M for Mekhela Chador


The state of Assam is one of the striking regions of India. There is hardly any other state which has greater variety and colour in its natural scenario and in the cultural treasures of the people that inhabit it. The region combines the ethnic setting of weaving skills in white and golden Assam silk, indigenously called Pat and Muga, together with agriculture and fishing in the neighbouring villages.

 Mekhela chador is the traditional Assamese dress worn by women. It is undoubtedly one of the most elegant costumes worn in any of the Indian states. There are two main pieces of cloth that are draped around the body. The bottom portion, draped from the waist downwards is called the mekhela. It is in the form of a very wide cylinder that is folded into pleats to fit around the waist and tucked into an underskirt.


The Mekhala Chador is the Assamese style of draping a 2-piece garment with a blouse

The top portion, known as the chador, is a long length of cloth that has one end tucked into the upper portion of the mekhela and the rest draped over and around the rest of the body. Invariably there is a blouse that is worn underneath, which is similar to a saree blouse.

Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being the muga, the golden silk found exclusively in this state. It is said that the muga silk is a family heirloom and is often passed on through generations due to its strength, durability and sheer beauty. It is known to outlive a few generations….at least!!

The weaving tradition of Assam can be traced to the 11th century when king Dharma Pal, of the Pal Dynasty, sponsored the craft and brought 26 weaving families from Tantikuchi to Sualkuchi. The village took shape as a weaving village after the Mughals were defeated in the 17 th century. Since then, most Assamese homes in the traditional weaving villages, both in the lower and upper banks of the Brahmaputra, boast of a loom, and weaving is part of life. So much so, that the great Mahatma Gandhi once remarked that ‘the Assamese women weave dreams in their looms’!

Assam silk denotes the three major types of indigenous silks produced in Assam; the golden Muga, the white Pat and the warm Eri silk. The Assam silk industry, now centered in Sualkuchi, is a labor intensive industry.

Muga silk is the product of the silkworm “Antherea assamensis” and endemic to Assam. The pupa of these silkworms feed on “som” (“Machilus bombycina”) and “sualu” (“Litsaea polyantha”) leaves. The silk produced is known for its glossy fine texture and durability. Due to its low porosity, the Muga  yarn cannot be bleached nor dyed and its natural golden color is retained. This silk can be hand-washed with its luster increasing after every wash. Assam has received a geographical indication for the production of Muga.

Pat silk is produced by silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves. It is usually brilliant white or off-white in colour. This silk cloth has the ability to dry in shade. Eri silk is made by “Philosamia ricini” which feed on castor leaves. It is also known as Endi or Erandi silk. Due to the fact that manufacturing process of Eri allows the pupae to develop into adults and only the open ended cocoons are used for turning into silk, also popularly known as non-violent silk. This silk is soft and warm and is popular as shawls and quilts.

There are some popular weaving motifs on the ‘mekhela chadors’. The most commonly used are the khing-khap, (emblem),  mogor (creeper ), mina (jewel), miri (tribal art) , gos (tree), jaapi ( bamboo hat), moyur (peacock), gor (rhino) and the gumkharu (traditional bracelet) designs. All in all, most of them are the aristic translation of everyday objects on the cloth or silk.

The traditional  silk mekhela chador has become very popular amongst the ‘saree – enthusiasts’ in the larger cities of the country. It is every such woman’s dream to own either a muga or a paat set for its sheer grace, elegance and exclusivity!



A close up of the miri or tribal design. Brilliant colours.






A phool design on a resplendent pat silk







A moyur design on a pat silk

All the images in this post are the courtesy and copyright of the author of this post – Kumkum Nongrum.





M for Maheshwari

It is easy to get confused between a Maheshwari and a Mangalgiri. But don’t worry, I’ve got this okay! As I said in the other ‘M’ post, the Maheshwaris and Mangalgiris are sarees that say little and want to add to your life story. And soon I will tell you how to differentiate one from the other. But first, why the Maheshwari is such sweet memory for me.

