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.

 

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…

 

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.

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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.

IMG_4951 (800x533)

A hand-made Kashida motif on black chiffon

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A typical Kashida border and jaal pallu

A typical Kashida border and floral jaal pallu

The saree is at best 6 or 9 yards. But its history covers the length, breadth and depth of this country.

E for Embroidery continues next week with Kutchi, Kamdani , Phulkari, Pattiwork and Chikankari. Until then…

All photographs in this post are copyright Punam Medh and are not available for use anywhere else.

Sources:

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

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

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

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

C for Chanderi

A Story

It was like someone had plucked out pages from a tale of yore and placed them in this day and age. Only her name was not Cinderella, rest everything else about Hayaat’s life was like a grim tale. Hayaat led a miserable life, full of oppression. A cruel step-mother and two cruel step-sisters were the source of endless chores, snide remarks, barbs and insults.

Hayaat means ‘life’. Something she did not have. Up until that evening, when she was all alone in the house, refused to be taken to the town’s most talked about wedding where everyone was invited, and everyone was going. Except Hayaat. She could not attend the wedding because she had to attend to a truckload of chores. Yes, that was Hayaat’s life.

So as she sat there contemplating her life, she heard a gentle, kind voice speak to her. “Child, why aren’t you at the town’s most awaited wedding celebration?” Hayaat looked up and saw this woman with the kindest face she had ever seen. She was taken aback. Had she left the front door open?

“I don’t know and I don’t care. But who are you? How did you get inside the house? I’m sorry to be rude, but please leave.”

“I will leave, don’t worry. But first you must listen to me. It is you who should be at that wedding, not your cruel step-mother and step-sisters. It is your destiny that will be fulfilled tonight, not theirs.”

“What are you talking about? Who are you? Please leave, now!!” said Hayaat, now irritated and confused.

“You’re going to take some convincing. Okay, I am your god mother, and I am here to give you a shot at getting your life back.”

And then with one wave of hand, this kind lady changed a lot more than Hayaat’s clothes. She managed to change Hayaat’s mind into accepting that she had to make a bid for her destiny.

Suddenly, almost magically, Hayaat stood there, looking resplendent. Her face beaming, her mind cleared.

A model wearing a red Chanderi saree. Photograph courtesy and copy right Hands of India.

A red Chanderi saree.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India.

“Oh god! Whaaat is this??? Am I dreaming?”

“No you are not dreaming. Now rush to the wedding child, it is late already. Go and claim your destiny!”

“No I mean, what is this I am wearing? It is beautiful.”

“It is isn’t it? This is a Chanderi saree. Once upon a time it was considered the summer attire of royalty. In the Cinderella story, they wore silken gowns. I figured that in a warm climate like ours, you’d be better off in this. Go now child, go.”

“Okay, yes I will. But I was wondering how I would look in green. Errr.. do you think you can organize a green, a dark green perhaps?”

“Sure, I can. Go green! And go now child, go, claim your destiny.”

A dark green Chanderi saree. Picture courtesy and copyright Hands of India.

A dark green Chanderi saree.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India.

“Yes I will…but this saree, it brings back memories…nice memories…like I have seen them a long time ago. What are these memories?”

“Perhaps you remember your mother or your grandmother…”

“O yes!” Hayaat squealed. “You’re right. I recall seeing my grandmother wear such sarees. They were beautiful. Same small gold butis, soft colours and so light and sheer!”

A vintage Chanderi saree with small gold butis filled with colour. Photograph courtesy and copyright Hands of India

A vintage Chanderi saree with small gold butis.  Note the colour inside the gold butis, also called ‘mina’ work as in ‘minakari’ jewellery
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

Much to her own annoyance, the kind lady found herself losing her grip on the urgent situation and getting drawn in this sudden excitement over the saree

“Yes your observation is spot-on! The real Chanderi saree, its characteristic sheer fabric, was a symbol of grace and feminity, not just today, but even during our Vedic times. The gold embellishment was minimal and tastefully done. You see just very small, neatly woven gold butis across the saree and a small gold border – all very subtle. It was for those who did not need to shout out loud about who they were.”

