L for Leheriya

There is this one, forgettable phase of my life when I was in college. I was heavily into learning  palmistry. Armed with books by Cheiro and a magnifying glass, I would read my own palm, pretty much every day and tried to correlate my life with the length and shape of the lines on my palm. I would discuss my ‘discoveries’ with a bunch of interested and skeptical friends. It was fun and got me some attention. A steady stream of young girls and boys, mainly my juniors would  come up to me asking questions about their future. I recall this one funny question a girl asked me; “Will me husband’s name begin with ‘N’”. After studying her palm I had said “Yes”. This girl almost threw me down with her hug.

Just like good things, even silly things come to an end. This phase, thankfully, did not last. Science had spoken. Soon the idea of lines on the palm being able to foretell the future seemed ridiculous and I got bored.

Now even though many many years have passed since that phase, I cannot help but sneak a peek at someone’s palm every once in a while to make some wild guesses by looking at some tell-tale lines. She may start her career in a foreign land. Or here is someone actively involved in some form of social work. There, I have said it. My little secret is now out on the world-wide-web.

Now look at these long lovely lines on the Leheriya saree. I know enough about tell-tale lines to easily predict one thing – you will fall in love with these sarees after you have completed reading the next two paragraphs. How’s that for fortune telling?  😉

A royal blue Leheriya. Notice the irregular lines. Clearly an indication of a hand-made product.

A royal blue Leheriya. Notice the irregular lines. Clearly an indication of a hand-made product.

A Leheriya is a simple saree with lines that run diagonally across the body of the saree. Wow! The Leheriya saree is similar to the Bandhani, i.e. like the Bandhani, the Leheriya is also made using the tie-and-dye technique.

When pleated, Leheriyas create interesting patterns

When pleated, Leheriyas create interesting patterns

I am not sure how the Leheriya originated as an idea. But it was most likely around when the Bandhani saree came about i.e. 7th century. While the Bandhani saree has patterns created from a bunch of dots, the Leheriya has wave-like pattern formation made from zig-zag lines that run across the saree.

Sometimes the lines run twice across each other, one set of lines originating from one end and one set originating from the opposite end. This creates a cool pattern where instead of square checks you get to see rhombus checks in the saree.

A black Georgette with fuschia lines running through. A classic Leheriya.

A black Georgette with fuschia lines running through. A classic Leheriya.

Leheriyas owe all their characteristics to their place of origin. Bright colours, like fuschia, parrot greens, sunny yellows, bright reds, daring blacks and pure whites combined with lines of different contrasting colours are reminiscent of the joyous brightness of Rajasthan.  Today, ombre shades rule the colouring styles of Leheriyas. The fabric used for creating them – thin, soft and light – suitable for harsh summers in Rajasthan. That’s why you will find most Leheriyas are Georgettes, Kota Dorias, Chiffons, Muls and Silks.

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

If you examine a Leheriya closely you may notice a certain irregularity or a sort of an imperfection in the continuity of the lines that run across the saree. This very imperfection, which occurs every once in a while can be the proof of the saree being an authentic hand-made tie-and-dye.

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A splendid Georgette Leheriya. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

Although I own a couple of Leheriyas, I have not found the perfect one – you know the fabric, colour, the spacing of the lines – where it all comes together to make that one delectable saree that you reach out for every time. And I must add here that the joy of searching and waiting for that perfect saree is as much as the joy of owning one.

I wish today that I could look at the long lines of the Leheriya saree and predict not just its future but the future of the hand-woven saree. If you have read up until this point of the post, you are most likely an ardent saree lover who already knows that the Handlooms Reservation Act of 1985 may be repealed. If this act is indeed repealed, power loom owners will be able to produce hand woven design en masse at cheaper rates thus putting handloom weavers out of their livelihoods.

Well… I cannot predict the future of the handloom sarees – what I can hope for however is that you fall in love with the soft, slinky and flirty Leheriya saree of Rajasthan. If you don’t have one, please go out there and buy one, a hand-made one. It seems that the Leheriya seems to be crooning a la Jagjit Singh:

“Apne haathon ki lakeeron mein basa le mujhko

”Main hoon tera toh naseeb apna bana le mujhko”

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K for Kota Doria

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

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

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

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

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

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An unusual bright colored Kota

An unusual bright colored Kota

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

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

Sources: Mainly Wikipedia

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

 

J for Jangla, Jamavar

This is how I imagined it must have happened. A talented, hard-working weaver must have sat in his humble abode, weaving, or trying to weave a masterpiece for an important patron. One design after another. Nothing’s impressive, he would have thought. I want to weave something different, something grand. Something that will stun. What can be that grand, that stunning? Roses, stars, creepers, trees?

And then in a flash of inspiration born out of deep contemplation, he would have then, instead of simple motifs, woven an entire jungle on the saree. Trees, flowers, leaves, flowers, birds – thick and dense. It must have been stunning, grand and rich with its gold and silk thread embellishments. It also would have pleased his patron immensely.

How do I know all this? Well, I don’t. But then something of this design did survive time giving us a type of a saree woven in Benaras called the Jangla saree. J for Jangla – where the word Jangla means ‘Jungle’.

What you see below is not strictly a Jangla saree but a Jangle-inspired Benarasi saree sans gold or zari work. Notice the thick, closely woven brocade work, without any visual relief.

A densely woven Jangla-inspired Benarasi brocade

A densely woven Jangla-inspired Benarasi brocade

The Jangla saree is a type of Benarasi brocade characterized by heavy and highly intricate weaving. The main body is filled with creepers or ‘bels’ growing wild with flowers, birds and other related motifs attached to the creepers. A very heavy Jangla saree may have all these jungle thickets woven using pure gold and silver ‘zari’. A lighter, less expensive saree may have select parts of the ‘jungle’ in gold or silver.

It is beautiful but busy. Can also be called busy but beautiful.

It is beautiful but busy. Can also be called busy but beautiful.

When I visited Varanasi a few years ago, I asked around for a Jangla saree. Most of the weavers I spoke to launched into a complain session that began with the rapid decline in demand for traditional designs, how women these days did not want to make the effort to dress up (and hence could not handle the extremely dressy Jangla) to not finding the talent to do such intricate work.

“Abhi toh thoda bahut bel ka kaam dikh jaaye wahi bahut hai. Is se zyada koi mehnat karne wala bhi toh nahin milta aaj kal. Aur koi mehnat kar bhi le toh kharidne wala nahin milta.” Translated this means “Consider yourself lucky even if you find a few woven ‘bels’ or creepers in a saree. Any ways you may not even find weavers to do such intricate work.”

While you may not find a Jangla saree in a saree store today, the characteristic wild floral ‘jaals’ or ‘bels’ have left their mark as an important design elements in Benarasi brocade sarees. I don’t own a Jangla and not sure whether I will own one. But the next time you visit a speciality store or a handloom exhibition or are in Varanasi, do ask around for a Jangla. It may be one of the last you may ever see.

Let’s move up north from Varanasi where J is the owner of another treasure called Jamavar. And the Jamavar is not really a type of a saree, it is the name of a shawl. But the weaving technique and design elements have been used in sarees for a long time.

The Jamavar is a characterized by embroidery that is interwoven with the fabric – such that the weave looks embossed. And when silk or gold thread is used for making this weave, the end result looks very rich. Jamavar hence was the reserve of royalty for the longest time.

Another characteristic of the Jamavar is the paisley motif. Small or big, the intricate paisley is a dead giveaway of Jamavar. The paisley then also stands testimony to the Mughal origins and patronage of the Jamavar. Wikipedia and other resources on the Internet all state about Emperor Akbar’s love for Jamavar. It is believed that it was Akbar who set up Jamavar weaving centers in Kashmir.

Today, the most authentic and important Jamavar weaving centers can be found in Punjab, Kashmir and Pakistan.

Once again, for the second time in this post, pardon me for not being able to post pictures of the Jamavar. In my hunt for them however, I realized that not many stores in urban cities stock these traditional hand woven treasures.

In a sense, both, Jangla and Jamavar are opulent and rich designs. As our tastes become more modern I hope I do not have to bid adieu to the rich tradition.