At one time, my mother-in-law loved them – the feel of that superfine cotton and for their ‘sober colours’ but she avoided wearing them. And quite adamantly so. ‘Why mummy?’ I would ask her. ‘I can’t wear a saree with a zari border to school’, she would say. I prefer something simple, she would add. She was the Principal of a school in Mumbai and after her retirement, headed a Continuing Education Unit in another school for the longest time. One day, while she was still a principal, she was trying to decide which saree to wear for an evening school function, in the sultry April heat of Mumbai. As a suggestion, I pushed one of my sarees forward – a pale blue Maheshwari with the usual gold border. Don’t have a picture to share here because this was so so long ago. She considered the ‘sober colour’, loved the feel of soft cotton and justifying the zari border as ‘acceptable’ because it was a function, decided to wear it. That evening, when she returned home, her opening sentence to me was ‘teri saree ab gayee’ / ‘your saree has now gone’. She would break into Hindi every once in a while when she was in a light mood. She basically meant that she had pretty much hijacked my saree. She gushed about how comfortable the saree was through-out the evening and how everyone had liked it. Ah!

That lovely feeling when a loss is actually a win!

She continued to like and wear the Maheshwari more often after that day. In fact, when we celebrated her 80th birthday, she wore a beige and gold, self-print Maheshwari which she had allowed me to buy for her. It went beautifully with the silver in her hair. And that’s the story of how a Maheshwari never allows its own beauty to overpower your story.

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The gold self print Maheshwari cotton-silk. Sober coloured indeed.

The Maheshwari saree started out as a pure cotton saree in pale colours with slightly contrasted colourful stripes along its borders and in the pallu.


A simple cotton Maheshwari without the gold border. Picture courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

Another distinct Maheshwari style is the pure cotton body with a pale gold border which is distinct for its distinctive pattern of chevrons. Chevrons look like this: <<<<<<<< .

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A typical chevron gold border in a Maheshwari

The other pattern that is found on a Maheshwari, but not so commonly is the brick patter or the ‘chatai’ / cane pattern. The pallu is a continuation of the body, intersected by thicker gold lines, and sometimes the entire pallu is made of gold in heavier sarees.

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The brick pattern – in this saree it appears as a motif on the pallu of a Maheshwari

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And here is how it looks! The classic chevron border again.

Now for the story of the origin of Maheshwari – as laced with gold as the saree. The acclaim of ‘inventing’ the Maheshwari saree belongs to Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar (1725 – 1795) of the Holkar dynasty of the Marathas that ruled over the Malwa region. She was a tough queen who ruled and protected her kingdom after the death of her husband and her father-in-law. She was also a great patron of the arts. In 1960, she commissioned the famed weavers of Surat to weave something worthy of her royal family. It is said that Ahilyabai herself attended to and contributed to the design of the first Maheshwari. They created the saree, with designs inspired by the patterns and motifs of the forts of Maheshwar. Thus was born the Maheshwari saree, which started out as a cotton saree, as I said earlier. Now it has a cotton warp and a weft made of Banaras silk – a stately cotton silk. With the customary gold border.


A cotton silk Maheshwari with a broader than usual border. See the chevrons? The self-lines are also an unmistakable Maheshwari characteristic.

This saree, like many other traditional sarees of that time, had to endure a trying journey of its own as it faced near extinction due to industrialization. Many weavers of the Maheshwari lost patronage in the 1970s and had to leave the weaving town in search for other, more lucrative professions. It was around that time, in the late seventies, where a direct descendant of the Holkar family decided to do something about this rich legacy and founded the Rewa Society – a name synonymous with the Maheshwari saree. This society works towards the revival of the art and also the weavers of this art.

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The royal blue Maheshwari.

The Maheshwari, since then, represents the elegant, the simple, the tasteful, and classy. Today a Maheshwari saree is accessible through several e-commerce sites, weaver exhibits and large department stores known for selling authentic creations.


And the Royal red Maheshwari

Buy and wear a royal heritage….you get the drift right because I don’t really want to sound like an advertisement. See you soon with the a new alphabet of a new region!

