands. The pallu and border of an Ilkal however is almost always a red or a maroon with small white woven chain motifs.

The distinctive red border of an Ilkal saree

The distinctive red border of an Ilkal saree

This saree was and is still made from locally sourced materials like cotton and Indigo dye (for the body) and a dye called ‘alta’ for the border. The Ilkal often serves as daily wear and festive wear. Sometimes the body of the saree and pallu is embellished with Kasuti embroidery to increase the festive worth of the saree.

A 'Gopuram' motif using Kasuti embroidery

A ‘Gopuram’ motif using Kasuti embroidery

The Ilkal saree I am told is available in both 6 and 9 yards. The width of the border maybe anything between 2.5 to 4 centimeters. I personally love thinner borders as they are rare and look distinct. The image below shows typical red Ilkal borders on different coloured dupattas that I once picked up from a shop in Dharwad, Karnataka. These borders are barely 2.5 centimeters.

Easy access to the wonder of Ilkal through a wide range of duapttas

Easy access to the wonder of Ilkal through a wide range of duapttas

Ilkal sarees are sometimes named depending on their colours. An indigo Ilkal is called Chandrakali and an orange Ilkal is called Basanti!

A chandrakali Ilkal dupatta

A chandrakali Ilkal dupatta

In my research for more information about the Ilkal saree, I came across two interesting pieces of information which I would like to share with you. First is this account of a lady (from the USA I think) who came down all the way to Ilkal town to look for this saree and her adventures in trying to locate weavers.

The second piece that I found repeated almost everywhere is about this unique feature of the Ilkal saree – the technique by which the pallu of the Ilkal is woven to the body – the topi teni technique. And the peril that Internet is – almost every definition of this technique I found was identical. And grossly insufficient. So the only reason I am sharing this with you is to not leave out what seems to be the most distinctive feature of the Ilkal.

I wear the Ilkal often. It never gets me the ‘Oh wow! What a lovely saree!!!’ kind of reaction. But it almost always gets me a ‘hey, nice saree…Puneri?’ kind of a question-reaction. And I know why. The earthiness of this saree lends its strength and character to you. And people cannot help but notice it.

Look out for and wear an Ilkal to be in touch with something wholesome, something good and something earthy! Till we meet again over a J …. happy saree wearing for the upcoming festival season!


Sources: Over and above my love for Ilkal sarees and dupattas I got information from:


Copyright: All images in this post are the copy right of Punam Medh. These may not be used for any other purpose.

2 thoughts on “I for Ilkal

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