F for Fulia

Wearing a saree, especially for non-festive occasions, is such an eyebrow-raiser these days. Me thinks that is not just beauty, but even disapproval that lies in the eye of the beholder. Behenji, amma, aunty, mataji, teacherji, or madam are some of the sarcastic terms of endearment that are likely to come your way when you wear a saree. And if you happen to be approaching the hill (35+ years), sporting some middle-age spread, wearing a saree can invite a stray and tactless comment by the self-appointed fashion and trend police.

This unfortunate behenji-fication of the saree does not deter me from wearing one when I want to. Someone who loves sarees once told me “Sarees have stayed in ‘fashion’ for 2000 years. They’re not going anywhere.” And I so second that sentiment. On this happy, optimistic note I bring to you, from the state of West Bengal, a handloom delight.

F for Fuila. And no, I am not tryin’ to fool ya’. There really is a saree by this name. Though some may call it Phulia, I prefer the ‘F’ over the ‘Ph’. See I have a duty toward this alphabetical list I am trying to keep alive and without the Fulia, the F would be without a match.

The Fulia saree is hand-woven using cotton or silk yarn – simple and with little embellishment. The idea behind the Fulia is to let the fine fabric, the weave and the texture speak, hence the minimalistic style. A border, a few stripes or a smattering of a block print is all you get to see on a Fulia saree. Although I have seen the Fulia saree many times, I don’t own it, neither have I worn one. From what I have seen I can say that my wardrobe could definitely make space for one silk and one cotton Fulia saree.

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A Fulia saree is a fine example of the illustrious Bengal hand-woven saree heritage. This saree is named after the town Fulia, in the district of Nadia 90 kilometers from Kolkatta.

The weaving heritage of Fulia is not very old. The weavers in Fulia trace their lineage back to the weavers of the famous Dhakai Jamdani of Bangladesh who settled in India at the time of partition. Some of them settled in the already rich weaving centers of Shantipur while most others settled in Fulia. A whole lot of information about Fulia and its weaving history abounds on the Web, but very little is written about the features of the Fulia saree itself.

Some of the most informative sources I recommend for further reading are this blog and this website.

How does one recognize a Fulia saree? Well, I tried hard to look for answers and found it difficult to find a concrete one. Based on what I know of these sarees by observation, I can say that these sarees do not carry Jamdani-like motifs. Their texture is coarse to look at but very fine, soft to touch because of the hand-woven characteristic. They are usually plain and available in earthy colours. They do however, look a lot like any other hand-woven cotton saree. A cotton Fulia may cost anything between rupees 1500 to 3000, whereas a silk saree may cost above rupees 6000.

A Cotton Fulia saree with block-print pallu.  Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree with block-print pallu.
Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree.
Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

As I conclude this post, I feel a little unsettled that the information I have given is very little, though God knows I tried a lot of sources. My quest for information or images, as I have said before, does not end when a post is complete. I will keep looking and will update this post when I do get something good and credible. After F, it is time for G now. G for the Glorious Gadwal. Until then…


  1. For the lovely images in this post, I am most grateful to www.jaypore.com who almost immediately gave me the go-ahead to use their images.
  2. http://bengalhandlooms.com/shantipur-fulia/
  3. http://artisansoffashion.tumblr.com/post/49923353065/village-weavers-of-phulia-shantipur-in-west-bengal



E for Embroidery Part II

Without much ado, I will continue with part two of E for Embroidery where I bring to you the famous Pattiwork of Aligarh, Phulkari from Punjab, Kutch embroidery from the Kutch, the rapidly declining Kamdani art, and Zardosi – the grand silver and gold work. A feast awaits your eyes!

Aligarh Pattiwork

Pattiwork or applique hails from Northern states specifically Uttar Pradesh. It is also called ‘phool patti ka kaam’ or Ailgarh work. It is a delicate and painstaking form of embellishment done by hand. Here take a look.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Fabrics that carry this wok well are Cottons, Kotas and Organdis – unmatched summer wear. This work involves first creating geometric forms of flowers and leaves from the very delicate Mul cloth by folding it from the sides. The little ‘pieces’ this formed are sown onto the saree fabric in patterns like the ‘bel’ or creeper or standalone motifs. The patterns may be very intricate or plain. 

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Like many other saree weaves and designs that have been presented in this blog – be it the Kashida embroidery or the Benarasi saree, pattiwork also is closely tied to the advent of Mughal rule in India.

Applique work on a dupatta. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Applique work on a dupatta. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

There is comprehensive information about its history here.


