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.

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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.

 

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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

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

B for Benarasi

I find it hard to believe today that I almost said a no to a Benarasi saree for my wedding. In those days, almost everyone wore a Benarasi for their wedding reception. No, not me, I had said digging my heels in. I wanted to be different. A Benarasi saree shopping excursion was, however, reluctantly planned.

I went. I saw. I dropped jaw. I was sold. And I bought.

The salesman in the shop who had immediately sensed my aloofness took it very personally. He started showing me sarees, unfurling each drape around me with flourish. Like a fisherman who casts his net in the hope of a good catch.  Have a look sister, he had said.

Brocade. Jamdani. Tishu (Tissue). Tanchoi. Jangla. Jangla? But wait, where’s the Benarasi?

My first serious saree lesson happened at that shop. Benarasi is a generic name for sarees from Benaras. Duh! Brocade, Jamdani, Tissue, Tanchoi, Jangla and others, I was informed, are the names of sarees made in Benaras. Each type defined by the quality and weight of the silk yarn, the gold yarn and the overall design of the saree. What I was looking for was the heavy, festive and celebratory Benarasi silk brocade.  Technically, therefore, the title of this post should be ‘B for Benarasi Brocade’.

After pulling myself out of the barrage of sarees and information about them, I surrendered to a ‘gulabi’ Benarasi brocade. And no babes, couture jargon was not around then. Pink was called ‘gulabi’ and not fuchsia. And that’s how I got my first and only Benarasi brocade. 23 years on, it is still the most resplendent garment in my wardrobe.

A Pink Benarasi Silk Brocade

A Pink Benarasi Silk Brocade

Satiny Lustre of a Benarasi

Satiny Lustre of a Benarasi

A Benarasi brocade is made using Mulberry silk that gives it a characteristic satiny look and lustre. Mulberry silk is the one of the finest, most expensive silks, made from the leaves of the Mulberry tree. Other than China, India is one of the largest producers of this silk with most of it cultivated in Bangalore. It is thus called Bangalore silk. In Uttar Pradesh, this silk is called ‘Kataan’.

Although the term ‘Kataan’ is now synonymous with Benares silk, and a quick Google search will confirm this, I have some different dots to join here. To me ‘Kataan’ sounds too much like a corruption of the word ‘Cotton’. Besides this, the word ‘katiyaan’ – to weave – is the verb of the noun ‘Kataan’. My unstudied hunch therefore is that ‘Katan’ simply means yarn. Not that it takes anything away from the protagonist of this story, but it is interesting isn’t it?

Brocades made from Mulberry Silk are usually expensive costing tens of thousands of rupees. Those made from China silk are less expensive, but just as beautiful. One way to check for Mulberry Silk is to crush it in your fist to see if it creases. Mulberry silk, or any pure silk fibre for that matter, does not crease easily and quickly.

Today, brocades are ubiquitous, and it is difficult to say whether they are hand-woven or machine-made. But the Benrasi brocade, has something distinctive about it. Apart from the use of high quality silk, Benarasi brocades seldom deviate from the use of traditional motifs like ‘keri’, rose, star or the ‘minatashi’ – a star-shaped floret. Even a contemporary designs use traditional motifs very in a clever way.

Typical Benarasi Motif and Border

Distinctive Motifs and Borders of a Benarasi Brocade

A thriving, well-organized weaver community in Benares creates and markets a host of different sarees within India and out of it. The community has well-defined hierarchies based on weavers’ skills and experience. There is significant degree of standardization and recording of tacit and process knowledge of weaving. Traditional motifs, border patterns, color combinations coexist with innovative, modern motifs to cater to a younger generation. The innovation has resulted in newer colours, fabrics that are easy to manage, less expensive; without letting go of the distinctive Benarasi touch.

One of the most interesting things I learned about the weaver community in Benares is the involvement of designers in early stages of the weaving process. Designers may be experienced master weavers or professionals employed in cooperatives that manage the weaving units. Sometimes design is outsourced from well-known designers. A good Benarasi brocade hence reflects design thought. Even though opulent, the sarees reflect a high degree of aesthetics in their choice of colours, the consistency of motifs  on the border and the body of the saree. Then there is the gold thread used in the weave, which adds glamour without making the saree gaudy.

Well-balanced, for aesthetics and ease of wear

Well-balanced, for aesthetics and ease of wear

And it does not end with the looks of the saree. I never cease to be amazed at how easily this thick and heavy saree drapes. It practically drapes itself around you. That’s probably because of the way the elements are used to ensure their weight is well distributed through-out the saree.

While writing this post, I came across an interesting document – a research paper actually – filled with amazing facts about sarees, Benarasi sarees, the weaver community and how they work, the thriving export and markets this saree has created in the West. If this post has piqued your curiosity, I strongly recommend you read this paper.

Of the many interesting things this paper has to share, here is something that fascinated me the most.  The heavily gilded Benarasi brocade, is one of India’s oldest examples of unmatched art. It finds a mention in Vedic scriptures and Ramayana. Silk was considered pure and hence used for worship. Since Benares was at that time, India’s religious capital, there was probably a huge demand for silk which resulted in large number of silk weaving units set up around it. When the Mughals arrived in India, they added their own aesthetics to the design of the brocade and what we see today is really a memorable confluence of Hindu and Mughal aesthetics. 

A Memorable Confluence of Aesthetics

A Memorable Confluence of Aesthetics

To summarize the beauty of the Benarasi saree, I quote a piece of information from the same document. The Benarasi brocade is also called ‘Kinkhwab’ – ‘kin’ means gold and ‘khwab’ means dream – a ‘golden dream’. I agree.

The saree saga continues next week with the alphabet B ruling the space. Can you guess the next saree with a B?

Sources: http://varanasi.nic.in/culture/saree.html

Photographs: Creative courtesy of Akshay Pathare and his team – Anjory, Girish @ Corner Pixel. Photograph copyrights rest with Punam Medh.

A for Ashavali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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