A very good comparison
to the Kanchi saree is the Banarasi saree which is found in North India. The
styles of the Kanchi and Banarasi saree are so different yet similar it plays together brilliantly.
A brief background
about the Benares saree: these sarees come from the Varanasi region of Northern
India unlike the Kanchipuram which is in the heart of South Indian state of
Tamil Nadu. The Benares saree has mostly Mughal influence yet it consists of
similar color schemes to the kanchi saree. The banarasi saree came to being
only around the 16-17th century in India, during the Mughal rule in
India, hence the vast Mughal influence on the saree’s motifs and designs. The
weaving technique of the banarasi sari is pretty similar to that of the kanchi
except for the different climates that causes the silk to weave together more
differently. It is also not as detailed as the kanchi sarees as the weavers in
kanchi have a lot more experience as they started this art form in the 6-7th
century AD, almost 10 centuries before the banarasi saree was even an
Intricate floral and
leaf patterns are typical motifs on Benares sarees. A string of upright leaves
called jhallar are woven on inner and
outer edges. Benares sarees are woven typically in brocade style with both silver
and/or gold threads interspersed within the silk to create rich and intense designs.
What is common with Kanchipuram motifs are the common peacock, other animals
and designs inspired from temples. Then again, designs from mosques also were
also a source of inspiration for Benares weavers.
In conclusion this
experience researching the Kanchipuram saree as a whole has been enriching and
eye opening. Though the initial curiosity started with the vast collection of
beautiful sarees in my grandmother’s cupboard, the field work and study gave me
a whole new perspective.
The handloom and the
weaving process are most fascinating and complex and are amazing to see so many
weaver families who are involved in this for a livelihood. Many of the weavers
are designers also, though independent and full time designers have evolved in
recent years. The intricate and involved work of each motif is in itself an
artwork. Further these motifs are used in various combinations of main and
supporting designs. The last step of choosing the designs of the border, body
and pallu of the saree complete the
The setup of the loom
and the entire weaving process is much more involved than one would imagine
while simply walking into a saree shop.
Meeting the weavers
Kumar, Thambi and Murthy have all grown up in weaver families. The skill is
learnt as children with the deft use of hand. Many of the weaver families are
reducing as more attractive jobs in nearby factories are emerging. Kumar has
chosen to work in the government service center. For many others like Thambi
and Murthy it is largely a home based small or micro enterprise. These weavers
are part of a guild which then h3elp connect to retailers in large shops and
bigger cities. The weavers make only small amounts of money and the efforts
involved in handlooms are making it difficult to sustain in this industry.
The usage of computers
to design and power loom hasten the whole process and with this automation more
of this traditional Kanchi saree is able to survive the challenges. With all
the changes the Kanchipuram saree industry has grown overall though there are
fewer artists and weavers. The government of India through the weaver’s service
center supports the industry further.
Finally it is the small
town weavers and designers that made the most impact during this research
process. They are true artists and their passion for their handicraft is a
testament to how this industry is flourishing.