M for Mekhela Chador

THE MEKHALA CHADOR POST BY OUR GUEST BLOGGER KUMKUM NUNGROM

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.

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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!

THE MEKHELA CHADOR GALLERY

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

 

 

 

 

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A phool design on a resplendent pat silk

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Sources:

http://www.assaminfo.com/tourist-places/32/sualkuchi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mekhela_chador

 

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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.
Soucres:

  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”

Note: All pictures and images here are protected by copyright as mentioned. These images may not be used, downloaded, saved by anyone nor may they be used for any purpose whatsoever without the permission of the website manager.

K for Kota Doria

As the warm summer breeze blows into the western plains of India, I am feeling relieved to move from the thick, silky and rich Kanjeevaram to the soft, light as breeze, sheer and ‘square-y’ Kota Doria.

Way back, maybe 30-35 years back in time, my mother wore sarees only at home. And most of them were the lovely, happy-coloured, soft Kota Dorias. Whether she held up the pallu to shield me from the sun while walking me back from school, or whether she played peek-a-boo with little children, again with her pallu, I could not help noticing and marveling at the tiny little squares in the saree. What were those squares and why were they needed, I often wondered.

A soft, light, breezy, square-y floral Kota Doria

A soft, light, breezy, square-y floral Kota Doria

One day, during a Math lesson – yeah she was and still is an amazing teacher of the subject – we were learning multiplication tables of two. Just like that she brought up the end of her pallu of her Kota saree – and using the tiny squares in pallu, she revealed to me the magic of patterns made by even and odd numbers. My basic Math lessons on a Kota! Hmmm…should I have appeared for IIT?

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

The Kota Doria is Indian-climate friendly and sexy at the same time. The sheer fabric, the all-over checks adding a dash of that something that I don’t wish to destroy by an inaccurate description, the Kota Dorai is a dreamy number. Whether a plain cream (its natural shade), pastel shades or filled with floral prints, the Kota saree is also amazing to wear. Even though it is extremely light, it gives a great fall and is easy to wear.

A resplendent Kota silk suitable for a trousseau. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A resplendent Kota silk suitable for a trousseau. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

Try a silk Kota Doria for glamour. Or a cotton-silk Kota for a formal day at work. And a highly embellished silk Kota, usually with ‘gota work’ or ‘mukaish’ work for a celebratory occasion. A Kota Doria can also carry off other embellishments like ‘chikankari’ work.  The one thing about a Kota I must mention here is about its strength. A cotton Kota can handle quite a bit of thread weight, so can a silk Kota. But the latter comes apart easily. Hence a heavy investment of embroidery on a silk Kota should be avoided.

Phulkari on Kota Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Phulkari on Kota
Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Chikankari on Kota Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Chikankari on Kota
Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

You may find it interesting to know that the Kota saree originated in Mysore. Though I cannot say this for sure, but these sarees were first made in Mysore way back in late 17th century. They were called ‘Masuria Kota’ (‘Masuria’ = ‘from Mysore’) and were woven with silk and one cotton thread. The credit of bringing this saree to Rajasthan is with Rao Kishore Singh a general with the Mughal army. And they have pretty much become the identity of Rajasthan. And rightly so since the fabric of this saree would have been ‘god-sent’ for the warm climate of that region.

Today Kota Dorias are made mainly in Kaithoon, a town near Kota in Rajasthan. They are also made in Muhammadabad, Mau in UP.

An unusual bright colored Kota

An unusual bright colored Kota

Sometimes we lose sense of the beauty around us just because it is ubiquitous and perhaps the Kota Doria suffers from that. It is common to see machine-made Kota sarees with simple to bizarre prints in the market, but what-to-do? Such is life. Luckily, unlike some other sarees, the tradition of hand-woven Kota Doria continues, thanks to the patronage of discerning buyers.

Would it be a good idea to have a Kota Doria fan-club and call it ‘Da Kota Fanning’? Ha ha just kidding. Until the next PJ…..

Sources: Mainly Wikipedia

All images here are the copyright of Punam Medh unless mentioned otherwise. These may not be used for any purpose whatsoever.