If these posts have inspired you to learn more about the saree, please dive in and read more about them on the Internet. And as you spread wishes for joy and happiness this season, do spread a word about sarees. Better still, wear them.

 

All photographs in this post are protected by copyright. These may not be used for any purpose.

 

G for Gara

Now here’s a post where I will gush unabashedly and without apology. As you read this, do excuse me for sounding like I discovered the Gara saree before you did, which of course I did. And do look the other way as I go about being someone who appreciates the Gara like no one else, which again is quite true. So here it is then, the exquisite, exclusive and sadly getting almost as rare as its inventors – the Parsi Gara.

A new Gara on maroon crepe silk. The work on the body is dense, the border even denser.

A new Gara on maroon crepe silk. The work on the body is dense, the border even denser.

I grew up amidst two distinctive cultures, Gujarati and Parsi. I witnessed the usual Dorias, Chanderis, Benarasis and Bandhanis on the Guju side. And I loved them all. But the sarees on the Parsi side were really different. They were soft, flowy, had unusual colours – not the bright reds, greens and pinks I was accustomed to seeing. The sarees would be completely or partly covered with fine embroidery – and  you know what else? No zari or gold! And yet these sarees looked rich and were suitable for a wedding or a special occasion. I did not quite understand this category of beauty but still I knew it was special. Here’s one more treat for the eyes!

The soft, flowy and intricate work on a Gara

The soft, flowy and intricate work on a Gara

Looking at these images you are probably wondering what the big deal is. Other than the fact that the saree is fully covered with the embroidery, which does make it look stunning, it does not look any different or distinctive. What you need is a little Gara appreciation, the real intent of this post!

The Gara is a crepe silk or georgette saree fully or partly embroidered with single or double silk thread. More often than not, the base saree is always a dark colour and the embroidery, traditionally is found in the natural colour of the silk thread – off-white. In the book ‘Embroidered Parsi Textiles’ Priya Mani gives us an exact and precise definition of the Gara.

“The Gara is an unstitched piece of silk cloth, about five meters to five-and-a-half meters long and 110-120cm wide, embroidered with Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery, to be worn as a saree in the seedha pallav style.”

For me the take-away words from this description are ‘Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery’. Look at the image below.

Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery on an antique jhabla

Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery on an antique jhabla

So the element that makes the Gara so exquisite is the absolutely delicate, Chinese style embroidery done all over the saree. In a gradual sort of a way, the Parsi community adapted this Chinese style imagery to include motifs and elements from their own culture. And don’t forget that the Parsi culture was already hugely influenced by the British sartorial sensibility. So this embroidery was such an endearing blend of the exotic – like peony flowers and the daily – kandapapeta (onions and potatoes – yes, you read it right, onion and potato motifs on a saree, and why the hell not!) Peonies incidentally are among the longest-used flowers in Eastern culture symbolizing ‘riches and honour’. And they are a popular Gara motif.

The peony flower is a popular Gara motif and a flower of great significance in the East

The peony flower is a popular Gara motif and a flower of great significance in the East

A word in the Gujarati language for space or area is galo (singular) or gala (plural). The Parsi pronunciation of ‘gala’ becomes ‘gara’. It means a ‘space’ enclosed within a border. The Gara, as we know it, even to this day, is traditional Parsi attire cherished by women of all generations. It is a much-loved, much-treasured and zealously guarded family heirloom. This is a Gara which belonged to my grandmother.

A late 19th centure Gara. Notice how the base of the saree is barely visible through the fine embroidery

A late 19th centure Gara. Notice how the base of the saree is barely visible through the fine embroidery

The body and border of the Gara shown above

The body and border of the Gara shown above

The image shows that this Gara is not embroidered all over. So then how is it a Gara? Well, according to the book ‘Embroidered Parsi Textiles’ a Gara can be of different types. This book gives a neat classification of Garas based on their layouts:

  1. The early Garas, embroidered all over, without any border, not meant to be sarees. It would be difficult to find an image for this type.
  2. Akha Garas or full Garas, which are embroidered all over except for the part that is to be tucked in. They also have a border. For example, the first image shown in this post is an akha Gara (akha means full in Gujarati)
  3. Kor Pallav Garas, are Garas with a rich embroidered pallu and a coordinating border. Like my grandmother’s Gara.
  4. Kor ni Sari, are sarees which have a border either embroidered directly on the saree or is a separate piece stitched on to a saree. See the image below for a kor ni saree (kor means border in Gujarati)
An antique kha-kha border stitched on to a crepe silk saree - an example of 'kor ni sari'

An antique kha-kha border stitched on to a crepe silk saree – an example of ‘kor ni sari’

Take a closer look at the border of this saree, It is exquisite.

