A Banarasi sari is a sari made in Varanasi, the holy city of India which is also called Benares or Banaras. The saris are among the finest saris in India and known for their gold and silver brocade or zari, fine silk and opulent embroidery. The saris are made of finely woven silk and decorated with intricate design, and, because of these engravings, are relatively heavy.
Their special characteristics have Mughal inspired designs such as intricate intertwining floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel, a string of upright leaves called jhallar at the outer, edge of the border is a characteristic of these saris. Other features are gold work, compact weaving, figures with small details, metallic visual effects, pallus, jal (a net like pattern) and mina work.
The saris are often part of an Indian bride’s trousseau. Banaras is one of the rich weaving craft centre of India, famous for brocade saris and all over dress material. Exclusive varieties of the saris are Jangala, Tanchoi, Vaskat, Cutwork, Tissue and Butidar which are made of silk warp and silk weft, on plain/satin ground base, brocaded with extra weft patterns in different layouts introducing Buttis, Bells, Creepers, Buttas in ground, border and Anchal for getting glamour’s appearance. As in the history of the India, Banaras is known since Rigveda about 1500—2000 year BC and also a period of Ramayana and Mahabharata come to know identical reference about the fame of Banarasi saree and Fabrics as known HiranyaVastra (PutamberVastra). In the ancient time, Banaras was famous for the weaving of cotton saree and dress materials, but slowly switched over to silk weaving, during the Mughal period around 14th-century weaving of brocades with intricate designs using gold and silver threads was the speciality of Banaras.
Depending on the intricacy of its designs and patterns, a sari can take from 15 days to a month and sometimes up to 6 months to complete. Banarasi saris are mostly worn by Indian women on important occasions such as when attending a wedding and are expected to be complemented by the woman’s best jewellery.
Banarasi sarees are not only traditional attire but a symbol of pride, happiness, union and celebration for Indian women.
Ralph Fitch (1583-1591) describes Banaras as a thriving sector of the cotton textile industry. The earliest mention of the brocade and zari textiles of Banaras is found in the 19th century. With the migration of silk weavers from Gujarat during the famine 1603, it is likely that silk brocade weaving started in Banaras in the 17th century and developed In excellence during the 18th and 19th century. During the Mughal period, around 14th century, the weaving of brocades with intricate designs using gold and silver threads became the speciality of Banaras.
The traditional Banaras! sari is done with a lot of hard work and skilful work using the silk. The sari making is a cottage industry for about 12 lakh people associated directly or indirectly with the hand loom silk industry of the region around Varanasi encompassing Gorakhpur, Chandauli, Bhadohi, Jaunpur and Azamgarh districts.
In the world of fashion,’Banarasi saree’ remains the Indian ‘SUN’ and has been a subject of great inspiration and appreciation for worldwide costume connoisseurs.
It was in the Mughal era Varanasi saree came into popularity and got fashion currency. Today these sarees are being exported worldwide. Around 125 km of Varanasi, this art of making Banarasi saree is surviving since olden days. It was during the Mughal times when all arts be it Persian, Rajasthan or other Indian art got amalgamated to create a fusion of aesthetics. Same goes for the costume as well. The Persian motifs and Indian designs on silk texture studded with gold and silver remained the cue of Mughal patronage. Elaborate pure gold and silver designs are today rare still the zari has rightfully taken its position as an apt replacement.
Today there are mainly four varieties of Banarasi saree available. Those are Pure Silk (Katan), Shattir, Organza which is fine kora with zari and silk works, and finally the Georgette. If you go to Varanasi you would find some 10,000 shops selling Banarasi saree which is more a cottage industry for several million people around Varanasi which include Gorakhpur and Azamgarh as well. Around 60% of artisans are Muslim for whom weaving this art is their tradition. ‘After the partition of India people tried to take up this art “Banarasi saree” in distant the land but could not produce an equivocal quality … there is something in this earth which makes the creation of Varanasi saree possible’.
