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Shopping in India - Silk Sarees

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Indian Silk Sarees

Silk and India have had a relationship which has lasted centuries. The elegance, colours, craftsmanship and regional varieties of Indian Silk have insured that silk apparel never goes out of style. Though sarees and cloth dominate the market, silk has reinvented itself as a modern fabric. You can hunt for Banarasi silk scarves, brocade cushions, jholas, curtains and bed covers too these days. Even today, for authentic craftsmanship and vibrant designs you need to travel to the Indian silk centers of Varanasi, Assam and Kanchivaram – a shopping trip to gladden the shopaholic’s heart.

» Varanasi - Banarasi Sarees

Is a wedding trousseau complete without a Banarasi silk saree? Should we even ask? Characterized by zari borders and a full pallu, these sarees are coveted by shoppers all over the country and usually end up being handed down the generations. The Banarasi silk saree has characteristic geometric patterns - a little known fact is that this craftsmanship developed in the Mughal era.

Banarasi Sarees

It was the Mughals who first elevated silk to a fashionable item, using it for garments, turbans and shawls. Akbar is said to have invited weavers from West Asia to work in India and it is this particular mélange of Persian and native traditions that gave rise to the ‘traditional’ pattern of Banarasi sarees. Since Islam prohibits the depiction of human figures, the saree weavers incorporated animal, floral, geometric and ‘temple’ or ‘pagoda’ figures into their creations and thus came about the famous Banarasi silk saree

Weaving a saree is a notoriously hard business. Even with the advent of a power loom it takes three craftsmen anywhere from 15 days to six months to produce one saree. The result is a creation with luminescent borders, brilliant colours and stunning designs. The Banarasi Jamdani with motifs of chameli, genda buti (marigold flower) and panna hazaar (thousand emeralds) is prized among connoisseurs.

For the best Banarsi Silk buys head to ‘Garib Ki Dukaan’ at Gali Rani Kuan in Varanasi. On old and famous shop, any rickshaw-wala can direct you there. In fact, this whole gali is lined with silk shops. Locals also recommend Kachori Gali, Chowk and Dula Nalla for their Banarasi silk shops.

Find more on Varanasi

» Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu – Kanjeevaram Sarees

The temple town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu is also popular by another name – Silk City. Kanchipuram is famous all over India for its hand woven silk sarees and fabrics. In the southern states no bridal trousseau is complete without the special silk ‘Kanjeevaram’ saree. Identified by their bold colours, these heavy silk sarees also have elaborate ‘zari’ work.

Kanjeevaram Sarees

The pyramidal motifs of the temple design, palaces and paintings used to be the traditional designs woven into these sarees. Nowadays, scenes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Gita and even tribal designs are incorporated within the design. The body, pallu and the border of these sarees are woven separately. A genuine Kanjeevaram can always be distinguished by the fine stitching interlocking the three parts together.

The handloom industry within Kanchipuram is close to 400 years old. This is surprising considering the fact that there are no silk plantations or any other raw material manufacturing units within the city. The silk industry here consists entirely of weavers.

The weavers are organized under 24 co-operative societies. Most of these are now under the management of the state government. The most reputed among these is the Kamatchi Amman society. Within Kanchiuram, the government co-operative shops are located on Gandhi Street. Private sellers mostly are concentrated on Mettu Street and T. K. Nambi Street.

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» Sualkuchi, Assam – Muga Silk

One of the most prized textiles in India is Muga Silk. And when we say prized, we do not just mean by reputation but also in monetary value. The fact that one Muga saree costs anywhere between Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 12,000 will give you an idea of the ‘price’ of this textile.

The Muga is an essential part of the identity of Assam. It is featured in folk songs and stories, it is a part of the marriage ceremony, and it is the gift you present to your elders as a sign of respect. The Assamese Muga silk is extracted from a native silkworm, Antherea assamensis. Surprisingly, it is one of the few silk textiles which can be washed at home. In fact, the silk gains in lustre after every wash. Muga silk has a very low porosity and is thus entirely resistant to either bleaching or dyeing. Thus, the natural golden colour of the yarn has become a trademark of this textile. The silk has also been granted the GI certification.

Muga Silk Sarees
Essentially, Assam has three native varieties of silk. The first in cultural and production value is the golden coloured Muga. The Pat, which when literallu translated means ‘silk’ in Assamese, is white in colour. It is of a finer texture than the rough Muga and because of its warmth is worn only in winters. The last is the Endi or Errhi variety of warm silk. A rough and warm textile, it is used for making shawls and quilts. While the Muga resists all colour, the last two silks come in a variety of brilliant hues.

There are a number of signature motifs to Assamese weaving. Chief among them is the morpankhi (peacock feather), butis (flower) and what in Assamese is called the singhasana (throne) designs. As with all cultures, different tribes and locales of Assam have their own particular identifiable patterns. Sualkachi has now been granted government protection and funding and there are a number of government emporias within the town where one is assured of the quality of the Muga cloth.

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