One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities, Varanasi, is one of the few cities in India that give you an insight into the country’s centuries’ old rich heritage. After the temples and the Ganges, the most important thing the city has offered generations, are its popular and luxurious Benarasi Sarees. From our great-grandmothers to our elder sisters and us; Benarasi sarees have always been considered as an in disposable item in the Indian bride’s wedding gifts ensemble.
The modern-day Benarasi Sarees have been made and worn by Indian women since the 17th century, during the Mughal rule. As the Persian-Islamic culture slowly influenced the traditional Hindu culture, the style of weaving and the designs evolved, giving the sarees their current look. In the earlier days, the silk used in the making of these sarees was imported from China; later, the cloth started being purchased from the southern part of the Indian sub-continent.
There are multiple varieties of Benarasi Sarees, based on the material used to make them and the difference in the designs and motifs. According to UtsavPedia.com, these are:
• Jamdani –a technical variation of figured muslin where the silk fabrics are brocaded with cotton.
• Jangla – made with colorful silk threads for festivities with scrolling designs
• Tanchoi -colorful extra-weft silk yarn is used to form the outline and borders with designs that look like a maze, giving it a kaleidoscopic effect.
• Tissue- A combination of zari and silk, the Zari brocade used in these sarees is made to look like a golden cloth and not superimposed.
• Cutwork – these are designed through a different technique that requires the workers to start with a plain saree and later removing loose threads from it, giving it a beautiful texture.
• Butidar – also called Ganga and Jamuna, Butidar sarees are dark in colour and are brocaded with threats of silk, silver and gold in a distinctive manner.
One traditional Benarasi saree is made by three or more workers and can take up to three months to be made, depending on the design. While one weaves the silk, the others dye it and arranging the bundle of silk. Once that is done, the designs are drawn on a graph paper with colour concepts. Then small punch-cards are made and knitted with different threads and colours on the loom, and to make a single design, hundreds of such small punch-cards might be used. The designs vary from temple and mosque motifs to floral and geometrical patterns, the designing of which, is done with silver and gold Zari.
Along with looking beautiful, Benarasi sarees hold a deep heritage value. The machine-made Benarasi sarees having a lower cost of production, started to eat up the business of the traditional hand-made sarees but in 2009, the Benaras saree workers secured Geographical Indication (GI) rights for the ‘Banaras Brocades and Sarees’. Another threat faced by the sarees was the environmental concern being caused by the dying of the fabric. With the collaboration of Indian Indstitute of technology (IIT) and Benaras Hindu Univerity (BHU) students, this was soon resolved as the workers soon shifted to using natural dyes.
[Featured Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia]