Sophisticated and Splendidly Indian
A celebration of fabric and its weaves, both iridescent and exquisite, a Banarasi saree’s importance in the culture of Indo-gangetic civilisation is incomparable. The timeless appeal makes these weaves coveted heirlooms. Passed from generations, these are undoubtedly a staple of every coming-of-age woman’s wardrobe. The sub-continent is a land steeped in myriad traditions of arts and crafts, from time immemorial and there still exists written records of Greek scholars waxing eloquent on the quality of Indian cloth and craftsmanship. “The craft has been passed down generations. There is no institute that can teach you how to weave - it is a precious and unique technique,” confesses designer Anju Modi who has worked a lot on the Banarasi weave. Somewhat misnamed, the Banarasi weave did not originate in Benares, rather legend has it, “A famine during the mid-16th century caused the silk weavers from Gujarat to move to Banaras and thereby started the weaving of silk and brocades in Banaras,” decodes designer Kshitij Jalori. With the change in times and the changing fashion landscape, designers have toyed with the motifs and silhouettes to make it more appealing to the millennials today. In 2013, we saw designer duo Abraham and Thakore collection with contemporary chattai (mat) weaves woven in them. Designer Sanjay Garg’s interpretation of stripes and contemporary take on Banarasi weaves, designer Amit Aggarwal’s electric twist to sarees, designer Rajesh Pratap Singh’s work with the Banaras loom amalgamated with modern silhouettes and designer Tanira Sethi’s origami motifs weaved onto Banarasi sarees are examples of the evolution of the timeless weave. Even though traditionally, the colours, aesthetics and techniques of Banarasi saree are timeless, designer Anju Modi believes in the need to innovate and make the saree relatable to current aesthetic tastes. With continuous design intervention the Banarasi saree of today has evolved with current designs, “With geometric patterns juxtaposed with floral artwork. Now we can wear sarees on which animal figures, calligraphy, folk art, jewellery and many more motifs and designs are made. Even in terms of its making, it is no longer just silk and cotton, but many other yarns are blended,” says designer Gautam Gupta. A majority of Banarasi sarees being sold in the market are a heterogeneous mix of the old and the new, however owning a Banarasi saree is still coveted, inspirational for many Indian families. Designer Ritu Kumar feels that owning one traditional Banarasi silk saree is aspirational for many families in India. It is common to hear designers remain nostalgic about the old ways, rightly so and Kumar adds, “In an attempt to put in some European motifs, some mix and match ones during the twentieth century, what has happened is that now most of these sarees are unwearable. They look wonderful from a distance but up close you will notice that they change the yarn to a Chinese yarn which is stiff and the gold will be changed to some lurex yarns with large motifs, baluchar pallu, or a pallu from Gujarat or South India mixed with the bootis they used to have there. As a result, the sense of balance in most of these sarees seems to have gotten confused if not lost.” Through her Benares revival programme, Kumar has recreated fabric that has the original yarn and the bootis which are barely seen today, thus once again attempting to purify the sacrosanct art of Banaras saree craftsmanship by sifting out the residue of alien elements.