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

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.

IMG_6915 (640x427)

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.

 

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.

G for Gadwal, Guntur

She wanted to be dignified. So cotton was made. She wanted to be special. So silk was made. She wanted to be celebratory. So gold was made. And then, she wanted it all at the same time. So the Gadwal saree was made.

Gadwal sarees.

Gadwal sarees

The glorious but understated Gadwal saree is a love triangle between cotton, silk and gold where the only heart that breaks is of the one who cannot have the saree.

The Gadwal is a pure cotton saree filled with small self or gold checks.

Gold checks on a beige cotton Gadwal saree

Gold checks on a cotton Gadwal saree

The saree body usually has a pale neutral colour like beige, tan, off-white or even white with a border and a pallu of a contrast colour. The border and pallu also come embellished with gold or zari brocade work of varying detail. The pallu of a Gadwal may be filed with heavy brocade but is usually quite small, just a little more than a foot long.

A burnt orange cotton gadwal with a black and gold border and self checks

A burnt orange cotton Gadwal with a black and gold border and self checks

This saree comes in exciting body-border combinations, with gold being a standard on all. You have white and black, off-white and maroon, beige and pink, black and pink, off-white and bright green, light-blue and dark-royal blue and whew! There are too many to list. Even though I own quite a few Gadwals,  I do enjoy browsing these sarees in shops just to see if I can spot a unique or unusual combination.

A biscuit and green combination in a Gadwal

A biscuit and green combination in a Gadwal

Sometimes a border may have two-tones. Just thinking of the colour combination possibilities fills me with glee and a hmmpphh…because I know I can never have them all.

A two-toned border of a Gadwal in red and blue. Note the interlock of the border and the body.

A two-toned border of a Gadwal in red and blue. Note the interlock of the border and the body.

The border and pallu are made of pure silk and sometimes even cotton-silk. The border is stitched on, or woven to the body in a manner in pretty much the same way as a Kanjeevaram border is woven a silk saree. The place where the order joins the body leaves a distinct wavy line which is often seen in a Kanjeevaram as well. This technique of interlocking the border and body is called ‘kupadam’. Sometimes the Gadwal is also called a ‘kupadam’ saree locally in Andhra Pradesh where it is made.

The brocade patterns on the border are influenced by the traditional stone and wood carving of the Gadwal area in the Telangana region from where these sarees hail. The ‘hansa’ or mythical swan, the ‘youli’ or lion or the double-headed eagle are popular motifs. One of my sarees luckily has the ‘hansa’.

A Gadwal border with the 'hansa' or mythical swan motif

A Gadwal border with the ‘hansa’ or mythical swan motif

Other popular border motifs are a paisley, a temple or a peacock. Sometimes these motifs are geometric.

In recent times I have seen Gadwals that come with longer, heavily brocaded pallus and even small or large butis all over the body. It is even possible to find a Gadwal made of silk and not just cotton. Now when a saree departs from its definition so much, it is difficult to tell it apart from other types of sarees and then you’re left with just the shopkeeper’s word. That said a pure, real Gadwal would essentially be cotton body with self or gold checks and a silk border with gold brocade work on it.

The light and billowy feel of a cotton Gadwal

The light and billowy feel of a cotton Gadwal

The Gadwal saree hails from Gadwal, in the Mahbubnagar district in Telangana in Andhra Pradesh. And I think this is the place where I must mention that Gadwal town of Andhra Pradesh must not be confused with Garhwal of Uttarakhand. Garhwal is the name of a region up North of India while Gadwal is a small town or mandala in Mahbubnagar (also called Raichur earlier). This town is known for its traditional, highly skilled weaving. Like is the case for many other sarees I have written about in this blog, this saree too came into being after being commissioned and patronized by the royal family of Gadwal.

This saree has been my favourite for a long time. It’s the ideal saree for a wedding when you don’t want to be too overdressed. It is ideal for wearing at a pooja ceremony or any other traditional family event. The cotton body lends comfort in the predominantly warm climate conditions of India and the silk and brocade border lends the saree its festiveness. Such a thoughtful saree!

And while I am hovering on the alphabet G and in the state of Andhra Pradesh, I must mention another local staple here – G for Guntur. The Guntur saree is made in, well you guessed it, Guntur, a city in Andhra Pradesh. Guntur, most known for growing one of the spiciest types of chilies available in India is also known for producing some of the finest cotton. This cotton goes into making a Guntur saree, also sometimes called the dance saree.

A staple Guntur cotton. Minimal, just a hint of gold thread and temple motif

A staple Guntur cotton. Minimal, just a hint of gold thread and temple motif

The Guntur cotton saree fine as it may be is also very sturdy. Its only embellishments are a body which may have lines or checks and a distinctive pallu – again with woven lines. The same weave is found on the border of the saree which may or may not be in high contrast with the body. Sometimes the body of the saree may have sparse, small woven butis all over.

So how can you say whether you are looking at a Guntur saree? Well for one, Guntur sarees are the daily staple fare in Andhra Pradesh and not popular in other states or cities. And the other most distinctive feature of a Guntur saree is that this saree has the most well behaved cotton weave ever. Those who struggle while wearing a cotton saree which has a mind of its own will know what I am saying. The cotton is superfine without being too diaphanous and is blissfully easy to drape.

A plain earthy soft Guntur cotton saree

A plain earthy soft Guntur cotton saree

The Guntur saree was one my mother-in-law loved and any trip to Hyderabad I made was usually preceded by a request for the Guntur saree. She loved the feel of the cotton and the colours – always very warm and earthy. Just the way she was.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Although every saree I own and write about is my favourite but there is one which can be called ‘the first among equals’. That is for my next post. And let me add that I am not done with the alphabet G yet, in case you want to take a shot at guessing what that saree is.

Copyright: All photographs in this post are the copyright of Punam Medh unless stated otherwise. These photographs are not available for use for any other purpose to anyone. 

Sources: http://www.sarisafari.com/saristyles.html

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.

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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.

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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