M for Mangalgiri

A lot of sarees, new and old, a few of them on this blog, shout out loud their identity, with their in-your-face-beauty. Yes, they pretty much speak for themselves. But here is a saree, and allow me to introduce it you, the simple Mangalgiri, whose only purpose in life is to become a part of your life story.

What the Chanderis and the Maheshwaris are to Central India, the Mangalgiri is to the South.


A brown cotton Mangalgiri with its customary border and striped gold pallu

A Mangalgiri saree is usually made of superfine, sturdy, thick-yarn cotton, though now they are also available in silk. The body of the saree usually has self-checks or at best it is a plain solid colour. A good Mangalgiri saree falls well and stays well long after it is worn. The zari border, is also simple, with simple line patterns or chevrons at best without any elaborate motifs. The most distinct part of the zari border is its peculiar width – quite unlike the wide Kanjeevaram border or the Gadwal. Surprisingly enough, the thickness of the Mangalgiri border is very similar to the thickness of the Maheshwari border – except that the Maheshwari border may or may not be in gold. The Mangalgiri border is always in zari. In its state, Andhra Pradesh, the Mangalgiri border is also called the ‘Nizam’ border, very typical of the Mangalgiri region.

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The Mangalgiri border also called the ‘Niam’ border

The pallu of the saree is always a continuation of the body with slightly greater density of gold lines running across. Many observers call the Mangalgiri gold lines to have tribal associations – although they don’t look too tribal to me. This saree, available in exciting shades of all colours is a classy treat for the eyes and it is difficult to choose a single colour.


A Mangalgiri border on a block printed cotton saree

And once again, like a template – the name of this saree is after the town Mangalgiri, in Guntur – now the administrative capital of Telangana. Mangalgiri was and still continues to be an important religious centre and weaving centre. Way back in early 16th century, weaving prospered because the saree was offered to the deity as ‘prasadam’. The compulsory buying of sarees for religious purposes led to the growth of weaving of cotton and cotton sarees. Adding zari was an obvious choice because the sarees with gold considered more auspicious than the plain ones. It is an interesting phenomenon; all over India, silk is considered as the fabric for worship. I suppose the rich cotton harvests in this region made cotton a more accessible choice.


The block printed saree and its pallu with subtle gold lines running across

The Mangalgiri saree, like other cotton sarees, can be a little maintenance heavy if you want to retain the lustre of the zari border – which is not real. Without adequate care the saree can start to fade. So if you love your Mangalgiri, take good care of it and protect it from harsh chemical washes.

This is a short post I know; did not want to overpower the saree with the weight of my trivial words!

Mangal ho! / May there be prosperity always!

K for Kodali Karuppur

Once upon a time there was a saree….and these have to be the saddest words ever known to a saree connoisseur.

I came across references to this saree in my search to understand another, rather elusive saree – the Kumbakonam saree. With very little information available about this saree, all I could gather is that this saree is actually extinct. Sigh! And that one can actually find this saree in a museum; the Calico museum in Ahmedabad and in Kalakshetra, in Chennai. Sigh x 2.

And I thought extinction applied only to species! Leave alone pictures or a personal story, I have very little original material to present on this saree.

Hence, this post is just a placeholder till I am able to share something more substantial. Not the one to leave you without any dope, here are some articles I found on the Internet that should satisfy some degree of curiosity. See how both articles, from different publications, use the same image. A sign of its extinction, I infer sadly.

An article in the epaper version of the DNA, published in August 2014 writes; ‘The Kodai Karuppur is an exquisite cotton weave that dates back to the 17th century to an eponymous village near Kumbakonam. The technique blends a painstaking combination of the Jamdani weaving technique with wax resist painting and block printing.

Read more about this saree here.

Another article in the e-version of the Hindu, published in November 2014 has this to say about the almost extinct Kodali Kurrupur ‘The Kodali Karuppur saris evolved under the patronage of the Maratha ruler Serfoji Raja Bhonsle Chhatrapati II in 1787-1832 and were made exclusively for the Ranis of Thanjavur up to the 19th century. The saris were produced in the village of Kodali Karuppur near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district. The ancestors of the weavers comprised about 400-500 families who migrated from Saurashtra to Madurai, Salem and Kancheepuram’.

