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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E for Embroidery Part I

I must have been around 10 years old when I saw this scene in a movie.

It is a Holi celebration. Men and women wearing colourful clothes are dancing gracefully in sync with the background music.  Lataji’s supreme voice anoints the scene with a Burmanda composition – ‘piya  sang khelo holi, phagun aayo re’. Lending face and grace to this beautiful song with a dance to match is Waheedaji.  The depiction of fun, gaiety and happiness is picture perfect. And then Waheedaji’s husband, played by Dharmendra, who has been away for a long time returns to surprise her. Right there, in the middle of the song, he sneaks up behind her and sprays coloured water all over her with a ‘pichkari’. Waheedaji stops her song and dance. A fraction of an expression of happiness on seeing her husband is followed by undisguised anger. She says to him “I am your wife and you have full rights over me. But my sarees are my own and you have no right to mess them up like this.” At this terrible insult, Dharmendra turns around and leaves. He walks out of her life, never to return again. Not until the interval at least.

In the 1973 film Phagun, the villain that tore apart the couple was a saree. This is how I interpreted this movie when I watched it at a young impressionable age. I am quite sure that it must have left a deep, indelible, wrong sort of a mark on my psyche. Because I think that if someone messed with my sarees, I would never let him go. I would first …. best left unsaid. J

Wish you all a happy Holi and store all your gorgeous sarees away on Holi day please.

Even though we have reached as far as E, I am conscious of the earlier alphabets I have left behind. And these are A for Arni (Tamilnadu), A for Ashavali (Ahmedabad) and B for Balarampuri (Kerala). I will definitely bring these and more to you once I have authentic photographs. And who knows, there are those sarees nestling between A and E that I still don’t know about.

In E for Embroidery – Part I the skill quotient goes up several notches high. First there’s a concept and design of a saree that is then painstakingly woven. Then it is further embellished with microscopic stitches. Although India has a rich tradition of embroideries as I discovered in  a book called ‘Traditional Embroideries of India’ by Shailaja Naik, in this post I will write about only those which I know well. And that is a comparatively small list.

A rich Kantha embroidery on silk

A rich Kantha embroidery on silk

Kasuti Embroidery

What Chikankari is to Lucknow, Kasuti is to Karnataka. I discovered this embroidery when my parents were doing an assignment in Dharwad, Karnataka. The lady who did our housework brought in a village woman who made these sarees on order. She took six months to make this saree for us. This is a favorite.

A 'Gopuram' motif using Kasuti embroidery

A ‘Gopuram’ motif using Kasuti embroidery

Kasuti is a combination of two words ‘kai’ meaning hand and ‘suti’ meaning cotton. Kasuti is a type of embellishment done extensively on Ilkal and cotton Mangalgiri sarees. Created mainly by women folk in the villages near Dharwad and Bijapur in Karnataka, the stitch looks similar to the cross stitch, but it is quite different.

The striking feature about Kasuti work is its neatness and pattern – so neat that it looks the same front and back. Further more, the stitch has the same start and end point. Fabulous! Can you spot the difference?

An Kasuti elephant motif. It is difficult to tell the difference between front and back.

An Kasuti elephant motif. It is difficult to tell the difference between front and back.


An abstract geometric Kasuti motif. Clean work done in both front and back.

Another typical Kasuti motif. Observe the start and end point of the stitch.

Another typical Kasuti motif. Observe the start and end point of the stitch.

A traditional Kasuti saree has a border and different traditional motifs like parrot, gopuram, lamps, palanquin and geometric abstracts and spread across the body. The pallu is filled with different types of motifs with no pattern or theme as such. This feature actually makes a quaint and interesting saree.

A pallu of a traditional Kasuti is a mix of motifs.

The pallu of a traditional Kasuti is a mix of motifs.

The most interesting Kasuti saree is the Chandrakali saree done on plain black silk. How wonderful for those who love black like I do. This saree at one time used to be a mandatory part of a bride’s trousseaus! Kasutis also look best on pale neutral shades to bring out the brightly coloured embroidery.

Kasuti embroidery is now machine-made and can be made to order from shops in cities.

Kantha Stitch

The word ‘kontha’ in Sanksrit means rags. The stitch called Kantha today came about when Buddhist monks used to stitch together rags from old clothes to cover themselves. This idea was carried forward in households where women folk stitched old cloth pieces in their spare time to mend them. The thread used for stitching was also taken from old cloth. A beautiful art form emerged from a humble practice unlike many others that were commissioned by royalty. And here’s your rags to riches story!

