2018

Banarasi Sarees and Textiles

Dastkari Haat Samiti

A selection of different Banarasi weaves, motifs, and textile design explorations 

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
History of the Textiles
Fabric is part of the story of Prince Siddharth who later came to be known as Gautam Buddha or Lord Buddha. He is said to have removed his royal silk robes, most probably among the best woven in Varanasi, and took to wearing the 'kasayani vastrani'; Kasi or Kashi being another name for Banaras, where fine, smooth, silk yarn was produced apart from the best of cotton.

Literature that goes back 2500 years, stored with the Maha Bodh Society, describes the event of the Lord Buddha’s cremation in which his body was wrapped in fine cloth woven in Sarnath, on the outskirts of Varanasi, where Buddha is said to have begun his teachings.

The accepted birth and death dates of Lord Buddha are 563 – 483 BC.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A bright fuschia pink Varanasi handloom sari with a contrast border in a geometric design and butis, scattered motifs, of a small flowering plant, are highlighted in muga silk to replicate the effect of zari, or gold threads.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Butis, or scattered motifs, are an important part of many textile designs. A master weaver in Varanasi points to them on this wall piece woven for an important crafts fair in Oxford, England.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

He indicates that each buti is different from the other, highlighting the variety in their traditional design repertoire.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Popular Motifs
Techniques and designs had many inputs over centuries, creating a special repertoire of textiles and textures. Each one has a name and is created through a change in the process of weaving it.  A typical sari will have floral, trellis, or jaali (lattice) designs with a prominent border above and below and an extravagant end piece called the pallu, which may also have a konia, or corner piece of a paisley or floral motif at two corners where the pallu begins.
Banarasi Weaving: Exhibition, 2017-11, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Floral butis and leaf patterns in silk thread and zari are spread over the body of a handwoven Varanasi sari.

Banarasi Weaving: Exhibition, 2017-11, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Geometric patterns are arranged on a handloom silk sari to offer a contemporary effect with a blue and green colour palette.

Banarasi Weaving: Exhibition, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

An old blouse (to be worn with a sari) tailored in the 19th century, with zari motifs on an old rose silk fabric woven in Varanasi, shows flowers, leaves, paisleys and trellis motifs laid out together in a harmonious design.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A silk handloom sari with silk threads superimposed with motifs, that give the appearance of hand embroidery, is similar to one of the embroidery styles done in earlier times in western Gujarat.

Weavers and designers ‘innovate’ by borrowing from motifs and techniques of other craft traditions of different areas, making commercial concepts of having patents and copyrights meaningless in the Indian context.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The decorative embellishment of coloured thread over motifs gives the effect of embroidery. The upright peacock and flowering tree motifs are imitative of an old embroidery tradition from Gujarat in the western part of India.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Bold, dramatic effects can be achieved in handloom weaves using silver, gold and black covering an entire sari or veil piece.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A stunning contemporary sari design from a handloom in Varanasi, shows a subtle colour palette, where an embossed effect in the weave creates a monochromatic pattern over the body of the sari. It is highlighted by a finely woven geometric border and motifs made of a pair of parrots.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A thin line of orange along the border edge lifts the colour to another level while remaining simple.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A combination of flowers embedded within diagonally placed trellis makes this bright orange handloom silk sari a favourite choice for weddings.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Detail of a Varanasi silk handloom sari shows the extent to which gold threads and bright colours are used to weave textiles that are apt to be worn for festivals or ceremonial occasions.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

One of the most lasting and popular patterns of handloom sari weaving in Varanasi is created when silk and gold threads alone are used for embellishments all over the body of a golden hued sari, with a simple zig zag geometric design framing the ends and the borders.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Jamawar tanchoi is also termed tanchoi. These are silk on silk brocade weaves with an extra weft silk for the patterning.