Read the full article here.

Wish me luck on finding stories, histories and images for this saree!


K for Kasavu, Khandua Patta

There are some days in my life where I feel that the latest societal affliction – whatsapp groups – are not such a bad thing after all. Especially on days when I receive a memory like this:

Hindi and English language news readers at Doordarshan

Hindi and English language news readers at Doordarshan in the eighties.

Well, these lovely ladies were the Hindi and English language newsreaders for our national television, Doordarshan, in the 1980s. The moment I saw the picture, I knew it would go on my saree blog and here it is. Such a precious picture. I don’t know the original source (I tried looking for this on Google) and I do hope I am not in any copyright violation. Anyways, coming back, all of them, as you can see, wore lovely sarees – the kind we call ‘traditional’ today. Each newsreader had her own distinct style of speaking and saree wearing. I loved Salma Sultan. She draped her pallu over her shoulder so it looked like a ‘V’ neck and she wore flowers in her hair. So pretty!

I have an intuitive feeling about the 80s being a golden period for hand woven traditional sarees because everyone wore these sarees. That’s an impression I have perhaps because these were the only sarees that caught my attention. It would not be unusual to find someone wearing a beautiful Ikat silk in a wedding or a Dhakai or a Tangail in a party. I miss this a lot today. Some strange expectations have grown around what is suitable for should be worn for how weddings and parties. Why may I not wear a rich Bhagalpuri or a vibrant Telia Rumal (it’s not really a handkerchief so don’t worry) for a marriage?

And this deep question leads me to introduce the first saree of my post today – yes you’re getting two for the price of one – the lovely Kasavu saree, also called the Kerala saree or the Balarampur saree.

A traditionally designed pure cotton Kasavu with its yellow and shimmery gold embellishments.

A traditionally designed pure cotton Kasavu with its yellow and shimmery gold embellishments.

This saree, originally a pure cotton, now also available in silk, is simple to look at, but not quite. Always an off-white, it is sometimes sparsely and sometimes generously embellished with a gold weave. The body of the saree is plain or with gold butis, and the thin or medium thickness border is always gold.

Soft and comfortable to wear, this Kasavu saree can be an ideal day wear at a wedding

Soft and comfortable to wear, this Kasavu saree can be an ideal day wear at a wedding

The pallu however may have heavy gold or light gold weaving.

The pallu of the Kasavu saree with traditional peacock motifs

The pallu of the Kasavu saree with traditional peacock motifs

There’s something distinctive about the gold, at least in the more modern Kasavu sarees that one sees nowadays. The gold is a shiny yellow, and never subtle gold like. Sometimes it has a burnt copper-like tarnish but mostly a kind of gold that you know instantly is not pure zari. I think this type of a gold finish is deliberate to keep the saree low in cost and accessible to all. And there is a reason this saree should be accessible to all women because it is a traditional garb required to be worn on special festive and religious days.

But let me tell you something interesting about the origin of the Kasavu saree and its name. In all probability, the predecessor of the Kasavu saree is the mundum neryathum, a two piece garment. The neryath is a garment that drapes the upper body and the mundum is a garment for the lower body. The neryathum itself is a remnant of the ancient Roman-Greco style of draping a cloth across from the right to the left shoulder and left loose, very similar to a pallu. The neryath was usually a white or an off-white simple garment. When this neryath is embellished with a gold border you get a Kasavu saree. To sign off this piece of history an interesting fact – the Kasavu saree is usually worn with brightly colored blouses. Unmarried girls wear a bright green blouse and married women wear a deep, dark red blouse. Wouldn’t it be splendid to wear this saree for a wedding on a warm summery day? So light and yet so rich.

Have you fallen in love with this saree yet?

Have you fallen in love with this saree yet?

This saree is ubiquitous in Kerala. It would be difficult not to spot one if you were in that region. Easy to identify and popular, it is a popular tourism attraction. If you ever visited Kerala, you would be definitely be persuaded to buy this saree. The Kasavu saree is made in Balarampur, a district in Kerala famous for its sugar mills and hence also sometimes called the Balarampur saree. Make sure you get a hand-woven saree rather than a machine-made one, though I am not sure how you could do that. The saree you see in this post was a gift to me by my aunt-in-law who visited Kerala a few years ago. Knowing how much I love sarees, she gifted this one to me. Blessed! That’s what I am.