“Why do you speak in the past tense? Are you saying that these sarees are not made anymore?”

By now the kind lady had settled down on a chair. She should have known better than to spring a saree into this rather grave and urgent situation. And now here she was conversing about a saree with this damsel in distress instead of pushing her out to what would be her chance to change her life. She had obviously under-estimated the deep love Indian women of all age had for the saree.

“Child, child you ask too many questions. Making these sarees is very labour intensive. These sarees were made using the ‘ek-naali’ technique. In this technique, the gold string is woven with every single warp, which is why the buti appears closely knit, almost embossed on the saree. Each line of butis takes a day to weave. There are no weavers today willing to this kind of intricate work.”

“It is so beautiful. Do you have this saree in other colours? Perhaps something ‘younger’? How about black? I love black.”

“Okay, only to get this done with quickly. Here you go. Young girl!” And in a wave of a hand, a black saree it was. “You must promise to leave now. No more questions alright?”

A black Chanderi saree. Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

A black Chanderi saree.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

“And what about…” Hayat had one more question. She was interrupted this time.

“I am afraid you will be late in claiming your destiny. You must leave at once. This magic will expire at 11:00 pm. It will not last till mid-night. New security rules!! Go child go. NOW!

And saying thus, the kind lady was gone, pretty much the same way she had come. Hayaat left her home to attend the wedding. It took her longer than 11:00 pm that day, but she did claim her destiny eventually. And no the magic did not expire at 11:00 pm. Because it was within her.

All the information about the Chanderi saree given here is real, the rest of course is a fairy tale.

A Quick Read about the Chanderi Saree

The Chanderi saree hailed originally in a small town called Chander in Madhya Pradesh. It’s most distinct feature is its sheer fabric in pastel colours, usually a blend of silk and cotton. The sheerness represents chic sophistication. These sarees are considered perfect for festive wear in warm and hot regions of the country. Originally these sarees were designed with minimal gold to blend with the ethos and culture of the place where they were invented. Nowadays of course, the gold work is heavier with big butis and heavy pallus. The butis in a vintage Chanderi are difficult to weave and it’s hard to find weavers willing to put in that effort.

If you want to buy a real Chanderi, here are three things that you should look for: small butis, same colour pallus and not contrasts, and finally you need to check for the silk and cotton blend. An almost equal blend would work best. A higher silk percentage would make a saree more expensive. Chanderis made of pure silk are rare, and they are usually very expensive.

A dark red Chanderi saree Photograph courtsey and copyright: Hands of India

A dark red Chanderi saree. Note the colour inside the gold butis, also called ‘mina’ work as seen in ‘minakari’ jewellery’.
Photograph courtesy and copyright: Hands of India

A Chanderi saree’s real beauty is in that it does not swallow you or overshadow you. It lets you be you, only enhancing who you already are. Isn’t that wonderful?

Till we meet again with the next alphabet, adios!

Source: All the information about a Chanderi that appears in this post is courtesy the fairy god mother of Chanderi, the kind lady who set up and runs an organization called Hands of India. All pictures posted here are the kind courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

B for Bhagalpuri, Bandhani

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

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

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

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

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

A Bhagalpuri Silk Saree

A Bhagalpuri Silk Saree

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

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

Textured Fabric of A Bhagalpuri Tussar Silk

Textured Fabric of A Bhagalpuri Tussar Silk Saree

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

The Border and Pallu of a Bhagalpuri

The Border and Pallu of a Bhagalpuri

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

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

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

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

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

Georgette Bandhanis

Georgette Bandhanis

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

A Bandhani with 'Tikunthi' Dots

A Bandhani with ‘Tikunthi’ Dots

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

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

A Kutch Handmade Bandhani - Dancing Girls

A Kutch Handmade Bandhani – Dancing Girls

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

Border of a Bandhani - Elephant Motifs

Border of a Bandhani – Elephant Motifs

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

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

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

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

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

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