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Sari: Indian Woman's Globally Venerated Distinction

Article of the Month - January 2009
Viewed 86534 times since 15th Jan, 2009

...Continued from Page 1

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Mother India
Mother India

 

 

 

 

 

India's freedom movement, and national consciousness which it inspired, further strengthened this adherence to sari.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rebel Queen Of Jhansi
The Rebel Queen Of Jhansi

 

 

 

 

 

A valiant sari-wearing Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, and her entire team of female warriors, all in saris, dashing into columns of mighty British army and shaking it with terror, were women's new ideals.

 

 

 

 

 

Sarojini Naidu with Mahatma Gandhi
Sarojini Naidu with Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

Participation of Indian women in freedom movement was massive. Male attire ranged from unstitched dhoti to stitched kurta-paijama … but sari was women participants' exclusive wear.

 

 

 

Amrita Sher Gill Wearing a Sari
Amrita Sher Gill Wearing a Sari

 

 

During the second decade of the 20th century Mahatma Gandhi shifted the movement from drawing rooms and barrooms to streets and public squares. His call for 'swadeshi', hand-spun and hand-woven, echoed alike across a farmer's hut, a rich man's haveli and a prince's palace. Now columns of women demonstrators, in hand-spun and hand-woven saris, often flooded streets and roads. They emerged as new role models of Indian women, rich or poor. A token of their commitment, the majority of Indian women wore at least a sari, sometimes hand-spun and hand-woven. Influenced by the Freedom Movement or portraying what was true to life those days, most painters, from around 1880 to 1940, Rabindra Nath Tagore and his brothers, Nand Lal Bose, Hemendra Nath Mazumdar, Basant Kumar Ganguly, Amrita Sher-Gil among others, rendered all their women – divine, distinguished or common, in saris.

 

Madhubala - Perhaps India's Most Beautiful Actress Ever Wearing a Wet Sari
Madhubala - Perhaps India's Most Beautiful Actress Ever Wearing a Wet Sari

 

 

Links of many of them with the Freedom Movement, as of Nand Lal Bose who even rendered posters for the 1930 Haripura Session of Indian National Congress, are well known, but their sari-wearing image of woman was not born of an ideology. It was simply the truth of the day transformed. Camera pictures, too, affirm that the ladies facing camera preferred sari for a wear. However, it was Indian cinema that led sari to its all time heights of popularity. With a wide range of themes and characters from all faiths, traditions, backgrounds and regions, Indian cinema investigated in details all prevalent styles of sari, reproduced them on the screen and innovated many new.

 

THE SARI NOW

Mustard Kota Doria Sari
Mustard Kota Doria Sari

 

 

The independent India dawned with hundreds of forms of sari, ethnic as well as modern, which can hardly be the scope of an essay like this. Today, sari comprises over 30% of total textile production in India. Large textile mills apart, the number of sari-manufacturing centres is in hundreds and so the saris’ innumerable types which the kind of fabric, weaving technique, methods of dying, printing or embellishing, designing patterns, kind of motifs, colour scheme … define. Besides polyester yarn, silk and cotton are a sari’s principal fibres as also its initial basis of classification. A tribal or village woman’s coarse cotton lengths, or Dacca’s fine muslins, all are to a commoner just cotton saris. These are rather the style of prints, printed motifs, modes of dying, yarn’s type, or a blend of some other fabric that distinguish one cotton sari from the other. As for example, extra twisted or double threads intercepting normal weaves and creating a meshed surface denote a Kota sari.

 

 

Peachyellow Handwoven Gadwal Sari With Real Zari
Peachyellow Handwoven Gadwal Sari With Real Zari

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Gadwal sari is one with silk borders and unbleached cotton field, and sometimes weaved-in temple motifs in end-piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handwoven Auburn Paithani Sari With Zari Pallu
Handwoven Auburn Paithani Sari With Zari Pallu

 

 

 

 

 

Alike, Paithani sari comprises profusely zari-patterned muslin, and sometimes extra silk threads are used for creating details in zari patterns adorning the sari’s end-piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SILK SARIS

Buff Handwoven Moonga Silk Sari From Assam
Buff Handwoven Moonga Silk Sari From Assam

 

 

 

 

 

It is different with silk. The kind of silk, more so one of the wild silks, is the foremost basis of a sari’s classification. Its patterning and palette apart, a sari, manufactured using Assam’s gorgeous Munga, a wild silk with natural golden colour and great lustre, is known as Munga sari.