Each dot is embroidered painstakingly. Observe the distance between each dot - uniform almost.

Each dot is embroidered painstakingly. Observe the distance between each dot – uniform almost.

A Brief History of the Gara

The history of a saree is what I am unable to resist because it helps me understand the garment better. And like I had said in an earlier post – deep understanding is the foundation of deep love.

Garas made their appearance in India in early nineteenth century. Parsi merchants, with their penchant for travel, business and adventure, had taken the lead in the Sino-Indian trade. They exported opium and cotton and brought back silks and embroidered goods that found favour with Parsi women back home. The earliest embroidered silks fell short of the required saree length and breadth and soon orders for specific dimensions were placed. These imported embroidered silks were expensive and quickly became a status symbol amongst rich Parsi women.

A phase of evolution and experimentation with motif styles, base fabrics, thread quality under the watchful influence of a community already in awe of British sartorial sense resulted in a plethora of Gara styles. Soon, Parsi women learned the craft of embroidery (and they were so good at it) and created absolutely beautiful pieces. Each family had their favourite motifs and no one was afraid of experimenting.

The popular Chinese motifs were rich in symbolism – for example, the plum, peony, lotus and chrysanthemum motifs together symbolized winter, spring, summer and autumn. Chinese legends, animals and birds particularly were a favourite amongst the Chinese as were the Tree of Life and a few sacred fungi. Inspired by these motifs and not to be outdone, Parsi women had their favourites too. To name a few – the batak (duck), karolia (spider – a very sacred and much loved domestic insect amongst Parsis), chakla-chakli (male and female sparrow), kanda-papeta (onion and potatoes – something I cannot get over), birds of paradise and gold fish.

Late 20th century records and stories passed down from generations talk about how skilled Chinese artisans went door to door taking orders for embroideries. It is not just interesting but also hard to believe today that the value of the saree was based on its weight. More the embroidery, heavier the saree and therefore more expensive.

Today, Garas made by the Chinese on the age-old damask silk, which could be anything between 100 to 150 years old is a treasured artefact in Parsi families. I have seen a Gara almost 200 years old, looking as good as new. This one Gara was a dream – it did not have a single repeat motif. Wow! In most Garas, the fabric is intact even today and the embroidery un-feathered. These pieces of heirlooms have their little history which cannot be captured in a puny post like this.

The Gara Gallery

I will let these photographs say what words cannot. These pictures were taken on a steamy June afternoon after the most delicious meal of Dhanshak cooked by my aunt. I could have slept for hours after a meal like this. But the promise of all the beauty of the Garas wrapped in soft white muls drove sleep away. As I whipped out my camera, my aunt began an almost constant and simultaneous commentary on the Gara, its history and instructions on how I should take pictures. And here are the pictures of the amazing, history-filled sarees. All for you my friends, all for you!

Looking at these images, I hope you will see that a true Parsi style Gara or border is not just embroidery but embroidery where the motifs have a traditional  Chinese or Parsi influence. The quality of the thread used is silken and of fine gauge.

Margha ni kor. This is a hand-made antique border showing the domesticated fowl. The border is attached on a georgette saree.

Margha ni kor. This is a hand-made antique border showing the domesticated fowl. The border is attached on a georgette saree.

 

This is an antique border attached to an antique silk leno or damask saree. The saree is covered with a self-weave depicting the swastika.

This is an antique border attached to an antique silk leno or damask saree. The saree is covered with a self-weave depicting the swastika.

 

This is an antique akho Garo or full Gara showing lilies, maple leaves and birds. The maple leaf motif is clearly the result of English influence.

This is an antique akho Garo or full Gara showing lilies, maple leaves and birds. The maple leaf motif is clearly the result of English influence.

 

This is the border of the same Gara shown above. The border is denser and coordinated to match the body.

This is the border of the same Gara shown above. The border is denser and coordinated to match the body.

This is a piece of damask silk, showing a symbol of the trade ties between China and India (Gujarat). The damask silk was a popular choice for making a Gara.

This is a piece of damask silk, showing a symbol of the trade ties between China and India (Gujarat). The damask silk was a popular choice for making a Gara.

This is a kor ni saree or a saree with just the border where the border is embroidered directly on the saree.

This is a kor ni saree or a saree with just the border where the border is embroidered directly on the saree.

This is an antique ijar or piece of cloth for loose pants. The pale green of the base fabric is very English, so are the colours of the thread used for embroidery.

This is an antique ijar or piece of cloth for loose pants. The pale green of the base fabric is very English, so are the colours of the thread used for embroidery.

This is an antique border made using pure gold and silver wire. The border alone weighs three kilograms. It is attached to a georgette saree.

This is an antique border made using pure gold and silver wire. The border alone weighs three kilograms. It is attached to a georgette saree.

This is a new Gara – white on white. Splendid.

This is a new Gara – white on white. Splendid.

 

A close up of the motif of the Gara shown above. The neatness of the embroidery is a clear give away of this being machine work and not hand-made.

A close up of the motif of the Gara shown above. The neatness of the embroidery is a clear give away of this being machine work and not hand-made.

 

This is an antique akha Gara or full Gara showing spider lilies.

This is an antique akha Gara or full Gara showing spider lilies.

This is an antique petit-point embroidery, very English, depicting birds of paradise. The entire border has 48 different birds.

This is an antique petit-point embroidery, very English, depicting birds of paradise. The entire border has 48 different birds.

 

A close up shot of one of those bird pairs.

A close up shot of one of those bird pairs.

 

An antique kor ni saree or border saree showing peonies and peacock on red crepe silk with self-weave.

An antique kor ni saree or border saree showing peonies and peacock on red crepe silk with self-weave.

An antique border stitched on to a new fabric. Can you imagine the beauty of little ducks around your saree border? Not unless you are a Parsi, you can’t :)

An antique border stitched on to a new fabric. Can you imagine the beauty of little ducks around your saree border? Not unless you are a Parsi, you can’t 🙂

An antique kor ni saree or border saree on red crepe silk.

An antique kor ni saree or border saree on red crepe silk.

If you have read all the way till here, you deserve my fondest thanks. I will see you soon with another post of another alphabet! Until then…

Sources:

  1. The amazing stories narrated by my aunt
  2. Peonies and Pagodas – Embroidered Parsi Textiles – TAPI Collection; Edited by Shilpa Shah and Tulsi Vatsal

All pictures in this post are the copyright of Punam Medh unless stated otherwise. No picture maybe reproduced in any form or any medium without permission of the copyright owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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’.

Kamdani

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.

Zardosi

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.

Sources:

http://phool-patti.blogspot.in/2009/07/brief-history-of-phool-patti-ka-kaam.html

http://www.kaneesha.com/Phool-Patti-Work

http://www.indianheritage.biz/Phulkari.html

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 Bhagalpuri, Bandhani

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

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

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

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

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

A Bhagalpuri Silk Saree

A Bhagalpuri Silk Saree

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

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

Textured Fabric of A Bhagalpuri Tussar Silk

Textured Fabric of A Bhagalpuri Tussar Silk Saree

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

The Border and Pallu of a Bhagalpuri

The Border and Pallu of a Bhagalpuri

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

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

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

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

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

Georgette Bandhanis

Georgette Bandhanis

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

A Bandhani with 'Tikunthi' Dots

A Bandhani with ‘Tikunthi’ Dots

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

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

A Kutch Handmade Bandhani - Dancing Girls

A Kutch Handmade Bandhani – Dancing Girls

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

Border of a Bandhani - Elephant Motifs

Border of a Bandhani – Elephant Motifs

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

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

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

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

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

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