 

K for Kanjeevaram

Each time she sat down to write her saree post, she would go through agonizing hours of research followed by hours of staring at the blank screen of her laptop. And each time she would come up with something reasonably nice. And that is how I think this saree blog chugged along. This time around, it was no different. Research—staring at blank screen—more research—staring at blank screen…and before I knew it, four weekends had passed. And then, when I saw her, head in hand, for the longest time, my patience and my forbearance gave way. I decided to step in and so here I am.

Hello everyone. I am the Kanjeevaram silk saree and I will speak for myself.

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A vintage Kanjeevaram silk saree that will speak for itself in this post

It’s not like you don’t know me. I know you do. I am the grand old dame of all the silk sarees of India. If you spotted a silk saree with bright jewel colours, thick, strong, generously embellished with gold or zari work, you are most likely looking at me.

It is hard to miss the silken sheen and strength of this saree - almost 40 years old. Still rules  parties.

It is hard to miss the silken sheen and strength of this saree – almost 40 years old. Still rules parties.

My most distinguishing feature is my heavily contrasted border and pallu. This contrast defines me in ways you cannot imagine. And I will talk about it a little later.

A pure white Kanjeevaram silk with a two-tone border. A classic.

A pure white Kanjeevaram silk with a two-tone border. A classic.

So as I was saying, my border and pallu are both quite distinctive. They are usually heavily embellished with gold or zari depicting traditional motifs like the lotus, parrots or peacocks – highly celebrated but rare motifs. And sometimes simple geometric patterns are used to add a subtle dash of glamour to me.

A simple gold geometric highlight on the border of a Kanjeevaram silk saree

A simple gold geometric highlight on the border of a Kanjeevaram silk saree

Traditional peacock motifs on the elaborate pallu of  a Kanjeevaram silk saree

Traditional peacock motifs on the elaborate pallu of a Kanjeevaram silk saree

You know some of my other relatives also have contrasting borders and pallus. With them, both the border and pallu, are seamlessly woven along with the body by changing the colour of the yarn, and in some cases with the same yarn. It’s nothing to write about from the rooftop.

But with me, my border and pallus are not woven seamlessly. They are attached to my body.

A korvai attachment leaves a jagged finish along the border. Look at the magnified circle to see the thread work.

A korvai attachment leaves a jagged finish along the border. Look at the magnified circle to see the thread work.

The technique of attaching the border to my body is called ‘korvai’, linked to the word ‘korai’ which means border. I am therefore sometimes also referred to as korvai pattu or the saree with ‘attached border’.  The origin of the korvai technique can be traced to the 6th century. Allow me to explain how this technique came about – it will perhaps help you understand why this painstaking and labour intensive technique is used even today to create me.

I was born in Kanchipuram, a small city close to Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Of course you know that. What you may not know however is the meaning of the word Kanchipuram and the story of its birth. The word Kanchipuram is made of ‘Ka’ – the creator, another name for Brahma and ‘anchi’ is a name of the worshipper Vishnu.

This city was built by the great Pallavas, as a place of intense worship and learning (called ghatiksthalam in the Tamil language).  Kanchipuram soon came to be known as the temple city. The Pallavas worshipped Shiva – the simple ascetic God – not known for needing grand ceremonial robes. His simplicity required nothing more than a white cotton veshti as an offering. This veshti was woven by the finest weavers of that land, from the finest cotton that grew in that region. And in many ways this veshti was my earliest predecessor. But there’s more, read on.

The might of the great Pallavas did not last forever. I think it was around the 10th century the Chola dynasty came to rule over Kanchipuram. Under their rule more temples were built making Kanchipuram a place of religious and spiritual nirvana. Now, the Cholas were Vishnu worshippers. Vishnu, the flamboyant lord, needed well, flamboyant robes. The cotton veshti had to undergo a change. First, the only change that was made to it was to attach a brightly coloured silk border embellished with a little gold. This little innovation was done by the expert master weavers of Saurashtra who, after fleeing their own land due Mohammed Ghazni’s invasion, had settled in Kanchipuram because of the huge demand for fine woven fabric. And thus the korvai technique was born. Gradually the cotton veshti was replaced with silk because silk was considered to be pure and hence necessary for worship.

Around the 13th century when the reign of the great Cholas ended, Kanchipuram came under the rule of the Vijayangar kings. It was the great king Krishna Deva Raya who commissioned my creation for women of the palace to wear for religious ceremonies, weddings and other festivities. The korvai was by then too inseparably entwined in the hearts of the weavers. And that is how I came into this world, in this holy land.

I was then and still am this beautifully woven, thick silk body with a heavy gold border attached to my edge, even if I may say so myself. The pallu, with design elements similar to the border but larger in scale, was also attached to one end of me. Traditional motifs inspired from temples, myths and legends were used to adorn my pallu.

This Kanjeevaram saree depicts a Ganda Berunda – a mythical two-headed bird known to possess magical powers. It is also one of the physical forms of Narsimhan – half man half lion – an avatar of Vishnu. Courtesy and copyright of www.jaypore.com

This Kanjeevaram saree depicts a Ganda Berunda – a mythical two-headed bird known to possess magical powers. It is also one of the physical forms of Narsimhan – half man half lion – an avatar of Vishnu. Courtesy and copyright of http://www.jaypore.com

My pallu is attached to my body using the ‘petni’ technique. The petni pallu is another of my distinguishing features. And no, I am not launching into the petni story today.

Any authentic Kanjeevaram saree will have the easy-to-spot petni – a strip where shades merge giving a beautiful new shade.

Any authentic Kanjeevaram saree will have the easy-to-spot petni – a strip where shades merge giving a beautiful new shade.

The underside of the petni weave. Unmistakably a Kanjeevaram.

The underside of the petni weave. Unmistakably a Kanjeevaram.

So I guess now you understand how korvai and petni are both tightly woven in tradition. These traditional techniques are so deep-rooted in the Kanchipuram culture, that any of me made in Kanchipuram will always have these ‘birthmarks’.

And what about me? What do I think of this tradition? I am of course immensely proud of having outlived the might of the Kings who made me. But I must confess that the future scares me. Modernization, coupled with easier ways of making a living has pushed the younger generations of weavers away from weaving. They find the korvai a hard task that does not pay well. Will I be me without my korvai and petni?

The korvai woven contrast is now my life and you will find this contrast all around me. For example I am a saree that graces the lady of the humblest of house-holds in Tamil Nadu.

The finest cotton makes the softest Kanjeevaram cottons. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

The finest cotton makes the softest Kanjeevaram cottons. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

And you will also find me adorning the lady of the most magnificent mansion.

Grand and stately, apart from many other adjectives that would fit here to describe these sarees. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

Grand and stately, apart from many other adjectives that would fit here to describe these sarees. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

I can be a simple cotton pattu – an adaptation to suit the warm and humid climate of Tamil Nadu.  Or I can be a resplendent dream in cotton fit for a bride.

A light pinkish peach cotton Kanjeevaram - fit for the summer bride

A light pinkish peach cotton Kanjeevaram – fit for the summer bride

The pallu of the same saree with real zari woven on extra fine cotton. A delight to dress up in during the harsh Indian summer

The pallu of the same saree with real zari woven on extra fine cotton. A delight to dress up in during the harsh Indian summer

One more attempt at trying to bring out the soft, billowy feel of this 'heavy' saree.

One more attempt at trying to bring out the soft, billowy feel of this ‘heavy’ saree.

I look fragile and feminine and yet my silk fabric strong is enough to be a family heirloom for generations. I despise laundries where I am doused with harsh chemicals. Wash me at home in plain water.

You think that wearing me will make you look like a ‘mami’ (Tamil word for an elderly woman)? Well, I am a traditional attire and if that’s how you view it, you might even look like a mami. Even though over time I have evolved and adopted newer design elements, I have not let go of my basic characteristics. So I will not be apologetic about it.

A Kanjeevaram with new colours, contemporary designs. No you will not look like a 'mami'. Picture courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Kanjeevaram with new colours, contemporary designs. No you will not look like a ‘mami’

When you think of me, think of korvai and petni and how it binds multitudes – generations of cultural evolution have not been able to untie it. When you own me, you own one of the most enduring legacies of myth, history and culture. Thank you for your patient listening of my story.

A kanjeevaram with a Ravi Verma paiting woven in its pallu. No way of knowing the source or authenticity of the claim that this saree costs INR 30 lakhs. But here it is, since we are on the subject.

A kanjeevaram with a Ravi Verma paiting woven in its pallu. No way of knowing the source or authenticity of the claim that this saree costs INR 30 lakhs. But here it is, since we are on the subject.

 

Sources: Much of my early impressions about Kanjeevarams have been acquired from various well-informed shopkeepers who pointed out the korvai and petni to me. I would be so unaware about these aspects. My formal reading for this post has come from the following books and urls:

  1. Silk Sarees of Tamil Nadu by Nesa Arumugam
  2. An Advanced History of India by Majumdar, Raychaudhari and Datta
  3. A History of Civilization in Ancient India by R.C. Dutt
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandaberunda#Story
  5. http://www.sandhyamanne.com/blogs/kanchipuram-silk-sarees
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanchipuram
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanchipuram_sari

Copyright: All the text and images appearing in this post belong to Punam Medh unless stated otherwise. These may not be reporiduced in any form whatsover.

 

G for Garad

Should every post begin with a bang? A catchy, hooky beginning that ‘captures’ the readers’ interest? Well, yes I guess, but then I also think not. Not when you are about to write on a subject which needs nothing more than a gentle nudge to get us all going – sarees.

The auspicious days and nights of fervor, feasting, fasting and devotion are here and I am feeling blessed to bring you G for Garad.

A lovely Garad silk saree

A lovely Garad silk saree

When you think Durga puja and it is hard to shake off images of devout women clad in their traditional attire of the white and red sarees. This saree is the Garad. (‘Go’ and ‘ro’ as in ‘God’)

The Garad is a traditional Bengali silk saree worn specially for puja. Like the Goddess, this saree symbolizes the pure and the strong. Pure, with its undyed, natural silk base and strong with its bold vermillion red border and pallu. The border and the pallu have intricately woven gold or coloured motifs.

A classic Garad with butis and a rich pallu

A classic Garad with butis and a rich pallu

Garad means pure and white.  In the context of the saree, Garad refers to the silk, which is considered to be pure. To retain the purity of the silk it is not dyed and used in its natural form. The silk used in the Garad is of very high quality – usually a tussar or mulberry – which makes this saree exquisite, but expensive.

And since puja times are also festive times, Garad saree comes with a generous embellishment of gold in the border and the pallu.

A rich gold pallu

A rich gold pallu

The white, red and gold – symbolic as they are in the saree – are accompanied by another important symbol in the Garad. Look out for the timeless and classic paisley motif in the Garad.

Bold keri motif adapted from the classic paisley motif

Bold keri motif adapted from the classic paisley motif

The paisley motif almost always appears woven in gold on the pallu but sometimes this motif is also found on the entire saree. In the Indian culture, this ancient Persian motif is adapted as the keri or mango. It symbolizes fertility in the context of Indian culture.

Small keri motifs strewn across the body of the saree

Small keri motifs strewn across the body of the saree

Although the Garad is a classic red-white puja saree but you may also find it newer combinations. The cream silk is however irreplaceable in a Garad.

A Garad saree with different colours

A Garad saree with different colours

Very close to the Garad is the Korial saree. Slightly plainer than the Garad, Korial is also worn for puja and other auspicious occasions. You are more likely to find a Korial in colours other than cream and red.

A Korial silk saree

A Korial silk saree

A Garad saree, traditional but simple gold jewelry, a large red bindi, hair tied in a low bun at the nape of the neck…sigh! I cannot wait to own and wear a Garad. If you have read this post all the way here, I am sure you cannot wait to own one too. And if you actually do end up buying one, please send up pictures.

Thanking my friends who graciously allowed me to photograph sarees from their personal collection. These photographs are protected by copyright laws and may not be used in any form, digital or print, by any entity.

Wishing you all a great festive season…

 

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:

http://www.slideshare.net/NanduriAsha/ilkal-saree-by-nanduri-asha

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