I dart off eastward now, to Odisha. Odiya sarees are a mystery I have yet to unravel. Just like all the different sarees of West Bengal are lumped together as ‘Calcutta’ or the ‘Calcuttee’ saree, so are the various sarees of Odisha bunched up as Odiya sarees. Nothing wrong with that except that specific names add so much more to the beauty of the saree, just as your name adds to your beauty. The Odiya beauty that I will write about today, that I would have completely missed had a dear friend not tagged me on her FB post, is the Khandua Patta.

I don’t have a picture, but you can take a look at it here.

The word ‘Khandua’ itself means a garment to cover the lower body. Since I am not supplying you with a picture, allow me to do a detailed explanation of the saree. Found both in cotton and silk, this saree is usually a red or a deep saffron – yes you guessed it – for its significance in religious ceremonies. It is much preferred saree of married women. The border, is styled along the temple motif or is plain and usually a colour that complements the red of saffron body. The most embellished part, the pallu, has amazing motifs that aptly depict the Odiya culture. Apart from traditional motifs like elephants and peacocks, a motif that is truly fascinating is a mythical creature – the ‘navagunjara’ – an animal composed of nine other animals. This mythical beast is considered an avatar of Vishnu. In fact, this creature finds a mention in Odiya Mahabharata.

The Khandua saree is also called the Maniabandi or Kataki saree according to Wikipedia.

If you have read till here, then you will also perhaps want to go bold and break stereotypes by wearing one of these for a wedding or a party. It can only be good for these sarees no? My next post kontinues with K…the last K of this series – the lovely and now elusive type of Tamil Nadu saree called the Kornad pattu. Till then…

Copyright: The images in this post are the copyright of the author unless stated otherwise. These may not be copied, downloaded or used for any other purpose.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mundum_Neriyathum
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khandua
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navagunjara

L for Leheriya

There is this one, forgettable phase of my life when I was in college. I was heavily into learning  palmistry. Armed with books by Cheiro and a magnifying glass, I would read my own palm, pretty much every day and tried to correlate my life with the length and shape of the lines on my palm. I would discuss my ‘discoveries’ with a bunch of interested and skeptical friends. It was fun and got me some attention. A steady stream of young girls and boys, mainly my juniors would  come up to me asking questions about their future. I recall this one funny question a girl asked me; “Will me husband’s name begin with ‘N’”. After studying her palm I had said “Yes”. This girl almost threw me down with her hug.

Just like good things, even silly things come to an end. This phase, thankfully, did not last. Science had spoken. Soon the idea of lines on the palm being able to foretell the future seemed ridiculous and I got bored.

Now even though many many years have passed since that phase, I cannot help but sneak a peek at someone’s palm every once in a while to make some wild guesses by looking at some tell-tale lines. She may start her career in a foreign land. Or here is someone actively involved in some form of social work. There, I have said it. My little secret is now out on the world-wide-web.

Now look at these long lovely lines on the Leheriya saree. I know enough about tell-tale lines to easily predict one thing – you will fall in love with these sarees after you have completed reading the next two paragraphs. How’s that for fortune telling?  😉

A royal blue Leheriya. Notice the irregular lines. Clearly an indication of a hand-made product.

A royal blue Leheriya. Notice the irregular lines. Clearly an indication of a hand-made product.

A Leheriya is a simple saree with lines that run diagonally across the body of the saree. Wow! The Leheriya saree is similar to the Bandhani, i.e. like the Bandhani, the Leheriya is also made using the tie-and-dye technique.

When pleated, Leheriyas create interesting patterns

When pleated, Leheriyas create interesting patterns

I am not sure how the Leheriya originated as an idea. But it was most likely around when the Bandhani saree came about i.e. 7th century. While the Bandhani saree has patterns created from a bunch of dots, the Leheriya has wave-like pattern formation made from zig-zag lines that run across the saree.