 

 

 

 

 

Pink Banarasi Sari With Allover Woven Flowers
Pink Banarasi Sari With Allover Woven Flowers

 

A sari made of Raigarh’s Kosa, another class of wild silk, is a Kosa sari, and one made of Tasar, a relatively finer wild silk, is just a Tasar sari. A traditional Kosa sari, a tougher fibre with Munga-like lustre and golden hue, a graceful wear especially for those in public life, has plain or ‘butidar’ (covered with ‘buti’ motifs) field, deep coloured longitudinal stripes, with or without temple motifs comprising borders and a patterned end-piece. Tasar, two-third of which Bihar alone produces, is a reeled silk. Now independent saris are also manufactured, Tasar’s usual weaving was in the forms of bolts or ‘thans’ out of which a length, as required for a sari, was cut and sold. Besides pure Tasar saris, Tasar-cotton-mixed saris are also quite popular. A sari, known as Mukta, literally meaning free, is another class of Tasar saris. Sometimes the moth punches the cocoon and escapes leaving behind the fibres’ broken pieces usable only when spun. Mukta is a sari made of such spun fibre. A sari made of chiffon, a diaphanous filmy fabric processed out of highly sophisticated silk, is also named after its fibre – a chiffon sari. Chiffon is a fabric with plain weave rendered using extremely fine twisted single threads, usually 43 per centimeter for warp and 43 for weft.

 

Black Crepe Sari With Golden Thread Weave
Black Crepe Sari With Golden Thread Weave

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saris made of chiffon-like fine crepe silk are also known as crepe silk saris. Even those, made of silk’s regional varieties such as Mysore, Bangalore, Bengal or South … are ordinarily known as Mysore silk sari etc. etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRINTED SARIS

Multicolor Bandhani Silk Sari From Rajasthan With Mirrors
Multicolor Bandhani Silk Sari From Rajasthan With Mirrors

Cotton or silk, many saris seek their distinction in printing techniques and motifs that they use. Mill-printed saris apart, hundreds of known varieties of saris are manually printed using any of block-print, tie-dye, batik, resist and controlled dye, or free-hand techniques. Some of the better known centres of block-printing, India’s most ancient art prevalent since Indus days, are Sanganer, Bhairogarh, Bagh, Bagru, Farukhabad, Fatehpur, Allahabad, Anjar, Deesa, Dhamadka, Ahmedabad among others. Inherited from family or local tradition, each of these centres has its own stylistic distinction, motifs, patterns, choice of colours… Bandhani, or tie-dye, another early technique of textile colouring and as widely practised, uses knots to render some specific areas dye resistant, that is, when a dye is applied in general, it is obstructed from penetrating the areas which the knots cover. In some cases the tie-dye spots are left totally undyed, the white dots themselves creating a design. In other cases, just two contrasting colours, one for the field and other for borders, end-piece etc., are used. Under another scheme tie-dye spots are multi-coloured and ground, monochromic. Sometimes the end-pieces and borders are made of long stripes which tie-knots create, and at other times, these stripes are rendered waving across the whole length, creating the so well known ‘lahariyas’ – waving stripes.

Green Batik Sari From Kolkata
Green Batik Sari From Kolkata

 

 

 

 

A sari, with design-patterns rendered free-hand using kalam – pen, or an identical instrument to apply dye and wax, is known as a kalamkari sari. Kalamkari was initially the art of Gujarat, which subsequently the Andhra dyers carried with them, and now Andhra is its better known centre. Saris, dyed using batik method, a technique of wax-based controlled dying, were immensely popular around two decades ago but now batik saris are little preferred.

