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.

 

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 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…

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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

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.

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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