E for Embroidery Part III

It’s not like I am saving my best for the last. It’s just that there are so many embroidery styles I keep discovering, one post does not and cannot do justice. And each style has its own story to tell. And what is discovered must not be ignored, it must be shared right? Here’s something from the Chikankari chest of treasures.

In this post, which I cannot promise will be the last in the E for Embroidery series, I will share two exciting stories related to Chikankari.


Chikankari or commonly called ‘chikan’ is one of the most ubiquitous forms of embroidery seen on all types of Indian garments and not just sarees.  I was personally excited about finding the meaning of the word ‘chikan’. I was wondering whether it would have something to do with the bird – but no, it did not turn out that way. ‘Chikan’ or ‘Chikeen’ is the Persian word for, well, embroidery or cloth filled with needle work. It was Empress Noor Jehan who first brought this art to our country. Synonymous with Lucknow and also called Lucknowi, Chikankari is an art form that finds patronage amongst both women and men.

A beautiful chikankari motif on pure cotton

A beautiful chikankari motif on pure cotton. Picture courtesy and copyright Hands of India

I was lucky to find not one, but two stories related to the origin of Chikankari in India. Here’s the first.

The first story, mostly a tale passed down through the ages, speaks of a poor traveler was passing through a village near Lucknow in the summer. The traveler asked a poor peasant for some water. The peasant felt sorry for the traveler and offered him some milk and invited him to rest in the shade of his home. The traveler was so pleased with the hospitality that he promised to teach him an art which would never allow him to go hungry. The traveler trained the peasant in the art of Chikankari. After he mastered the art, the traveler disappeared. And that’s how Chikankari arrived in India.

Chikankari on the ethereal doria kota

Chikankari on the ethereal doria kota. Picture courtesy and copyright Hands of India

And here’s the other.

This story rests on the belief that Chikankari was introduced in Lucknow in the 19th century through the court of Oundh. The Nawab of Oundh had a very large harem. A princess from the household of Murshidabad was married to the Nawab. She was a skilled seamstress and to escape from the boredom of the harem, she started embroidering a cap for the Nawab. She worked on it with rich white cotton threads on muslin cloth. She presented this gift to the Nawab personally. The Nawab was charmed by the gift that he started giving the princess extra attention. Seeing this, the other women in the harem got extremely jealous. So they too started embroidering different items of clothing. Soon they started making newer and different types of fine and delicate stitches.

And thus was born a great work of art.

Coloured Chikankari on white mul

Colourful Chikankari work on white mul. Picture courtesy and copyright Hands of India

Traditionally, Chikankari was done on the purest, whitest Cottons and Muls. Something distinctive, elegant and highly aesthetic about white  embroidery on white fabric caught the favour of royalty.

Today Chikanakari is found on all colours and all types of fabrics and to me it is just as beautiful. I find it interesting that designers are encouraging the experimentation of using Chikankari on sarees like the Maheshwaris and Mangalgiris. The coming together of different styles certainly adds to the merriment.

Even though a lot of Chikankari available today is machine-made, hand-made work is also easily available. Because of its popularity, it has managed to survive the onslaught of machine looms. This craft does not face threats of non-availability of ‘kaarigars’ or a narrowing of markets like some other embroidery.

Chikankari butis

Chikankari butis. Picture courtesy and copyright Hands of India

Chikankari boasts of a variety of stitches. Wikipedia lists 37 types of stitches. I possibly cannot bring images of each type, but I am definitely going to try. Meanwhile, it would be interesting for some to read the names. Some do reveal a lot about the stitch just by the way they are named. For example Ghass ki patti or Kapkapi.

They are: Tepchi, Bakhiya, Hool, Zanzeera, Rahet, Banarsi, Khatau, Phanda, Murri, Jali, Turpai, Darzdari, Pechani, Bijli, Ghaspatti, Makra, Kauri, Hathkadi, Banjkali, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Madrazi, Bulbul-chasm, Taj Mahal, Janjeera, Kangan, Dhania-patti, Rozan, Meharki, Chanapatti, Baalda, Jora, Keel kangan, Bulbul, Sidhaul and Ghas ki patti. Whew!

Before I conclude, time to say a big thanks to my friend for the stories on Chikankari from her notes when she studied textile design in J. J. School of Arts.

As I sign off, I am unsure what to bring you next week – E, F, A or B. Who knows? It’s good to go with the flow sometimes. Till then, wear Chikankari and keep summer at bay!

Chikankari on a saree

Chikankari on a saree. Picture courtesy and copyright Hands of India

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 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’.


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.


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.





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.


An abstract geometric Kasuti motif. Clean work done in both front and back.

Another typical Kasuti motif. Observe the start and end point of the stitch.

Another typical Kasuti motif. Observe the start and end point of the stitch.

A traditional Kasuti saree has a border and different traditional motifs like parrot, gopuram, lamps, palanquin and geometric abstracts and spread across the body. The pallu is filled with different types of motifs with no pattern or theme as such. This feature actually makes a quaint and interesting saree.

A pallu of a traditional Kasuti is a mix of motifs.

The pallu of a traditional Kasuti is a mix of motifs.

The most interesting Kasuti saree is the Chandrakali saree done on plain black silk. How wonderful for those who love black like I do. This saree at one time used to be a mandatory part of a bride’s trousseaus! Kasutis also look best on pale neutral shades to bring out the brightly coloured embroidery.

Kasuti embroidery is now machine-made and can be made to order from shops in cities.

Kantha Stitch

The word ‘kontha’ in Sanksrit means rags. The stitch called Kantha today came about when Buddhist monks used to stitch together rags from old clothes to cover themselves. This idea was carried forward in households where women folk stitched old cloth pieces in their spare time to mend them. The thread used for stitching was also taken from old cloth. A beautiful art form emerged from a humble practice unlike many others that were commissioned by royalty. And here’s your rags to riches story!

A splendid single colour Kantha stitch done on pure silk.

A splendid single colour Kantha stitch done on pure silk.

Popular motifs in Kantha are village scenes, animals, birds and daily objects. Abstract patterns like the mandala are also popular.

Warli village motifs done using Kantha.

Warli village motifs done using Kantha.

Kantha is done using different types of stitches like running, darning, satin and loop stitch. These are used exclusively on a saree or in combination.

An outlined Kantha motif.

An outlined Kantha motif.

For example a stem stitch maybe used to outline a motif. The most popular Kantha sarees are those done with colourful threads on beige Tussar silk. Softer fabrics like Mulberry silk and Matka silks  can also take the weight of a heavy Kantha embroidery.

Kashmiri Kashida

Something beautiful from a land so beautiful – the Kashmiri Kashida is a melting pot of art influences from local art, Mughal and Persian art.

Kashmiri Kashida work (machine-made)

Kashmiri Kashida work on georgette (machine-made)

Once again, the stitches used are similar in Kantha – stem, chain, satin and occasionally herringbone. The motifs are similar too – birds, flowers and animals. But see how different it looks.

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A hand-made Kashida motif on black chiffon

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A typical Kashida border and jaal pallu

A typical Kashida border and floral jaal pallu

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

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

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






D for Dhakai Jamdani, Dharmavaram

It may be flirtatiously sheer, somberly coloured and playfully dotty. The Dhakai Jamdani is a saree you want to take home to your parents. And introduce to your boss. And show off to your friends. Flirty, but deeply mature, the descendant of the legendary Muslin saree, the Dhakai Jamdani has many shades to its personality. And it begs your understanding.

A Cotton Dhakai Jamdani Saree

A Cotton Dhakai Jamdani Saree

This Dhakai and other sarees that look similar to it – the Shantipur saree and the Tangail – have been unfairly clubbed as the ‘Calcutta’ or the ‘Calcuttee’ saree. This cruel generalization needs to end. For this is a unique, one-of-a-kind saree. Some of the terms that I came across while researching this saree are ‘high art’, ‘incomparable’ and ‘threads of wind’.

I met this saree through my grandmother. She often narrated stories about her sarees whenever she did her annual spring cleaning. A saree that she never tired talking of at the time of each spring-cleaning event was the one-ring Muslin. The fabric that could pass through a wedding ring.

Muslin, a fine, light, high quality cotton was made in Dhaka. Though there are records of it being woven in Masulipatnam, a small village in Andhra Pradesh. It was of course the Dhaka Muslin that was exported to the world and went on to achieve great fame and glory. It is said that the Dhaka Muslin was so fine that 50 meters of this fabric could be folded and stored in a match box.

The Dhakai Jamdani was originally woven on this fabulous Muslin. The weave is done in a way that feels like the motifs are embroidered on the base fabric. The effect is like that of an embellishment or an ‘inlay’. The Dhakai Jamdani is therefore also called the ‘Figured Mulsin’. What we see today as the Dhakai Jamdani is a result of centuries of design evolution based on various artistic influences. Today of course, the base of this saree could be Cotton, Mul, Silk of varying grades or Tussar.

The designs of the Jamdani are first created on paper. This paper is used to ensure that the motifs are created as per the design. Expert weavers however do not need any reference. The designs are created while weaving. So advanced is this type of weaving that the weaver needs to be attentive all the while. There is no mechanical or repetitive effort here. And all of this from weavers who are barely literate!

