STELLAR SILK SAREE SAGA: WEAVES OF THE EAST

The elegant traditional costume for Indian women yes, that’s a saree!

Sari is a common and integral form of clothing for women across south Asia, draped around the body in different styles to form a garment. It is a seamless rectangular piece of fabric measuring between five to nine yards of varying pattern, colour, design, texture, and styles. The etymology (origin) of the word sari is from the Sanskrit word Sati, which means strip of cloth. This evolved into the Prakrit sadi and was later anglicized into a Sari.

Sarees of Eastern India combine rich tradition with artistic creativity and designs. Weaving and dyeing are distinguished art and techniques perfected over years. Each piece woven at home has a story. It speaks of natural creativity, love of colour, designs, and motifs of the people who create them. Saris are identified and named after their place of origin. Their story too is woven there and we will trace this story through the eastern states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Bengal, and Assam.

Odisha has multiple varieties of saris a few of which, I am discussing here. Ikat is handwoven wherein the warp and the weft are tie-dyed before weaving. It is produced in the Bargarh, Sambalpur, Bolangir districts. The Bright vibrant Sambalpuri saris are traditional handwoven embroidery style sarees in Tussar silk or cotton. Motifs like a wheel, temple, fish, shells, all inspired by local coastal life add charm to these saris. For a sari enthusiast like me, these saris spell comfort and durability.

The ethnic Bomkai sarees are decorated with patterns inspired by natural surroundings and tribal art. The Jala Technique is used to make patterns. This sari is unique with interwoven motifs, contrasting colors, and pallus designed with intricate threadwork.

Bengal handloom with its wide range is the most ancient one in India. Saris from here narrate a rich weaving tradition that highlights the artistic culture of the state.Besides unbeatable pieces of cotton, Bengal is also known for Tussar silk, Muslin, and Linen sarees. Needless to say that the women from THIS REGION have not only been wearing saris for eons but they have epitomized the grace and elegance of it’s drape.

Gorod or Garad means white or silk which is not dyed, these saris are an integral part of women’s wear for the auspicious occasion. The papery texture red or maroon border gives it that pure look symbolic of Bengal.

The most exquisite Baluchuri Saree of Bengal is known for intricate weaving depictions of mythological scenes on the pallu of the sari. The square blocks are decorated with thread embroidered motifs The process of making Baluchari sarees includes cultivation of cocoons, processing the yarn, and making motifs using the technique of Jacquard weaving where two weavers work to produce one saree. The silk used is polished after weaving. Baluchari Sarees historically dates to the 18th century when under the patronage of Nawab Murshidkuli Khan, the craft flourished in the village of Baluchar on the banks of river Bhagirathi in Murshidabad in West Bengal. Modern-day Baluchari sarees are mostly weaved in Bishnupur where the weaving technique was revived in the mid-20th century.

Bishnupri silk sarees are known for their fine, smooth soft texture. They are a fusion of modern geometric motifs with tradition.

 Like most of the states in eastern India, West Bengal also produces Tussar silk sarees. However, Weavers also combine silk with other yarns like cotton and wool to come up with a richer knitted fabric. Depending upon the region various motifs like fish, conch, rudraksha, flowers are woven into the sarees.

 Katha stitch is the ‘running’ hand stitch, famous of Santiniketan traditionally was used for homemade quilts perhaps, but with time it is being recognized by international fashion industry; used in all kinds of garments and accessories. Kantha stitch reinforces the fabric and creates lines, motifs. Sarees of pure silk, tussar silk, and cotton have Kantha embroidery. Depending upon the embroidered patterns, a saree takes a few weeks to several months to prepare.

Batik sarees with picturesque designs on silk are eye-catching. The breaking of the wax, allows colour to run through and gives a cobweb look to the base fabric. The creativity of artisans is magnificent.

Tussar Silk, from Bhagalpur in Bihar, is made from silk obtained from several species of caterpillars, Hand spun and coloured with vegetable dyes, they are eco-friendly A non-mulberry silk that is also known as ‘Wild Silk’ is produced from a wide-winged moth that is yellowish-brown in colour and feeds on forest foliage. It is a coarser variety of silk and is a lot cooler, porous, and breathable than other silk varieties. The most notable feature of this silk is in its dyeing technique that gives an interesting look. Another beautiful artwork is the Madhubani painted sarees. Having a distinctive painting style, nature and mythology are handpainted on saris. The dying art has revived successfully and is extremely popular today.

Jharkhand also produces Tussar silk but a different variant, called Kuchai silk. The cocoon for Kuchai silk is grown on Sal and Arjun trees. The state also produces another variety, Ghicha silk which is a by-product of Tussar. The sarees made of Ghicha silk get a raw texture as the silk is manually reeled from cocoons. Saris with sohrai art, painted or printed is becoming popular

Eri silk is one of the wild silk found in Assam. It is often called Ahimsa silk because it is obtained without killing the silkworm. It is the finest and purest form of silk with a diffused sheen. It is heavier and darker than other silks and blends with wool and cotton making it durable and suitable for different seasons. My long-cherished dream of owning an Assam silk was fulfilled a few years back.

A friend whose wardrobe I admire gave me these tips to use while storing these silk sarees. Make little pouches of pieces of old soft cotton sarees, put dry tobacco leaves, some dry red chillies, and kalonji in them; keep these between the silk saris. The heavy silks, are generally not washed at home or often. Since worn occasionally may wash after few years. After wearing, must be aired well and kept wrapped in old cotton saris, not in plastic wrappers.

It’s time you started collecting wearing and enjoying the feel and grandeur of these sensuous drapes.

A saree lover A saree wearer

Prabha Raghunandan

Author’s bio:

Prabha Raghunandan ,a motivational speaker, enjoys writing poems, and stories, also  kept a diary of her travels to known and unknown places as the NationalPresident of Inner Wheel India.

Her enthusiastic account, with eye for detail enriches her travel stories. She can be reached at prabha325@gmail.com

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