It is unfortunate that power looms are taking the place of handlooms, in modern times. However, only a handcrafted saree will suffice to appease your visual and aesthetic senses!
Varanasi is home to one of the most coveted and adored silk sarees of all – Banarasi silk sarees! True, the manual art of weaving is a dying art. Nonetheless, there are still some artisans left in Varanasi, who take pride in the creations that come out of their old and rickety handlooms.
Origin of Banarasi Sarees
Amazingly, ‘silk work’ goes back to the Rig Vedas! They called it Hiranya, which refers to cloth designed from gold.
Regardless of what happened in the Heavens, we have to thank Emperor Akbar of the Mughal Period for granting so much of importance to the weavers of Banaras. He loved Banaras silk so much, that it wended its way into his wives’ sarees, palace carpets and wall hangings too! When the British invaded India later on, they fell in love with the intricate handicraft too. As a result, the post-independence era witnessed an enhancement in the popularity of Banarasi silk sarees and the rise of small-scale (weaving) industries.
Weaving the SareeIt takes a weaver anywhere between two weeks to six months, in order to design a Banarasi saree. He can begin his work only after obtaining zari threads. They are flat, delicate and thin metallic strips, which come from gold alloys. Sometimes, they come from silver alloys too. The weaver winds these zari threads around silk yarns. Machines suffice to flatten these threads. If the weaver would prefer an extra shine, he allows the threads to pass through a brightener. He creates glorious motifs from these threads, which go onto the silk saree. Different dyes are responsible for awarding splendid splashes of colour to every saree!
The weaver places his designer ideas on paper first. A single saree has many rows. Each row gains a different pattern or naksha patra. Using these paper patterns as a guide, the weaver winds the dyed silk fabric and zari threads into his handloom. As he works on his loom, the patterns transfer themselves onto the saree. Considering, that, he puts so much of effort into his intricate creations, he is reasonable in charging anywhere between INR 8,000 to INR 2,00,000 for them!
Earlier, Banarasi silk sarees displayed motifs in alignment with the Islamic mindset, such as net work, floral patterns, stylish leaves, etc. The British preferred geometric patterns. Contemporary times offer mix-and-match versions of everything!
There are four categories of Banarasi sarees, namely Shattir, Katan/pure silk, georgette and organza (kora) with silk and zari. With regard to design, these sarees may be categorised as butidar, jangla, cutwork, tanchoi, tissue and vaskat.
Caring for your Saree
Never put your Banarasi saree into a washing machine, or even attempt to hand wash it with the aid of a clothes brush and detergent. It has to go to the dry cleaners only. In case, you desire to ‘clean’ it at home, dip your saree in cold water several times, prior to letting it drip dry. With regard to storage, hang it in your cupboard or wrap it in muslin cloth. Keep it away from sunlight. Whatever you do, change its folds regularly.
With fakes on the increase, you would do well to look for the Geographical Indication (GI) tag or certification, when purchasing a Banarasi saree or brocade. Furthermore, a fake saree will have heavy thread work on the reverse side. If you have experienced eyes, you should be able to detect copper alloys plated with silver/gold.