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.

IMG_7426

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

IMG_7424

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

 

 

 

 

IMG_7455

A phool design on a resplendent pat silk

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_7472

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

 

Advertisements

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…

 

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…

Sources:

  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 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.

Front_back_2

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.

Sources:

http://www.iisd-ngo.org/attachments/File/Hat_-making_process.pdf

http://www.rbcsgroup.com/OT/April-2004/kashida.htm

http://www.art-of-threads.com/indian-embroidery/kantha-embroidery

http://thecolorcaravan.blogspot.in/2013/05/kantha-embroidery.html

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!

Sources:

http://www.dawn.com/news/630713/jamdani-weaving-history

http://world-citizen-trail.net/poetry-in-thread-the-jamdani-of-dhaka/

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.

Sources:

http://www.bishnupurguide.com/blog/bishnupur-baluchari-sarees-history-production/

www.murshidabad.net