 

 

 

 

 

IKAT: DYING AND WEAVING

Buff And Black Ikat Sari From Pochampally
Buff And Black Ikat Sari From Pochampally

 

 

Ikat, a rare art requiring immeasurable skill, involves resist dying and intricate weaving. In ikat, parts of warp and weft threads, required to accomplish pre-meditated designs, usually simple or complex geometric motifs, floral and vegetal patterns, dancing females, elephants, parrots etc., are dyed before weaving using resist dye technique. In single ikat, the technique popular in Gujarat, Andhra and Orissa, warp and weft threads weave independent motifs but juxtaposed they are required to create an over all design in perfect harmony. Sometimes, as in a modern Vichitrapuri sari from Orissa, ikat dying is used just to create checks, meshes or stripes, not intricate motifs. A traditional Vichitrapuri sari effectuated these features by simple warp and weft weaving. Ikat in Khadi weaving is used for creating zigzag designs. In double ikat, the technique of the world-famed patola sari, the dyed parts of the warps and wefts jointly create a pre-meditated motif. A standard patola design is rendered with warps and wefts dyed in five colours. Once the Gujarat’s prestigious art, patola is now confined to just one town and weavers’ one family or two. Pochampalli, an Andhra version of patola, renders large and bold patterns using bright colours. Its range of patterns includes also modern abstractionistic and geometric motifs, not seen in Gujarat’s patola saris.

 

JAMDANI AND BROCADED SARIS

Seagreen Handwoven Tangail Sari From Bengal
Seagreen Handwoven Tangail Sari From Bengal

 

 

 

Unlike ikat, in Jamdani and brocaded saris, almost identical techniques, supplementary weft threads, cotton, silk or metallic, are used for effectuating patterns. Bengal’s Jamdani, the best in its class, usually a cotton sari but also silk, is a fabric with high thread count. It uses discontinuous supplementary weft threads, silk in silk, and cotton in cotton, for rendering patterns, usually birds, vines, flower-motifs, geometric designs, all angularly inclined. Usually the patterns are laid with thicker and coloured wefts. On the contrary, Jamdani from Tanda, in Uttar Pradesh, traditionally uses white patterning on white ground. Nilambari, a sari with black or dark blue field and bright butis, and Tangail, with small butis rendered diagonally all over the field, are other popular classes of Jamdani saris.

 

 

Red Banarasi Valkalam Sari With Brocaded Border
Red Banarasi Valkalam Sari With Brocaded Border

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brocading, a technique of effectuating patterns by using supplementary weft threads – silk or zari, continuous or discontinuous, is an outstanding feature of Banarasi saris,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lavender Chanderi Sari With Golden Bootis And Brocaded Weave
Lavender Chanderi Sari With Golden Bootis And Brocaded Weave

 

 

 

 

though also used in a wide range of other saris like Bomkai, Venkatgiri, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Mysore, Paithani, Kanchivaram etc., each the pride of a woman’s wardrobe. Not like Banarasi saris of which brocade is the prime aesthetic, these saris use brocading just as a technique to create patterns and designs seeking their distinction in their colour-schemes, style of patterning, types of motifs and their other regional characteristics. For example, on its diaphanous monochrome field a Chanderi sari blends with zari a good quantity of silk to execute with miniatures-like precision its delicate patterns ranging from floral designs to human and animal figures.

 

 

 

Contrarily, the profusion of patterning, rendered on a lustrous silk length of high counts, defines Banaras brocade. Some of the Banarasi saris – Tanchoi, Abrawan, Amru, Kincab among others, produced for marriage-like occasions, have their beauty in the kind of brocade irrespective of anything else. Woven with finest silk warps and zari wefts Abrawan brocade gives a metallic sheen. In a Kincab sari zari patterning is so densely rendered that it often completely covers the underlying silk cloth. Amru brocade is a magic of silks coloured in contrast. A Shikargah brocade, with hunting scenes brocaded all over, outstands all in its figural beauty.

CHIKANKARI, ZARDOZI, KANTHA, BALUCHARI AND OTHERS

Palegreen Lukhnavi Chikan Sari With Sequins
Palegreen Lukhnavi Chikan Sari With Sequins

 

 

 

Numerous regional styles, Dharmavaram, Rochampalli, Kali Chandrakala, Korasani, Gopalpuri, Sambhalpuri, Ganga-Jamuni, Lavangaphula, Krishnagujari, Ramakathi, Rudrakathi, Pitambara among others, are largely different combinations of brocade, local styles of motifs, arrangement of field, borders and end-pieces, colour schemes, types of narratives that they portray and the like. Some, such as Baluchari, a multi-warp and multi-weft figured textile, with elaborate borders and end-pieces created in untwisted silk threads in colours that mutually contrast, are simply amazing in their beauty. Baluchari’s end-piece, designed with a row of floral kalga, a kind of large buti, contained within an as beautifully conceived rectangle, is a feature not seen in any other class of saris. As much magnificent are some classes of embroidered saris, Lucknow chikan, embroidery with white thread invariably on light field,

