Aurangabad in Maharashtra is a city full of stories. And so are the places nearby, villages like Paithan and Yeola in particular. It is almost striking how amidst picturesque patches of greenery nestles the most significant handloom industry of Maharashtra. And the lush green richness of the Maharashtrian outskirts gets beautifully translated into its handloom Paithanis.
Needless to say, not only these handloom crafts but their handloom centres and more importantly the artisans who make them deserve their due of attention and admiration. Coincidently, as we sit homebound during the lockdown, it makes for the best time for us to delve into the gorgeous beauties of the Indian handloom and their unique weaves. Differentiating between various textiles can be a good starting point here and that's why we have curated a list of seven saree crafts in India that are as famous as they are misunderstood. (This is the second story of this saree series and you can read the first one here.)
One look at its kaleidoscopic colours and you’d know that the silk weave in your hand is nothing but a Paithani, possibly the most easily distinguishable of all the silk sarees in the country. It is the rich floral and bird-inspired motifs accentuated with a generous drizzle of gold that makes these sarees truly unique. The combination of fine silk threads with gold zari gives an illusion of changing shades on the saree. Usually adorned with a parrot-based pattern, called muniya, the pallu in this saree always stands out for its striking array of bright colours.
What makes this saree a bridal dream is a fact that there are no hanging threads left in the weave, which makes it very convenient to accessorise a Paithani with jewels. Both sides of a pure Paithani look exactly the same and that makes for a very good way of distinguishing these sarees from substandard and power loom products.
The Gara embroidery found its way in the country from China. It was, in fact, the Parsi community that brought the astonishing craft owing to its trade networks with China. All thanks to its ornate designs and incredible precision, the craft soon became a coveted possession among the Parisis as well as other rich communities in Mumbai. For now, think of it as a breathtaking craft that boasts of Persian heritage, Chinese origins, and Indian accents.
It is the elaborate flora and fauna patterns of the embroidery mostly done with white and pastel threads that make it truly unique. So close are the embroidery knits in this craft that shading and similar effects come out really beautifully in these sarees. Instead of abstract iterations, the details in this embroidery are supposed to be strikingly realistic. Owing to their exquisiteness, each one of these sarees happens to be an heirloom piece that is treated with as much reverence among the Parsi community as precious jewels.
While originally these sarees were created on a fabric, called sali ghaj, the present-day renditions are done in satins and crepes. The saree has to have a flowy quality about it and thus the use of these fabrics is encouraged over stiff silks.
Exclusively manufactured by KSIC (Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation), the oldest silk manufacturing unit in the country, the Mysore silk has a reputation of its own in India. Known for their minimalist designs, the most gorgeous of Mysore silk sarees come with a gold border and usually a plain body, thus having a contemporary appeal for the modern-day woman. To add to it, these sarees come with a unique embroidery code and a hologram, which makes each one of these a unique piece. The narrow strip of gold zari border in these sarees are made using pure silver and gold zari.
Bomkai is a gorgeous weave from the western part of Orissa. Truly unique, this fabric comes out of the beautiful confluence of ikat and embroidery. Carrying the touches of shores on its border, the fabric is also known as Sonepuri and initially found its inception in southern coastal parts of Orissa. When we move to the pallu, the thread works get more intricate and impressive.
These sarees are crafted both in silk and cotton on primitive looms which makes creating these sarees a laborious process, thus, making them all the more expensive. The sarees are created by employing a shuttle weaving technique using a coarse, low count fabric whenever a cotton weave is being produced. Just like the Ikat or the resist-dyeing process used in Patola sarees, the yarn for Bomkai weaving is also dyed before it is woven on the loom.
Generally done in bright contrasts, the sarees feature absolutely unique motifs including mythology and stories pertaining to Orissian folklore. They are inspired by some of the most overlooked natural creations. Thus, don’t be surprised if you come across a bitter gourd motif or even a tortoise for that matter.
Finding its origins in Bhoodan, Andhra Pradesh, the Pochampally saree can be easily recognised by its geometric designs. Mainly known for their ikat style patterns which are imprinted on the fabric with the help of cotton and silk thread work.
Lightweight and comfortable owing to their innovative weaves, these sarees make for an excellent summer wear choice. The heavier variants of these sarees come with heavy zari, woven extensively in the pallu.
The most economical of the lot, Bengal tant retains its popularity for reasons more than just the price point. Once opposed by the British, the weave has managed to survive a troubled history and thus stands bold as the most quintessentially Indian weave today. However, this popularity can also be ascribed to the saree’s lightless making it the perfect pick for everyday use in humid and hot parts of Southern India and even Northern Indian for the most part of the year.
For the weaving process of these glorious sarees, the yarn is dyed and duly starched, which provides the saree with its stiffness. Also, unlike the regular 5.5 meters, a tant generally happens to be six meters long. Done in beautiful contrasts, the pallu of these sarees feature striking patterns like paisley and flowers beside the regular geometric ones.
The cynosure of Andhra handloom, a Mangalgiri saree has a beauty unlike any other. Known to be one of the finest cottons, the Mangieri weaves are cherished for their soft and smooth texture as well as the striking border. The Nizam border, as it’s called, features tiny gopurams or spiked accents. These sarees come in striking colours and have a plain body, which is accentuated by the zari border. Since there are no woven designs on the main body, the saree is woven only on pit looms, which helps the weaver to exert more force during the weaving process without any gaps.
Some of these sarees are woven while using different coloured threads for the warp and weft that provide the final product with a double shade effect and thus we get some striking greenish-yellow, pinkish-orange, and bluish-green sarees.
Lastly, it is integral to remember that as we talk about the popularity of these weaves, it is important to note the contribution of artisans in the evolution of these crafts. Because we pay a hefty price to a designer brand to purchase any of these. Perhaps educating ourselves about the beauty and significance of these crafts is also a way of changing our consumer practices and how we approach fashion on a daily basis. Now, that's some food for thought, right?