Phulkari or ‘phool ka kaam’ is a distinct, remarkable embroidery from Punajb. Take a look.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

It is only in the last couple of years that Phulkari has made inroads into saree boutiques in large urban cities. Earlier seen in only a few parts of the country, this signature embellishment from Punjab is becoming a part of the global fashion. If that sounded like a typical Fashion TV commentary, the fault is entirely mine. It is just that when I read this post in another blog it made my task easy and difficult. Easy because everything you wanted to know about the history, stitch type, motif and production process of Phulkari was right here. Difficult because I have nothing more of my own to add – hence the Fashion TV type of a line.

Here are some more images.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Kutchi Work

Originated in theKutch region of Gujarat in around 19th century, Kutch embroidery or ‘kacchchhi’ embroidery is a rugged, robust and colourful embroidery. It is popular and easy to identify this form.

Saree with kutch embroidery work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with kutch embroidery work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Kutch work is done on think cotton fabrics and using thick colourful threads. It’s distinctive ruggedness has a unique appeal. The variety used on sarees is fine, but you will often find thicker sticthes used in shawls, bags, purses and even on ‘mojdis’.


This is a saree that inspires songs like ‘badan pe sitare lapete huey’ sung by Rafi and picturized on Shammi Kapoor. Kamdani or ‘badla work’ gives a feel of sparkling twinkling stars.

When I first read about Kamdani, I reacted casually thinking sure, I know what that is. I had seen many ‘badla’ dotted sarees. Cool deal I thought. And then I saw this link. Wow!

Kamdani owes its sparkle to gold and silver dots made from flattened wires. These dots, also called ‘fardi’ are a characteristic of Kamdani work. Sometimes the wires itself are used for making patterns and motifs on muslins or fine silks. Kamdani work needs very thin needles, which makes this a very high skill work. This is probably one of the reasons it is very difficult to find artisans doing this sort of a work. A number that was thrown up in all my Google search was 46. That’s the number of artisans remaining today who can do this work.


The real ‘bharat kaam’ of India – the Zardosi. This is a rich type of an embroidery done on thick luxurious fabrics like Velvet and Satin using gold and silver threads. Birds, animals and abstracts like paisleys are most commonly found motifs in Zardosi.

Gold and and silver zardosi work on crepe silk

Gold and and silver zardosi work on crepe silk

Sometimes parts of a motif, like say petals of a flower, are padded to give the motif an embossed look. Sometimes the wires used for embroidery are not straight, they are twisted. This creates an entirely different type of ‘tiny springy’ look.

IMG_4993 (640x427)

This work is once again, quite painstaking and hence expensive when it is done by hand. Whether done on sarees or on other articles, bags, and ‘mojdis’, this work fetches a premium.

I conclude this post with a vote of thanks for the amazing people at Hands of India who have been supporting my saree venture for no reason other than the passion they have for sarees.

E for Embroidery goes into part three next week with Chikankari and a few more. Before I wrap up, I wish to share this link with you – do look at it. It’s a visual treat. It lists all the possible embroideries and their stitches.

All pictures in this post are the copyright of Punam Medh unless stated otherwise. No picture maybe reproduced in any form whatsoever.





D for Dhakai Jamdani, Dharmavaram

It may be flirtatiously sheer, somberly coloured and playfully dotty. The Dhakai Jamdani is a saree you want to take home to your parents. And introduce to your boss. And show off to your friends. Flirty, but deeply mature, the descendant of the legendary Muslin saree, the Dhakai Jamdani has many shades to its personality. And it begs your understanding.

A Cotton Dhakai Jamdani Saree

A Cotton Dhakai Jamdani Saree

This Dhakai and other sarees that look similar to it – the Shantipur saree and the Tangail – have been unfairly clubbed as the ‘Calcutta’ or the ‘Calcuttee’ saree. This cruel generalization needs to end. For this is a unique, one-of-a-kind saree. Some of the terms that I came across while researching this saree are ‘high art’, ‘incomparable’ and ‘threads of wind’.

I met this saree through my grandmother. She often narrated stories about her sarees whenever she did her annual spring cleaning. A saree that she never tired talking of at the time of each spring-cleaning event was the one-ring Muslin. The fabric that could pass through a wedding ring.

Muslin, a fine, light, high quality cotton was made in Dhaka. Though there are records of it being woven in Masulipatnam, a small village in Andhra Pradesh. It was of course the Dhaka Muslin that was exported to the world and went on to achieve great fame and glory. It is said that the Dhaka Muslin was so fine that 50 meters of this fabric could be folded and stored in a match box.