During Mughal era the raw material that is, silk used to come from China and today those are replaced with Bangalore silks where sericulture is a unique industry. The fineness of silk is gauged Denier and quality varies from 16-18 Daning to 20-22 Daning. Still today silk from Chinese power loom is in great demand which comes via Nepal. Silk cotton and zari also come from Surat which remains the cotton belt for over several centuries.
The process of making Banarasi saree with the colourful dyeing of the silk. Acid dyes are used for dyeing of silk. Those silks are then sold by weight. And power looms people take them to weave the basic texture of the saree. In the weaving warp, they create the base which runs into 24 to 26 metres. And there are around 5600 thread wires with 45-inch width. Two people tie a rope around their waist to hold the form and other is grounded. In an elaborate process every inch, which contains 120 silk wires, is created. Its art to be seen only.
At the weaving loom, three people work one weave, one dye, and other work at the revolving to create lacchis. At this juncture, another important process is initiated. This is designing the motifs. There are several traditional artist is available in Varanasi who might not be educated but can create wonder designs for saree.
To create ‘Naksha Patta’ the artist first draw on the graph paper with colour concepts. Now those designs are of varying kind. But most universal kinds are Caixg (Kalka), Butti and flower and foliage. There scene of village, fairs, cloud, dancing-monkey design. And even one can see temple and mosque design. However, it was the matter of experience that in one Bride saree there were designs of ‘Grave-yard’ as well. This became the functional aspect of art which is not far off from the people life cycle. In modern days, one can see geometrical designs have come in, but it lacks appreciation. As traditional folk design remains the base appeal for Banarasi saree.
Once the design is selected then small punch cards are created those are guides for particular which colour thread has to pass through which card at what stage. For one small design one requires to create hundreds of perforated cards to implement the concept.
Once those perforated cards are prepared those are knitted with different threads and colours on the loom and according to design, those are paddled in a systematic manner that the main weaving picks up right colour and pattern to create the design and weave as well.
In yesteryears, Banarasi sarees used to have designs with original gold and silver thread and one manufacturer used to take even a year to create one saree. Yet, those sarees could fetch several lakhs for the weaver. However, it all depended on the intricacy of designs and pattern. A normal saree takes around 15 days to 1 month and the time limit stretches even upto 6 months.
Thus, we see for the creation of Banarasi saree one requires different experts right from the gauging the quality of Silk until marketing. All this goes towards the creation of the unique saree which is envied by saree weavers from all over. It is no simple weaving rather those are the functional art of India which is going on for centuries within a great fabric of Indian traditional weavers.
Over the years, the Banarasi silk handloom industry has been incurring huge losses because of competition from mechanised units producing the Varanasi silk saris at a faster rate and at the cheaper cost, another source of competition has been saris made of cheaper synthetic alternatives to silk.
In 2009, after two years of wait, weaver associations in Uttar Pradesh, secured Geographical Indication (GI) rights for the ‘Banaras Brocades and Sarees’. GI is an intellectual property right, which identifies a good as originating in a certain region where a given quality, reputation or another characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
Most importantly this means that no sari or brocade made outside the six identified districts of Uttar Pradesh, that is Varanasi, Mirzapur, Chandauli,
Bhadohi, Jaunpur and Azamgarh districts, can be legally sold under the name of Banaras sari and brocade.
There are four main varieties of Banarasi sari, which includes Pure Silk (Katan), Organza (Kora) with zari and silk, Georgette and Shattir, and according to the design process, they are divided into categories like, Jangala, Tanchoi, Vaskat, Cutwork, Tissue and Butidar.
Brocade refer to those textiles wherein patterns are created in weaving by transfixing or thrusting the pattern thread between the warp. In regular weaving, the weft thread passes over and under the warp thread regularly. But when brocade designs in gold, silver silk or cotton threads are to be woven, special threads are transfixed in between by skipping the passage of the regular weft over a certain number of warp threads (depending upon the pattern) and by regularising the skipping by means of pre-arranged heddles for each type of patterning. There may be several sets of heddles so arranged that on different occasions, they raise and depress an irregular number of threads in turn, as required by the exigencies of the pattern. Zari brocades when gold and silver threads are used along with or without silk threads, thrust either as special weft or warp to create glittering raised ornamentation. We have the zari brocade kind of fabrics. When we talk of gold or silver threads. It is to be under stood that the gold threads are actually only silver threads with gold polish and that these threads are obtained by closely winding extremely fine gold or silver wire around a silk thread. According to Sir George Watt, “When the gold and silver threads were used so densely that the ground was hardly visible, the material was kinkhab proper and was too heavy for clothing, it was therefore used for trappings, hangings and furnishing”. Only that material in which the zari patterns were scattered was true brocade. This was used for clothing.