Saris are in pastel colours, often with a monochrome effect. Finer, smaller patterns usually cover the entire surface.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Apparently the three Chinese brothers of the Choi family came to Varanasi to sell silk. It is likely that one of them was named Tran Choi. Weavers claim that the name of this textile is a corruption of the Chinese name.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
The Jamdani Connection
Jamdani is a technique shared by weavers in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Dhaka in Bangladesh. Varanasi excels in this form of brocading which has silk or cotton as the base cloth but cotton in the brocaded pattern. Some of the familiar and evocative names for jamdani designs include chameli, jasmine, pannahazaar, thousand emeralds, gendabuti, the marigold motif, pan buti, heart or betel leaf shaped motif, and tircha, which refers to the pattern when it is placed diagonally.
Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Jangla could be described as an extravagant type of brocade in which the pattern spreads boldly across the entire fabric.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A gentle salmon pink sari, designed by a prominent weaver-designer of Varanasi in the jamdani technique, has a combination of finely executed flowers and trellis patterns.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Jamdani is a technique where double weft forms an overlaid pattern, that looks finest when weaving the length of fine cloth in silk, cotton and muslin.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Jamdani weaves have the effect of fine embroidery, since the patterns give an embossed effect on fine cloth. They are created by bringing in a double weft for the motifs and borders.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

It may or may not have some additional ornamentation in gold and silver threads.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A jamdani weave wall-hanging in white silk on finely woven white cotton fabric, is interspersed with gold zari. The image of Lord Krishna is taken from the Pichhwai painting style of Nathdwara in Rajasthan.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, Does not match photo, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The reverse side of a sari, called rakhtambari for its blood red colour, shows how the weft is done in a continuous design in the jamdani weaving technique. The joining threads are cut away by specialized workers skilled in the task.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
The Buddhist Connection
The Buddhist link with Varanasi being so strong, it is a natural process that the heavily brocaded thiugyamo, or gyaser cloth has been woven in Varanasi for centuries. The clientele consists of Buddhist monasteries and prayer rooms, where it is used for elaborate coverings, costumes for ceremonial dances and even for the outer frame of a sacred thangka. 
Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, Haseen Mohd., 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The fabric earlier came in 100” strips but was later developed for wider looms on requests from clientele in Tibet.

The Muslim weaving community and Tibetan monasteries have a long and proud association.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's studio, Sribhas Chandra Supakar and Babulal, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Gold zari threads are laid on black silk for an ornamental, large sized bed cover made specially for ceremonial use.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The technique of weaving the gyaser also identifies under the name of kinkhab. It is the result of a process where the base fabric is completely overlaid and has a pattern with gold and silk threads. It is therefore very heavy and can only be used for ceremonial or religious trappings or drapes.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The patterns in brocade, in contrast, are scattered, leaving the areas where the weft is finer and plain and the patterns alone have a warp and a weft that is double. The latter is therefore more suitable for draping, particularly the sari.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Smaller gyaser pieces serve as table top or stool covers in Tibetan establishments. Nearly all the handloom fabric woven in the gyaser or kinkhab tradition is carried out in Varanasi.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The designs and symbols on hand woven gyaser fabric are made exclusively in motifs that are typically Tibetan-Buddhist patterns. Many carry auspicious symbols relevant for blessings or prayers.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Rich and Rare Textiles
Weavers of Varanasi are skilled at weaving exquisite and rare yarn as well. One of these is a pure zari and red silk, hand woven in Varanasi into ashrafi, gold coin motifs; Another is a multi-coloured handloom yarn woven out of peacock feathers that have been shed in groves and forests. This cloth is said to be exported at high prices to upholster the sofas of princely families in oil-rich countries of the Middle East.
Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

What looks like an innocuous merging of multi-coloured yarn is the famed and little-known fabric of Varanasi. It is a subtly shimmering cloth woven on a handloom, out of yarn made by spinning lengths devised out of peacock feathers that have been shed in groves and forests.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

This cloth is said to be exported at high prices to upholster the sofas of princely families in oil-rich countries of the Middle East.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Pure zari and red silk is hand woven in Varanasi into ashrafi, gold coin, motifs.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Kashmir connection
Mughal rule in India from 1526 to 1717 brought a major infusion of Persian skills and designs, and changed pattern layouts to suit tailored clothing for nobility not only in India but internationally, including to the Safavids of Iran in the 17th and 18th centuries. The royals in India ordered hundreds of metres for veils, turbans and which today form the basis for designs of shawls and stoles.
Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Small and big paisley motifs form a Kashmiri styled design on this red silk sari woven on a jacquard loom.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Master weavers in Varansi have started imitating the complicated and intricate paisley shawl designs of Kashmir.

Here a sari imitates a Kani shawl, one of the oldest handicrafts of Kashmir, using silk threads in the warp and weft.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Kashmir and Varanasi share the paisley pattern freely as an inheritance from the Mughal era. In Kashmir, these very same designs would be woven on handlooms in wool, whereas in Varanasi it is always woven with silk yarn.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Contemporary Directions
Weavers constantly experiment after interacting with customers and designers. Designers have also experimented with pairing traditional Chikankari embroidery work from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh with rich silk brocade fabric from Varanasi to create high-end fashion wear for the European market.
Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

This silk sari in bright magenta with a pattern woven in silk thread shows a new design exploration by a master weaver, in which he tries to replicate the ghats, boats and the River Ganga in Varanasi.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

This finely woven woolen shawl, handwoven in Varanasi, duplicates the famed pashmina shawl of Kashmir.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

The most elaborate embroidered look in a brocade is described as kadwa. In a brocaded piece the reverse will show sections of loose threads joining one pattern to another.

These are left as they are or cut away by specially trained cutters who do not damage the base cloth.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, Maqbool Hasan, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Master weaver Maqbool Hassan holds up a thickly embossed patterned area on silk. He has achieved this new texture by using thicker raw silk threads.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dress material in a variety of colours and patterns, in zari or silk threads, is available off the shelf for custom-made clothing.

Stores in big cities like Delhi offer the widest variety of Varanasi handloom silk.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Traditional Chikankari embroidery work from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh is paired with rich silk brocade fabric from Varanasi to create high-end fashion wear for the European market.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Patterned silk fabrics in bright reds, pinks and oranges are often stitched into wedding outfits by brides who chose lehnga-cholis and dupattas, elaborate flared skirts and tops with veils, rather than a sari for the wedding.

Banarasi Weaving: Ekaya store, 2018-04, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Lehengas with matching veils and blouse pieces, ready for tailoring, hang in a large Varanasi textile store in Delhi.

It follows fashion trends and offers to weave and stitch on order.

Banarasi Weaving: Dastkari office, Munna Pahalwan, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti
Scripts Woven in Textiles
In the recent years textiles with scripts woven into them have been revived. 
Banarasi Weaving: Dastkari office, Munna Pahalwan, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

A specially commissioned sari, woven on the outskirts of Varanasi city, replicates an old piece ordered in earlier times by a member of the courtly family.

Banarasi Weaving: Dastkari office, Munna Pahalwan, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Each ashrafi, gold coin motif, is scripted with a greeting by name, addressing someone in the family.

Banarasi Weaving: Dastkari office, Munna Pahalwan, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Paisleys on the corners of the end-piece, a pallu, are called konia, or corner piece, when placed diagonally in that space.

Banarasi Weaving: Dastkari office, Shahid Junaid, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

This jamdani patterned stole, woven in Varanasi was specially developed for an exhibition on calligraphy and craft.

See more of how the Banarasi Sari is created.

Banarasi Weaving: Karigar's showroom, 2018-02, From the collection of: Dastkari Haat Samiti

Read more about Banarasi textiles here:
- The Marketplace
- The Holy City of Varanasi
- The Weaving Process

Dastkari Haat Samiti
Credits: Story

Text: Jaya Jaitly and Charu Verma
Photography: Sunil Kumar and Charu Verma
Artisans: Maqbool Hasan, Haseen Mohd., Sribhas Chandra Supakar, and Ram Lal Morya
Ground Facilitator: Charu Verma
Video Documentation: Sunil Kumar and Charu Verma
Curation: Ruchira Verma

Cinematic Video:
- Director: Jyoti Neggi
- Production: Studio Gola

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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