The Dhakai Jamdani was originally woven on this fabulous Muslin. The weave is done in a way that feels like the motifs are embroidered on the base fabric. The effect is like that of an embellishment or an ‘inlay’. The Dhakai Jamdani is therefore also called the ‘Figured Mulsin’. What we see today as the Dhakai Jamdani is a result of centuries of design evolution based on various artistic influences. Today of course, the base of this saree could be Cotton, Mul, Silk of varying grades or Tussar.

The designs of the Jamdani are first created on paper. This paper is used to ensure that the motifs are created as per the design. Expert weavers however do not need any reference. The designs are created while weaving. So advanced is this type of weaving that the weaver needs to be attentive all the while. There is no mechanical or repetitive effort here. And all of this from weavers who are barely literate!

The most distinctive feature of the Dhakai Jamdani is the use of geometry in its motifs. Be it a bird, animal figure or a ‘keri’ or any other typical saree design element, the shape is ‘geometrified’.  It is said that this style is the result of early Iranian influence on the Jamdani design.

Pallu of a Dhakai Jamdani showing geometric bird motifs

Pallu of a Dhakai Jamdani showing geometric bird motifs

The second most distinctive feature of the Dhakai Jamdani comes from the diaphanous legacy of the Muslin. Its sheer base with the thick embellished motifs gives it a delicate appearance. So when you see embellished motifs sprayed on a sheer base, its combined effect to me is of a ‘zari-wala aasmaan’ to borrow a phrase from Gulzar’s song.

Sheer fabric shows off the embellished butis

Sheer fabric shows off the embellished butis

The butis on the Dhakai Jamdani are usually aligned in a straight line or they may be ‘tirchaa’ or diagonal. Sometimes when the base is given lots and lots of butis the design is called ‘panna hazaara’ or thousand emeralds. How beautiful that would look! The image shown below is a saree with a large number of butis and is called ‘butidar’ or full of ‘butis’.

A butidar base of a Dhakai Jamdani

A butidar base of a Dhakai Jamdani

The border of the saree also has geometric versions of the ‘bel’ or creeper and ‘jhalars’.

Jamdani has its roots in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They are made in a village called Ruposhi, popular as Jamdani village, situated on the banks of river Shitalakhya, about an hour’s drive from Dhaka.

In India, the saree is now called Jamdanis are made in the town of Ambika Kalna or Kalna, on the banks of the river Bhagirathi about 95 kilometers from Kolkatta.

Be it in Bangladesh or in India, the Jamdani is a treasured artifact cherished and worn on all important occasions alike. Several bodies like UNESCO have granted the Jamdani heritage status. All of this attention and importance however does little for the art to survive. The new generations of weavers feel that rigour and work involved in weaving does not fetch them the price or the glory. Thus they move away from the rigour of this intricate work to more lucrative and easier professions.

If you decide to buy a Dhakai Jamdani, look for patterns that are geometric, look for base fabrics like Tussar, Silks and Cottons. Any colour or style you buy, the saree makes itself belong to you and I am not just saying this. If you look around, you will see women of all ages carry off this saree beautifully.

I have to stop raving about the Dhakai Jamdani and save a few words for another D. D for Dharmavaram sarees. I must confess that I did not know much about these sarees and still do not know much. But I do have an interesting story to tell.

I went to a shop and asked for a Dharmavaram. The nice salesman insisted that I buy a Kanjeevaram instead. When I could not convince him to show me one, I had to make up a little story. I said I had a demanding sister back in the US who has ‘ordered’ me to buy a Dharmavaram. He gave in and immediately started showing me these sarees. At first they all looked like typical Kanjeevarams. Quick to read the suspicion on my face he added ‘Madam Kanjeevaram Dharmavaram same same. Only Kanjeevaram 10,000 rupees, Dharmavaram 4000 rupees. Same same!”

How helpful was that! Fortunately, my research did land me some information from other sources. I found out that the Dharmavaram is very similar to the Kanjeevaram. Here’s why. Kanjeevaram sarees are in great demand the world over. They are expensive too. It was felt that this saree was beyond the reach of states closer to home — both by virtue of cost and availability. A small group of weavers in a village called Dharmavaram saw an opportunity here. They created their own version of the Kanjeevaram using two-colour yarns for weaving. The sarees turned out to have their own distinct look, but to the unfamiliar or untrained eye, they looked very similar to the Kanjeevaram. This saree also uses tested ‘zari’ instead of gold thus bringing down the overall cost significantly. Often called the ‘daily wear Kanjeevaram’, that then is the Dharmavaram for you.