Sometimes the lines run twice across each other, one set of lines originating from one end and one set originating from the opposite end. This creates a cool pattern where instead of square checks you get to see rhombus checks in the saree.

A black Georgette with fuschia lines running through. A classic Leheriya.

A black Georgette with fuschia lines running through. A classic Leheriya.

Leheriyas owe all their characteristics to their place of origin. Bright colours, like fuschia, parrot greens, sunny yellows, bright reds, daring blacks and pure whites combined with lines of different contrasting colours are reminiscent of the joyous brightness of Rajasthan.  Today, ombre shades rule the colouring styles of Leheriyas. The fabric used for creating them – thin, soft and light – suitable for harsh summers in Rajasthan. That’s why you will find most Leheriyas are Georgettes, Kota Dorias, Chiffons, Muls and Silks.

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

If you examine a Leheriya closely you may notice a certain irregularity or a sort of an imperfection in the continuity of the lines that run across the saree. This very imperfection, which occurs every once in a while can be the proof of the saree being an authentic hand-made tie-and-dye.

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

Although I own a couple of Leheriyas, I have not found the perfect one – you know the fabric, colour, the spacing of the lines – where it all comes together to make that one delectable saree that you reach out for every time. And I must add here that the joy of searching and waiting for that perfect saree is as much as the joy of owning one.

I wish today that I could look at the long lines of the Leheriya saree and predict not just its future but the future of the hand-woven saree. If you have read up until this point of the post, you are most likely an ardent saree lover who already knows that the Handlooms Reservation Act of 1985 may be repealed. If this act is indeed repealed, power loom owners will be able to produce hand woven design en masse at cheaper rates thus putting handloom weavers out of their livelihoods.

Well… I cannot predict the future of the handloom sarees – what I can hope for however is that you fall in love with the soft, slinky and flirty Leheriya saree of Rajasthan. If you don’t have one, please go out there and buy one, a hand-made one. It seems that the Leheriya seems to be crooning a la Jagjit Singh:

“Apne haathon ki lakeeron mein basa le mujhko

”Main hoon tera toh naseeb apna bana le mujhko”

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K for Kalakshetra

This is a placeholder post. Let me explain. When I started writing this blog – I knew a fair bit about the sarees I owned. I had worn and experienced their beauty and could write about them. My quest for authentic information about them led me to discover more sarees. Of all the discoveries I made, the most stunning was about the beautiful Kalakshetra saree.

When I read about this saree, almost 6 months ago, I began a frantic search for images and some more authentic information. None of my earlier sources were of help. I could not even find a suitable image – leave alone buy one.

Now I have reached K and this is where the Kalakshetra saree belongs. And here I am – without any images, without any new or exciting information. And so a placeholder post.

Based on what I have read so far, this saree deserves a special spotlight of its own. The Kalakshetra saree, based on the rich Southern weaving legacy, revived by the eminent Rukmini Devi Arundale. It is said that its weave and design is so rich, intricate and pure, that it deserved a new and distinct identity. Hence the Kalakshetra saree is a saree type in its own right.

The story of the Kalakshetra saree and its maker are both very inspiring. Let me begin with Rukmini Devi Arundale. Her name needs no introduction. An eminent person of great beauty, intellect, talent and grace, she crossed boundaries of her own art, dance, to enhance other art forms. According to Wikipedia, Rukmini Devi was an Indian theosophist, dancer and choreographer of the Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam and an activist for animal rights and welfare.

Way back in the 1930s, Rukmini Devi Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music, built around the ancient Indian  Gurukul system in Chennai. The sole purpose of this academy was the preservation and revival of traditional arts and crafts of India. Read more about this here.

Our interest is the Kalamkari (pencraft) center. The Kalamkari unit was set up to breathe life into the ancient  Indian craft of textile printing. Some of the sarees that were designed by Rukmini Devi herself are today preserved in the museum at the Kalakshetra centre. I have read that the use of colours, the use of motifs, it is all exquisite.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to access any other information from anywhere. So till such time, this is a placeholder.