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.
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.
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.