This logic aligns with what the salesman at the saree shop told me. The use of artificial zari is probably why the Dharmavaram is not as expensive.

And that’s all I have to say about the two splendid sarees with the letter D.

In the now-famous words of Arnold, I’ll be back, next week with the letter E. Now which saree begins with E I wonder!




C for Chanderi

A Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Perhaps you remember your mother or your grandmother…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Quick Read about the Chanderi Saree

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

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

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

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

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

Till we meet again with the next alphabet, adios!

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

B for Balucheri

When you look at a Balucheri saree for the first time, it is likely to make you experience several emotions depending on how much you love sarees. Then comes what I call the sucker-punch moment. It is that moment when you open up the saree and see its pallu. As you slowly take in its beauty, you begin to think; how on earth could anyone even dream up a concept like this!! 

The saree that delivers a sucker-punch!

The saree that delivers a sucker-punch!

My Balucheri saree was a gift. As I opened the wrapping, I went through the usual glee, the oohs and the aahs. Next came the sucker-punch moment followed by the thought; how on earth could anyone even dream up a concept like this!! To date, I don’t really know how. But in my imagination, this is what I think happened. Here’s a little story I dreamed up.

Once upon a time, long ago, there was a weaver. He was a gifted weaver of silk and could create the finest, most delicate brocades in the land. But he was unhappy. He was unhappy because he loved stories and actually wanted to be a story-teller. He had a head full of stories that he was just dying to tell. Unfortunately, there was no one around to listen to his stories. Soon their weight started to make him weary. He was afraid that his stories would tear him from inside and come tumbling out. He had to do something soon to save them and himself. And just like that, one day, he decided he would weave his stories, not with words, but by using the craft of weaving that he had been blessed with. He started weaving his stories on a saree. Long stories and short. About Kings and Queens. New stories and old. All of them. He wove his stories as frames, that ran into panels. And panels that became a long pallu. And that’s how the amazing Balucheri saree was born.

A Balucheri Saree

A Balucheri Saree

The Balucheri saree is a glorious creation in silk brocade. The heavily brocaded pallu, its most distinctive part, has unusual motifs like the figurines of the terracotta temples of Barangore, in Murshidabad. Sometimes the entire pallu is used to show a single scene. For example, a woman riding a horse, smelling a rose, her long plait in an upward swing. Other unusual motifs include a scene of women smoking the hukkah, a Mughal court scene and so on. Sucker-punch all the way isn’t it? The most popular sarees however, are ones depicting scenes from epics like the Mahabharat or Ramayana.

The Balucheri saree is made with fine silk. It is characterized by a really long pallu which is sometimes longer than a metre. The saree’s embellished pallu and borders use the complex jacquard weave similar to the Benarasi weave, except that this saree does not use any gold thread or ‘zari’. The intricacy of the Balucheri brocade, even way back then, was compared to the gorgeous Benarasi and the delicate Kashmiri handwork.

The pallu of the saree in the image shows panels depicting scenes of a wedding. The panels are made of scenes, and each scene is framed with an intricate border. Usually, most sarees also have a central motif around which the panels are organized.

A Central Motif and Panels

A Central Motif and Panels

A distinctive feature of the Balucheri saree that surprises me is the weave uses just two colours, sometimes only one. When two colours are used, the figures in each panel are created using alternate colours to break monotony.

Motifs with Inverse Colours

Motifs with Inverse Colours

The small butis or motifs distributed across the body of the saree are also intricately woven. A simple Balucheri with repeating panels takes about 7-10 days to weave. A more complex design however may take 5 weavers about 2-3 months.

Intricate Butis

Intricate Butis

I am overwhelmed not just by the beauty of this saree, but also the historical context under which it was created. This post would not be complete without a brief description of that history. The Balucheri saree originated about 200 years ago in Bengal, in a village called ‘Balucher’ situated on the banks of the river Bhagirathi. Nawab Murshid Quli Khan was the ruler of Bengal at that time. When the weavers of that region first created this saree, they received instant patronage from the Nawab. He was not only a great statesman, but also someone who encouraged art and its creators without any kind of caste or religious discrimination. Encouraged by his ready patronage, the weavers went on to push the boundaries of their own imagination, taking cues from their cultural environment and weaving it into the saree. This saree, like the Benarasi, was influenced by not just Mughal, but Persian aesthetics as well.

Read more about Nawab Murshid Quli Khan to understand how a saree like the Balucheri, comparable to none other than a Benerasi, actually came about during his regime.