 

 

Red Bridal Sari Handwoven in Bangalore with Heavy Zardozi on Border and Pallu
Red Bridal Sari Handwoven in Bangalore with Heavy Zardozi on Border and Pallu

 

 

 

 

 

 

zardozi, embroidery with gold or silver thread usually on silks,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cream Kantha Hand-Woven Sari with All-Over Embroidered Bootis
Cream Kantha Hand-Woven Sari with All-Over Embroidered Bootis

 

 

 

 

 

 

and kantha, embroidery rendered in simple running stitch with threads in contrasting colours on a natural coloured base rendering figures of animals, foliage and other motifs from around.

 

 

 

 

 

 


FOR FURTHER READING :

  • Ritu Kumar : Costumes and Textiles of Royal India
  • Martand Singh (ed.) : Tradition and Beyond : Handcrafted Indian Textiles Saris of India : Bihar and West Bengal
  • Kamala S. Dongerkery : The Indian Sari
  • G. S. Ghurye : Indian Costume
  • Motichandra : Bhartiya Vesha Bhusha Indian Costumes and Textiles
  • J. Forbes Watson : The Textile Manufactures and Costumes of India
  • Linda Lynton : The Sari
  • Mukulika Banerjee and Daniel Miller : The Sari
  • John Gillow and Nicholas Bernard : Traditional Indian Textiles
  • Vandana Bhandari : Costumes, Textiles and Jewellery of India : Traditions in Rajasthan
  • J. B. Bhushan : Costumes and Textiles of India
  • A. Buhler and E. Fischer : The Patola of Gujarat Dyed Fabrics

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Post a Comment
 
Post Review
  • Good job. Keep it up.
    Saree is most beautiful and elegant attire for women of any nationality. Particularly women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Srilanka. Saree is equaly gorgeous with or without blouse and bra. Saree is at its highest grace when worn below navel low on hips.
    Najma
    by Najma on 4th Oct 2010
  • This one is number one
    by Asokan on 15th Sep 2010
  • sari this word came from?
    by ravi on 7th Jun 2010
  • The sari is so beautiful - sophisticated, feminine, elegant. I wish I had occasion to wear one more often, but as an Australian I can admire those who wear it.
    by Elly M on 15th Jun 2009
  • I'd like to thank you for the interesting and enlightening article I received today regarding the history of the Sari. Since I was a child, I've found an inveterate beauty in the Indian culture, particularly in its arts--the architecture, literature, music, and its textiles. The vibrant colors and patterns within the latter are of a pulchritude found nowhere else on earth.

    In recent years, I've grown to appreciate the Sari, in particular, not merely as a beautiful item of clothing, but as a true work of art. I'm constantly keen to learn about many different things, especially that which interests me, and I very much appreciate the information you shared in regards to the Sari. It's provided me an even greater admiration and respect for the artists who so beautifully and meticulously craft these textiles. I was unaware of the deep history of the Sari, and I'm eager to reread the article so as to commit the information to memory.

    It was a pleasant surprise to find the illuminating article, as well as the wonderfully illustrative pictures. Thank you for the learning experience! I enjoyed it!

    Best regards,
    by Julie P.
    Exotic India Newsletter Subscriber
    on 21st Jan 2009
  • Excellent and well-researched article, like always. Pl continue to keep up the good job. Thanks.
    by Revathi Chand on 20th Jan 2009
  • Thank you for the informative and beautifully written article about the sari. The photos were wonderful, and I especially appreciate your listing books to find more information. I look forward to your next newsletter.

    Thank you again.
    by Ruth Hatch on 20th Jan 2009
  • This comprehensive article on Sari should be read by all Indians at least as a fundamental duty to know our only well known custom all over the world which is being neglected by Indians in the recent past which is rather sad. I hope there comes a time at least all Indian shakthi swaroops (wmen folk) wll srart wearing this unique piece of cloth to cover their joys and sarrows.
    Glory to Indian Sari
    by Pakirareddy on 19th Jan 2009
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