A splendid single colour Kantha stitch done on pure silk.

A splendid single colour Kantha stitch done on pure silk.

Popular motifs in Kantha are village scenes, animals, birds and daily objects. Abstract patterns like the mandala are also popular.

Warli village motifs done using Kantha.

Warli village motifs done using Kantha.

Kantha is done using different types of stitches like running, darning, satin and loop stitch. These are used exclusively on a saree or in combination.

An outlined Kantha motif.

An outlined Kantha motif.

For example a stem stitch maybe used to outline a motif. The most popular Kantha sarees are those done with colourful threads on beige Tussar silk. Softer fabrics like Mulberry silk and Matka silks  can also take the weight of a heavy Kantha embroidery.

Kashmiri Kashida

Something beautiful from a land so beautiful – the Kashmiri Kashida is a melting pot of art influences from local art, Mughal and Persian art.

Kashmiri Kashida work (machine-made)

Kashmiri Kashida work on georgette (machine-made)

Once again, the stitches used are similar in Kantha – stem, chain, satin and occasionally herringbone. The motifs are similar too – birds, flowers and animals. But see how different it looks.

IMG_4951 (800x533)

A hand-made Kashida motif on black chiffon

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A typical Kashida border and jaal pallu

A typical Kashida border and floral jaal pallu

The saree is at best 6 or 9 yards. But its history covers the length, breadth and depth of this country.

E for Embroidery continues next week with Kutchi, Kamdani , Phulkari, Pattiwork and Chikankari. Until then…

All photographs in this post are copyright Punam Medh and are not available for use anywhere else.






B for Bhagalpuri, Bandhani

My father loved accompanying my mother when she went saree-shopping. He took a deep interest in the kind of sarees she wore. His point was that after wearing a saree, she would not be able to see it that much. He however, would have to see her in it all the time. So she might as well buy a saree that he liked. And much to my mother’s annoyance, he also claimed that he had better taste in clothes than she did. Though sometimes I felt what he really wanted to do was to keep a secret watch on the budget.  At that time, nearly 30 years ago, shopping for a saree, especially a heavy one, was linked with a family wedding or a festival and a budget was made to be followed. Though occasionally its boundaries were crossed only for that rare act of indulging us.

It was during one such shopping trip, I saw a Bhagalpuri. It was draped on a mannequin, in its sedate and simple avatar, not shouting for attention, not even saying a word to anyone. As clichéd as it might sound, it was love at first sight. I loved the Bhagalpuri way before I even knew what it was called. For a long time in my mind I called it the ‘arty’ saree.

On one occasion, I even asked for it to be bought, but was promptly denied, on the grounds that it was too simple. “In this price, you can easily get a Mysore silk or a nice Kanjeevaram which you can wear for a wedding. Where will you wear this”? End of story.

Not quite actually. When financial independence happened, out of the few sarees (few?) that made way into my wardrobe, the Bhagalpuri was amongst the first. Things had not changed much on the other side though. “Where will you wear this”? Then it was shown and worn several times. Now everyone knows.

To describe a Bhagalpuri saree is difficult. It is like trying to describe chocolate. There are no words that do justice. You’d much rather get that person to try a piece than try to describe it. So, here is a Bhagalpuri.

A Bhagalpuri Silk Saree

A Bhagalpuri Silk Saree

The beauty of a Bhagalpuri is in its existence. It is the subtle kind of beauty that exudes from within the rich, rough and pure Tussar silk.

Tussar silk is not just rich, it is highly textured, especially in the Bhagalpuri saree.

Textured Fabric of A Bhagalpuri Tussar Silk

Textured Fabric of A Bhagalpuri Tussar Silk Saree

Other than the richness of the fabric, the only other embellishment the saree has is its minimalist colour pallete. The body is of one colour, the border and pallu is the second colour. The colours used are usually from the same family. The only different combination you might see is with a creamy-beige body which has a pallu and a border of a dark contrasting shade.

The Border and Pallu of a Bhagalpuri

The Border and Pallu of a Bhagalpuri

Bhagalpuri silk sarees are made from Tussar silk. This silk is produced in the rainforests of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Bhagalpur is famous for its silk and boasts of a 200 year old silk weaving culture. This saree itself is about 100 years old, something I learned as a part of my research for this post. Though simple, this saree has also received the attention of Textile or Fashion Designers who work with cooperatives to bring in newer colour combinations and textures.

Depending on the colours you choose and how you accessorize, I think, the Bhagalpuri saree can be made suitable for a work wear, party wear or even a wedding.

This is where I leave Bhagalpur and make a dash for my home state – Gujarat. B is for Bandhani or Bandhej, a very popular saree.

I don’t know what it is about the Bandhani that makes the spirals of my Guju DNA do a little dance every time I see a one. I mean, where else do wrinkles look so good. It’s a pity actually that one must get rid of them before wearing the saree.

Called Bandhani in Gujarat and Bandhej in Rajasthan, both terms are actually a way to refer to the technique of tie-and-dye. Both terms are derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘bandha’ and the Hindi word ‘bandhana’ – meaning ‘to tie’. Poetic and sweet, considering that in Gujarat, it is considered auspicious for a bride to wear this saree during her wedding ceremony.

Georgette Bandhanis

Georgette Bandhanis

The tie-and-dye technique is a form of resist dyeing. It means that the cloth is tied up in such a way – by way of crumpling it, folding it or making it into tiny knots, so as to resist some portions from getting dyed. The result is a geometric or a free flow pattern of dots, lines or waves – the glorious Bandhani. The closer the tying, the more the number of dots per square inch of fabric, the prettier the patterns.

A Bandhani with 'Tikunthi' Dots

A Bandhani with ‘Tikunthi’ Dots

The dots created by the tie-and-dye are used to make different types of patterns – like the ‘jalebi’ or swirls, ‘bel’ or creepers that fill the entire saree. The most common, but still very beautiful, is the use of dots. The arrangement of the dots could be in patterns of 3 – called ‘tikunthi’, patterns of 4 – called  ‘chaubasi’ and patterns of 7 – called ‘satbandi’. Sometimes it is just one dot, called the ‘ekdali’. If the single dot is filled with colour it is called the drop or ‘boond’.

Here is a Bandhani designed and created in Kutch characterized by an intricate pattern of very small dots, which I have heard, are created using the tiny mustard seeds. What an effort! The resulting pattern here shows a group of girls doing the local dance ‘garba’. The unevenness of the dots and how the dots are separated from each other, their small size, are evidence of very detailed handwork.

A Kutch Handmade Bandhani - Dancing Girls

A Kutch Handmade Bandhani – Dancing Girls

Here is the pattern of the border in the same saree. ‘Haathi’ or elephant and circle motifs alternate each other. The use of motifs like ‘haathi’ points to the saree’s royal origin.

Border of a Bandhani - Elephant Motifs

Border of a Bandhani – Elephant Motifs

While buying a Bandhani you may want to look for indications of whether the dots are hand-made or prints. Both are fine, it’s just that you don’t want to be taken for a ride by paying the price of a hand-made for a printed saree. Hand-made tie-and-dye dots would be uneven in their form and in how they are separated from each other.

The Bandhani is characteristic in its use of bright, bold and cheerful colours. The bright colours link it to the culture, the ethos and the sartorial preferences of the locals where this saree was born. Both Gujarat and Rajasthan can get really hot in the summer. It is for this reason, tie-and-dye was also practiced on other natural fibres like cotton and muls. Today of course, Bandhani sarees are available in Georgettes, Chiffon, Crepes and many other types of fabrics.

According to a source of reference I found during my research, the very first Bandhani in India dates back to the time of Bana Bhatt (the author of the famous novel Kadambari)  roughly 7th century AD, where this saree was commissioned for a royal wedding. Once again you see the connection of silk with religious and festive events. Tie-and-dye as a technique is as old as dyeing. Its use can be found in Africa, the Americas, Asia, particularly Japan and China. The Indian tie-and-dye technique has been hugely influenced by the Japanese resist dyeing technique called Shibori.

How much information can one post hold? This one is filled to the brim. And I really would like to conclude my B for ….  series here, but for one more saree – West Bengal’s Bailou saree. B for Bailou. I heard about this saree very recently and do not anything about it. But my ignorance will not last for long and I will dedicate a separate post for this saree. There is also B for Bomkai. The lovely saree from Odisha. I will be cheating here and taking it under the alphabet ‘O’.

We meet up with C for… in the next post. Until next week…

Sources: http://theindiacrafthouse.blogspot.in/2012/01/history-of-bandhani-or-indian-tie-dye.html