Balucher is present day Jiaganj, in Murshidabad district in West Bengal. The weaving tradition and business has spread to other parts of the district of Murshidabad, which is known for its silk production. I wish that this beautiful creation, the Balucheri, will also enjoy top-of-the-mind recall like the Benarasi or the Kanjeevaram saree.

The story of the saree with the story concludes, but story of the quintessential saree continues as the ‘B for…’ series is not over yet.




A for Ashavali

Alright alright so I did not know that Ahmedabad was at one time called the Manchester of India. So what? Save the raised eyebrows and face palms for another day. Let me pose you a question: Do you know what Ahmedabad was called way back in early 15t century (long before it was called the ‘Manchester’ of India)?

No, not Karnavati. It was called Ashavali. And the gorgeousness we are talking about today, born in that region, is the lovely Ashavali saree.

A black silk Ashavali brocade saree. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A black silk Ashavali brocade saree. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A black silk Ashavali brocade saree. Image courtesy and copyrigh www.jaypore.com

A black silk Ashavali brocade saree. Image courtesy and copyrigh http://www.jaypore.com

In early fifteenth century when Ahmed Shah took over the region now called Ahmedabad, it was called Ashavali, named after the Bhil tribal king who ruled that region.

I may have seen an Ashavali saree, I cannot be sure. My folks in Ahmedabad though love it and talk about it all the time. It is considered the pride of Ahmedabad, as much as Kanjeevaram is the pride of Tamil Nadu. This saree is popular as the ‘Ahmedabad vanat’ (woven) saree holds a place of pride in the bridal trousseau and is sometimes worn by the bride for her wedding reception too.

An Ashavali brocade in silk, in typical colours. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

An Ashavali brocade in silk, in typical colours. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

The saree looks characteristically like a Benarasi Brocade, and is even called an Ahmedabadi Brocade at times. The difference lies in the way the butis of the Ashavali look embossed, giving it a three-dimensional effect. And here’s why. You already know that the when yarn is woven into cloth, the yarn running lengthwise or longitudinally is called the warp. The yarn running across the breadth, running from right to left, is called the weft. And that was a memory aid for you – right to left is called the weft.  So coming back to the Ashavali butis, they are woven in the warp unlike in other sarees where it woven in the weft.

A close-up of butis of an Ashavali brocade. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A close-up of butis of an Ashavali brocade. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

The Ashavali sarees of yore were woven with pure zari, and were heavy in weight. The zari used today of course is not real, making the saree much lighter in weight and thus easy to drape and carry. Even with the faux zari, the Ashavali looks rich – like it is covered with a silken sheen – because of its twill weave. A twill weave according to Wikipedia has warps and weft crossing each other diagonally. Here is an image of a 2×2 twill weave.

A Wikipedia image showing the characteristic 'twill' - used in an Ashavali that gives its butis a 3-D effect

A Wikipedia image showing the characteristic ’twill’ – used in an Ashavali that gives its butis a 3-D effect

Look at this image (taken from Wikipedia) and scroll your screen. You will know what I mean. The feeling you get is that the image is a sheen-like cover. With a weave like this in a saree, it creates a dazzling effect when the saree is worn and shows movement. Wonderful I tell you, simply wonderful!

This saree, like many others on this blog, has a rich history that I feel privileged to share with you. Like I said, The Mughal general Ahmed Shah from Shah Jahan’s regime established Mughal rule in Ashavali region in early fifteenth insurance. The saree was commissioned around the same time and as such it pre-dates the Benarasi saree.

The famous Solanki weavers of fame from Patan were invited to create a new saree for the women of the palace. It is believed that Hindu and Muslim weavers. The influence of both communities was equal and evident in the use of motifs – human figures, temples, floral and animal motifs like elephants, peacocks and parrots in plenty.

The importance of the makers was as distinct as the product itself. For a long time the Ashavali saree represented the unity and peace between the artist weavers of both community. Although, it is said that in recent times, the Ashavali is mainly woven only by Muslim weavers.

One more close-up image. Courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

One more close-up image. Courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

This post is way out of the alphabet sequence because I really did not have the pictures, the information or the experience based on which I could write. The other obstacle I faced is that this saree is quite unheard of, even in premium saree shops in my city. Well, it’s a tad ambitious to hope that my post will bring about any change in the fame quotient of this saree, but hope is eternal right?

I am under a self-oath of not buying any saree till such time I have completed the A-Z series on my sarees. When I am nit repenting this oath, I fantasize about the time I will actually start buying sarees – and I think I will begin with this one. You, on the other hand, free from such terrible oaths can buy one right away! Go buy!