Banaras silk Jamdani
The silk Jamdani, a technical variety of brocade or the ‘figured muslin’, traditionally woven in Banaras may be considered to be one of the finest products to come out of the Banarasi loom. Here silk fabric is brocaded with cotton and rarely with zari threads. Jamdani is woven by transfixing the pattern thread between a varying number of warp threads in proportion to the size of the designed then throwing the shuttle to pass the regular weft. By repeating this process, where in the size and placing of the cut thread is in accordance with the character of the pattern; the Jamdani weaver produces arrange of intricate designs. Some of the traditional motifs of Jamdani included chameli (Jasmine), panna hazar (thousand emeralds), gendabuti (marigold flower), panbuti (leaf form), tircha (diagonally striped) and so on. The most attractive design feature of the Jamdani sari was konia or a comer-motif having a floral mango butta. It has the own special character of (URTU) binding in the figured designs on ground fabrics using extra weft designs thread damp patch technique for the ornamentation of the saree. It is silk by silk base fabrics or namented with extra looking and technique of weaving in karhuwan.
Brocade weavers of Banares have often endeavoured to add a sense of gaiety and festivity by brocading patterns in colourful silk threads amidst the usual gold and silver motifs of the brocade convention. The present sari is an example in which muga silk motifs have been in laid. Jangala wildly scrolling and spreading vegetation motif is among the eldest in Banares brocades. This old rose sari is embellished with beautifully contrasted gold-creepers and silver flowers of the Jangala motif. The borders have brocaded running creepers in muga silk and gold, and silver-zari threads. The end panel is a combination of motifs of the borders and condensed Jangala of the field. Muga silk brocading in-hances the beauty of the sari while reducing the cost. All over Jal Jangala design to get the stylish work of the sarees and also used mina work for the decoration of the fabrics. The exclusive design saree has time taking skilled work, costly fabrics are widely accepted during the wedding occasion.
Jamwar Tanchoi sari
Using a technique similar to that of brocade, weavers of Banaras weave saris using colourful extra weft silk yam for patterning. This variety is known as Tanchoi. This maroon-coloured sari in the satin weave is brocaded with elaborate motifs from the Jama war shawl tradition from Kashmir, the characteristic feature of which was the paisley motif, often elaborated into a maze which would look kaleidoscopic in character. The field has a densely spread minute diaper of Jamawar style paisley. The end panel has large motifs of multiple paisley forms one growing out of the other. The border, as well as the cross borders of the end panel, have miniature paisley creepers. Tanchoi fabric has remarkable fame in the India as well as all over in the world widely acceptable to all kind of the people.
The renowned zari brocade weavers of Banaras has evolved a technique of weaving tissue material which looked like golden cloth. By running zari in weft a combination of zari and silk in extra-weft (pattern-thread) and silk in warp, the weave of this sari has densely patterned with golden lotuses floating in a glimmering pond. The ‘drops of water’ are created by cut work technique. The borders and the end panel have a diaper of diamond patterns enclosed by a border of running paisley motifs. Tissue saris are most popular as wedding saris among the affluent. Tissue sari has glazed, shining character due to the use of real gold zari/silver zari in weft on silk warp ground are ornamented with the particulars traditional design such as Jangala Butidar, Shikargah menadar and so on.
Cut work saree
This type of saree prepared by cut work technique on plain ground texture after removing of the floated thread which are not designed (woven) during the weaving process which provide a good transparent look. Cut work is the cheaper version of the Jamdani variety. In cut work, the pattern is made to run from selvage to selvage letting it hang loosely between two motifs and the extra-thread is then cut manually, giving the effect of Jamdani.
