Beautiful Saris from the East

Here’s our second series of gorgeous saris of India – by Mrinalini Pandey Awasthi.

Lots of celebrations this week – a very happy new year to all of you celebrating Baisakhi (Punjab and North West India), Bhogali Bihu ( Assam) Poila Baishakh (West Bengal) Vishu (Orissa) & Puthandu (Tamil Nadu). Such diversity, same reason – first day of the New Year a true “Unity in Diversity” moment.

Just as we all are woven together by our reason for celebrations, but different in how we celebrate it in our regions; so too is the trait of the “Silks of India” that I am taking you on a journey through.

Photo courtesy: Chritine William Peter

Photo courtesy: Christine William Peter

I love saris since long. By my third year in marriage, I had 178 sarees to my name, many of them were silks; one in each variety of silk I knew.

And yet, while working on this series, I am awed by the intricacies of each silk our country produces. This week I am taking you through the silken yarns of West Bengal & Assam. I touch upon what makes each sari unique from the other in terms of weave, silk, designs; and in some cases, the price too.

Assam

Weaving is one of the major aspects of Assam’s cultural life. Almost each household has a loom. Many poems are penned about these looms and the weavers and if you haven’t already been to Assam, getting yourself a silk from there, seems a good reason to visit it soon…

1. Muga Silk

Assam is known for three main kinds of Silks. viz. Muga silk,Paat Silk,Endi Silk. It’s the pride of Assam, as that is the only state in the country involved in the production of Muga silk and it is traditional to the Brahmaputra Valley. (The name Muga is Assamese for “yellow”.)

It is considered to be one of the most expensive silks almost as expensive as Gold and hence is also known as Golden Silk, due to its golden bright hue.

This sari starts from a price of Rs. 10,000/- within Assam. However, the price rises when it is procured from outside the state.

It is adorned with gold and silver thread works. The motifs along the pallu, are woven in such a manner that they give a 3D effect. Each ethnic group of the state has its own design and style. Common traditional symbols used on the weaving designs are of animals, human figures, nature – such as creepers, flowers and birds, astronomical bodies and ornamental designs.

Unlike most saris, a Muga silk sari gains more shine after each wash. It is also interesting to note that the shelf life of this sari (or Mekhala Chador) is often longer than that of its owner! It is said that Muga silk worms are as old a habitat as the dinosaur and the silk us supposed to be the strongest silk in the world, second only to the spider silk (not used in saris or any form of clothing).

2. Paat Silk

This type of silk is made from silkworms that eat Mulberry leaves, hence also known as “Mulberry Silk”. They’re known to have a distinctive white and off white color and is renowned for its brightness, optimum quality and durability.

This variant of silk is produced in limited quantities as compared to the other two; since very few mulberry worms are reared in Assam and hence, are sourced from other States.

3. Eri Silk (also known as Errandi Silk or Endi Silk)

Its name is derived from the Assamese word “Era” meaning Castor, as the worms feed on castor leaves. This type of sari is also popularly known as “Ahimsa Silk” or fabric of peace, as it does not involve the killing of the silk worm or its cocoon.

Eri caterpillars require regions with heavy rainfall and humid weather. Hence, found mainly in North East and few coastal states in south.

The texture of this silk is coarse, dense and thick. By nature, it is strong, elastic and durable. Since it is darker and heavier than other silks, it blends well with wool and cotton – making it warm in the winter and cool for the summers.

Due to this nature of durability and strength, it is also used for home furnishings viz curtains, bed linen, cushion covers, quilts etc.

It is not very highly priced and is easily affordable to all.

Photo courtesy: Jhelum Tiwarekar Dalvi

Photo courtesy: Jhelum Tiwarekar Dalvi

West Bengal

West Bengal has many varieties of sarees, due to its cultural richness. Its cottons are colorful, light, lively – much like the atmosphere amongst Bengalis. Taant, Jamdani, Tangail , Batik are some of the famous cottons. In silks, however, the state also produces some stunning, light, vibrant silk saris/

1. Baluchari

It hails from the Bishnupur district of Bengal. Each sari takes about a week to weave. It follows the jacquard kind of weaving, where two weavers sit to weave, alternating their threads to form a close knit design.

When this is woven with gold zari, it goes by the name of Swanachari. The designs on the Baluchari make it unique and different from most other silk sari designs. The Baluchari, along its borders and pallu,depicts stories from mythological, historical incidents, through elaborate motifs along its length. The Pallu has a

The Pallu has a centre square/rectangle having larger motifs and surrounded by smaller squares depicting stories of valour or religion. The specialty lies in depicting these scenes on fabric through looms with minute details such as the royal dresses, carpets, armaments, throne, etc. People often confused these designs with paintings on a canvas.

When choosing a baluchari, ladies decide mainly on the basis of the work on the pallu.

It was traditionally worn by the upper class and the zamindar households. However, the high cost of production led to fall in its patronage. A slow revival has now been noticed, but it is slow.

2. Garad/ Korial/ Puja Sari

This silk distinguished by its white or off white, red border and red stripes on the pallu. Some variants of this sari also have small motifs to accentuate the look. However, usually it would have little to no designs on it. The silk is undyed and hence it’s name, “Gorod” meaning “white”.

It is produced in the Murshidabad district. These saris are very fine, pure silk, lightweight and easy to carry. It is also, therefore, called “Paper Silk” due to its texture of being tissue paper like.

The undyed, white color represents the purity and hence is worn for religious functions and auspicious occasions.

3. Kantha Silk

Kanthas are traditionally worked by village women on old cloth, mainly soft, discarded dhotis and sarees. Layers of old white dhotis used by men or faded coloured sarees are held together in running stitches along the edges, using thread drawn out of the faded borders of the discarded Sarees. The Kantha in Bengali means embroidered quilt

Kanthas meant for use as quilts are called lep-kanthas, and those designed as counterpanes are called sujani kanthas. The main characteristic of a kantha is the patterned running stitches in white tread with which the kantha-maker covers the whole surface of the piece.

The colourful patterns that were embroidered on the quilts resulted in the name “nakshi kantha”, derived from the Bengali word ‘naksha’ meaning artistic patterns. Today, nakshi kantha refers to very intricately embroidered kantha patterns. Kanthas are expressions of an individual women’s artistic spirit and are never repeated.

These saris take weeks, sometimes months to get ready; depending on the intricacies of the design. The hours of labor determine the final price of the sari.

Today being the auspicious first day of the lunar calendar, one is very likely to see Assamese and Bengali dressed in one of these silks hailing from these states.

In the next segment, we shall look at some more silks of India. Leave a comment below to suggest which area we should cover next. Maybe North East silk? How many of you own a Meghalaya Silk Sari? I don’t. Honestly, I didn’t even know it existed. But while on this series of article, I am discovering a lot that I didn’t know.

Or South Silks? There are so many of them, we would probably need many segments to cover and give justice to them.

Until next time, Happy Celebrations and Happy New Year to each one of you.

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