Introduction and etymology

One of the most recognisable and popular saris of India, Benarasi silk saris remains one of the most coveted possessions of women in Northern India. Originating from the ancient holy city of Varanasi, these saris are known for their gold or silver brocades and painstakingly exquisite engravings. Because of its weighty embellishments and embroidery, they’re known to be quite heavy, nevertheless these weighty saris find a place in every visitors wish-list travelling to Varanasi. Characterised by gracefully entwined floral ornamentation’s, Benarasi silk saris evoke imagery of delicate metallic visual effects and vigorously weaved friezes.

Known for their skilled craftsmanship, weavers of Benarasi silk saris take immense pride in the fact that pieces of their efforts are adorned by a majority of Indian women on their weddings and other festive occasions.

History

Benarasi silk saris find mention in the epic Mahabharata and ancient Buddhist texts, reaffirming its status as the region’s most cardinal contribution to the subcontinent’s illustrious heritage of fine textiles. However, the present day Benarasi silk saris found their mould during the Mughal rule of North India, where they were influenced by a heightened aesthetic perfectionism of the rulers originally from Persia. Floral motifs, kalga, bel and jhallar are all examples of Mughal features, otherwise noticed in buildings exhibiting Indo-Saracenic synthesis.

The weighty brocades are legacies of numerous generations of weavers who are said to have migrated to Varanasi from Gujarat during the early 17th century. These weavers employed in cottage industries around Gorakhpur, Chandauli, Bhadohi, Jaunpur and Azamgargh districts, continue to flourish and foster, owing to an immense demand for their highly intricate and celebrated pieces of art.

Weaving

Benarasi silk saris are produced in cottage industries known as karkhanas, scattered in districts around Varanasi. Traditionally weaved by the Momin Ansars of Uttar Pradesh, their skills are handed from father to sons for generations and the styles and motifs weaved differ from karkhana to karkhana. The artians colloquially referred to as karigars, traditionally weaved on pit looms but now use Jacquard looms. This modern loom makes space for pre-planning of the entire design and then proceeding mechanically.

The silk for these saris are brought from the finest silk producing regions of India, notably the four South Indian states. Silk from Kashmir and Bengal are also appreciated, but the crème of Benarasi silk saris see use zari threads drawn from real gold, adding a cherry to the already elaborate and refined loom work.

Varieties

Due to the distinct motifs of each karkhana, Benarasi silk saris have been ordained with various forms within the form. Each cluster of karkhana has recogniseable minuet decorations, while other variations in weaving processes also occur and lead to variations with style and finesse. Pure silk saris are popularly known as katan, while ones with infused zari are called kora. Gorgette is also used to weave these saris, while more contemporary employ the use of shattir fabric.

Diversification in Benarasi silk saris also occur on the basis of designs, namely jangla, tanchoi, butidar and cut work sari amongst others. Jangla saris are most easily distinguishable of all Benarasi saris, with elegant vegetation motifs scrolling all along sari’s length. These nature inspired patterns give the style its name and is believed to be the most ancient of all Benarasi brocades. Tanchoi employs heavy zari-work making it apt for weddings and other ceremonies. Butidar saris are the finest of them all, with gold and silver zaris giving it a mildly contrasting appeal, with the two meant to evoke the imagery of Ganga-Jamuna.

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Ancient wooden Benarasi loom

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Source : parisera

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