The most striking feature of this dark blue silken saree is that it is brocaded with pattern threads of gold, silver and silk. Due to the darker shade of gold and lighter of silver this variety of patterning in brocade is conventionally known as Ganga-Jamuna, indicating the confluence of these two rivers whose waters are believed to be dark and light receptively. The end panel has a row of arches, in each of which a bouquet of flowers is placed. A slightly smaller and variegated bouquet is diapered all over the field. The Butidar saree is a rich kind of the Banaras saree in high traditional pattern and motif of the design locally popularised such as Angoor bail, Gojar bail, Luttar bail, Khulta bail, Baluchar bail, Mehrab bail, Doller butti, Ashraffi butti, Latiffa butti. Resham butti, Jhummar butti, Jhari butta, Kalma butti, Patti butti, Lichhi butti, Latiffa butta, Kairy kalanga, Thakka anchal, Mehrab anchal, Baluchar butta with the use of real gold and silver Jari and Katan silk in the weft.
Since a large number of silk dyeing units in the trade use chemical dyes, which cause pollution in the Ganges river, a move is on to shift to natural dyes. A research team from the Indian Institute of Technology-Banaras Hindu University (IIT-BHU) used the technique of solvent extraction and enzymatic extraction to developed natural colours from plants, flowers and fruits including accaccia, butia (palash), madder, marigold and pomegranate (anar).
These are highly sought after variety of sarees and historically known to be one of the finest sarees in India. These are known for their gold and silver brocade work, fine silk and rich embroidery. These are decorated with elaborate engravings and thus very heavy.
The looms in Varanasi, however, are falling silent, rapidly. There are plenty of reasons, all of them valid and challenging. However, when the human spirit starts sinking then the focus of all effort has to point not merely to providing alternative sources of livelihood or financial subsidies.
These fine gold and silver brocades from India are woven in the city of Banaras (Varanasi). Fine heavy gauge silk yarns are woven intricately as warp and weft along with gold and silver threads (zari) to create elaborate brocade designs. In detail, the weft thread passes over and under the warp thread weaving the silk base of the sari where in the special gold and silver threads are transfixed in between by skipping the passage of the regular weft over a certain number of warp threads as per the design.
Most Banarasi saris reflect ancient Mughal influence which is seen in the motifs used like floral and foliate motifs (kalga and bel), a string of upright leaves called jhallar usually weaved on the inner and outer edge. Other motifs used are animals and figures with small details, scenes from the village, fairs, designs inspired from the architecture of temple and mosque, etc. The edge of the sari border is a characteristic of Banarasi Saris.
Banaras silk sarees is a name that conjures up diverse images of the rich Indian tradition. The historians have traced the tradition to 1500 to 2000 BC with references in Vedic and Buddha literature. It seems that weavers were earlier specialised in cotton weaving but made a switch over to silk weaving in the 14th century. Around this time again they got specialised in brocade weaving. Brocade is a textile in which pattern is created in weaving by transfixing or thrusting the pattern-thread between the warp. Zari brocade entails the use of gold (meaning silver thread with gold polish) and silver threads-real or imitation-thrust either as special weft or warp to create glittering raised ornamentation. The weave rich varieties of sarees in Varanasi are Jangala, Tanchoi, Vaskat, Cut work, Tissue and Butidar. Apart from the sarees the other products that have of late been introduced in the cluster are dress material, stoles, scarves, mufflers and home furnishing items.
Activity of Banaras cluster
The city of Varanasi houses the district head quarter of Varanasi district that consists of eight blocks. There are 45000 active looms in the district that are spread all over.
The cluster development program for Varanasi under IHCDP of DCHL was initiated in the year 2006. To start with, the diagnostic study of the handloom cluster was conducted and cluster mapping were done. After selection of cluster pocket viz., Ram Nagar, Lohta and Kotwa, baseline data has been collected covering 5000 handlooms. The purpose of the data collection was to understand the set of interventions required for the cluster development. Based on this survey, a report was prepared and required benchmarks were established.