The most distinctive feature of the Dhakai Jamdani is the use of geometry in its motifs. Be it a bird, animal figure or a ‘keri’ or any other typical saree design element, the shape is ‘geometrified’.  It is said that this style is the result of early Iranian influence on the Jamdani design.

Pallu of a Dhakai Jamdani showing geometric bird motifs

Pallu of a Dhakai Jamdani showing geometric bird motifs

The second most distinctive feature of the Dhakai Jamdani comes from the diaphanous legacy of the Muslin. Its sheer base with the thick embellished motifs gives it a delicate appearance. So when you see embellished motifs sprayed on a sheer base, its combined effect to me is of a ‘zari-wala aasmaan’ to borrow a phrase from Gulzar’s song.

Sheer fabric shows off the embellished butis

Sheer fabric shows off the embellished butis

The butis on the Dhakai Jamdani are usually aligned in a straight line or they may be ‘tirchaa’ or diagonal. Sometimes when the base is given lots and lots of butis the design is called ‘panna hazaara’ or thousand emeralds. How beautiful that would look! The image shown below is a saree with a large number of butis and is called ‘butidar’ or full of ‘butis’.

A butidar base of a Dhakai Jamdani

A butidar base of a Dhakai Jamdani

The border of the saree also has geometric versions of the ‘bel’ or creeper and ‘jhalars’.

Jamdani has its roots in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They are made in a village called Ruposhi, popular as Jamdani village, situated on the banks of river Shitalakhya, about an hour’s drive from Dhaka.

In India, the saree is now called Jamdanis are made in the town of Ambika Kalna or Kalna, on the banks of the river Bhagirathi about 95 kilometers from Kolkatta.

Be it in Bangladesh or in India, the Jamdani is a treasured artifact cherished and worn on all important occasions alike. Several bodies like UNESCO have granted the Jamdani heritage status. All of this attention and importance however does little for the art to survive. The new generations of weavers feel that rigour and work involved in weaving does not fetch them the price or the glory. Thus they move away from the rigour of this intricate work to more lucrative and easier professions.

If you decide to buy a Dhakai Jamdani, look for patterns that are geometric, look for base fabrics like Tussar, Silks and Cottons. Any colour or style you buy, the saree makes itself belong to you and I am not just saying this. If you look around, you will see women of all ages carry off this saree beautifully.

I have to stop raving about the Dhakai Jamdani and save a few words for another D. D for Dharmavaram sarees. I must confess that I did not know much about these sarees and still do not know much. But I do have an interesting story to tell.

I went to a shop and asked for a Dharmavaram. The nice salesman insisted that I buy a Kanjeevaram instead. When I could not convince him to show me one, I had to make up a little story. I said I had a demanding sister back in the US who has ‘ordered’ me to buy a Dharmavaram. He gave in and immediately started showing me these sarees. At first they all looked like typical Kanjeevarams. Quick to read the suspicion on my face he added ‘Madam Kanjeevaram Dharmavaram same same. Only Kanjeevaram 10,000 rupees, Dharmavaram 4000 rupees. Same same!”

How helpful was that! Fortunately, my research did land me some information from other sources. I found out that the Dharmavaram is very similar to the Kanjeevaram. Here’s why. Kanjeevaram sarees are in great demand the world over. They are expensive too. It was felt that this saree was beyond the reach of states closer to home — both by virtue of cost and availability. A small group of weavers in a village called Dharmavaram saw an opportunity here. They created their own version of the Kanjeevaram using two-colour yarns for weaving. The sarees turned out to have their own distinct look, but to the unfamiliar or untrained eye, they looked very similar to the Kanjeevaram. This saree also uses tested ‘zari’ instead of gold thus bringing down the overall cost significantly. Often called the ‘daily wear Kanjeevaram’, that then is the Dharmavaram for you.

This logic aligns with what the salesman at the saree shop told me. The use of artificial zari is probably why the Dharmavaram is not as expensive.

And that’s all I have to say about the two splendid sarees with the letter D.

In the now-famous words of Arnold, I’ll be back, next week with the letter E. Now which saree begins with E I wonder!




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

A for Arni

There’s a scene in the Robert Downey Jr. starrer movie Sherlock Holmes where Holmes meets Irene Adler for the first time. In the middle of the all-so witty conversation, Adler asks him “Why are you always so suspicious?” to which Holmes replies “Do you want me to answer that chronologically or alphabetically?”

This post, A for Arni, would have come on tops irrespective of how this blog was organized – alphabetically or chronologically.

The Arni saree is named after, well, Arni – a small town in Tamil Nadu. Though only an hour-long jaunt from Kancheepuram, it is not as high-profile, but boasts a silk weaving culture that is just as old. Say hello to the illustrious dynasty of Tamil Nadu sarees which I have so far, unknowingly and unintentionally generalized as Kanjeevaram (Kancheepuram) sarees. The Arni saree, an important member of this family, carries the genes of this dynasty and also boasts its own distinctiveness.


The Arni saree of Tamil Nadu

The Arni saree of Tamil Nadu

Before I launch into a description of this saree, this piece of history is essential to understand the origin of the Arni. I must add here, that in all the reading on the origin of different sarees I have done so far for this blog, nothing has fascinated me as much as this piece of history.

Approximately 1200 years ago, there lived a people in Saurashtra, on the coast of North Gujarat. The Saurashtrans, it is told, could weave cotton into a fabric as fine as ethereal as silk. Their expertise was not restricted to weaving but to all forms of textile art – printing, dyeing, embroidery and resist dyeing. They were a god-sent in a land already rich with cotton crop. Soon a royal charter named them ‘Pattavayahs’ – which means ‘weavers of silk-like clothes’.

All was well for the Saurashtrans until about 1000 AD, when Mohammed Ghazni invaded these lands. Mass destruction and looting that followed forced the Saurashtran weavers to flee these cotton-rich lands in large numbers. Their flight from this land took them to other parts of the country over a period of two centuries.

To begin with, they settled in the interior regions of present day Maharashtra for about 100 years. Here they co-created the magnificent Paithani weave together with the local weavers.  Moving on from here, they went to South India in large numbers and settled in Vijayanagar where they were patronized by the royal family. With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire (and subsequent loss of patronage) they moved in large numbers to Thanjavur and Madurai.

The Saurashtran weavers arrived into an already thriving weaving culture in Thanjavur and Madurai. They lent their weaving, dyeing and printing skills and propelled the art of weaving to dizzying heights. Such was the glory of both the art and the artist, that weavers were one of the most prosperous communities of those times. Prosperous enough to donate land for religious and social activities!

Now not all Saurashtrans settled in Madurai. A large number of families also moved to other villages and settled in the neighbouring towns of Kumbakonam and Arni. Over time, these settlers lent their skill to create a saree style that was distinct but had its roots firmly embedded in the existing traditional patterns.

The Arni and other Tamil Nadu sarees like the Kumbakonam and Kanjeevaram are the carriers of the historic Saurashtran legacy.

The rich and colourful Arni

The rich and colourful Arni

Today the Saurashtran weavers are considered amongst the most skilled weavers in the Tamil Nadu silk weaving communities. While they have preserved their religious roots, their integration with the Tamil community is deep and complete.

The Arni saree is a bright, colourful rich silk saree that retains its ‘South-Indian’ look owing to its bright jewel colours, gold zari work and typical motifs. It also however has its own distinctiveness.

The jewel colours and zari motifs of the Arni saree

The jewel colours and zari motifs of the Arni saree

The most distinctive feature of the Arni, is its interlocking border – the ‘korvai’ and the contrast pallu. This, confusingly, is also the most distinctive feature of the Kanjeevaram. So what tells the two types apart is the light-weight feel of an Arni.  The image below shows a distinct saree and pallu interlock.

The interlock of saree and pallu in the Arni saree

The interlock of saree and pallu in the Arni saree

The Arni saree also has interesting new colour combinations – like maroon and black or rust and blue. The Kanjeevaram saree usually carries more traditional colour combinations like maroon and yellow or red and green.

And now for that one feature for which I love Arni sarees, the checks pattern or the ‘kottadis’.  Now checks and stripes are a traditional design pattern and can be found on any saree, chances of finding full check patterns on saree are a distinct Arni feature.

Checks pattern on the saree contrast with a plain border

Checks pattern on the saree contrast with a plain border

The Arni checks are of different sizes. There are the really small checks called ‘kasa-kasa kattam’ or ‘khus-khus’ (poppy seeds). So small that a black-and-white checks pattern creates a grey tone effect. Then there are the slightly larger ‘puliyam-kottai’ or tamarind seed checks. And finally really large checks called the lungi checks or ‘kerchip’ (kerchief) checks.

Now how about loving a saree for its name? The saree shown below has checks called the ‘paalum-palamum kattam’ or milk and fruit checks.

The saree I have shown here does not have a typical border like a Tamil Nadu saree but has a thin gold border instead. So is it a real or original Arni saree? It may be or it may not be. What is important for me is that the saree has a character distinct to the Arni saree. And I love it just the same!

The Arni, unknown as it is, is not the only piece of this beautiful mosaic of sarees. Going forward, this blog will continue to bring some well-known, some not so well-known saree names. Until then…

Sources: Most of the information in this post is based on readings from:

  1.        Silk Sarees of Tamil Nadu by Nesa Arumugam
  2.        History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra