From The Looms of Varnasi
-Arya Vasanth Nair
The holy land of Varanasi takes pride in having the best weavers and why shouldn’t they? They create the most beautiful and popular Sarees in India, the royal Benarasi Sarees with gold and silver zari and silk threads. A trade secret passed on from generations after generations, the weaving of a pure Banarasi Silk has become a matter of family pride and occupation. Banarasi Silk Sarees are the most sought after Saree for weddings, festivals, and celebrations.
Even the timeless Rig Vedas, Jataka Tales, and Pali texts mention the regal Benarasi Silk. Who are we to argue with thousand-year-old scripture? According to these scriptures, these Banarasi Silk was a common among the Gods. The historians found evidence that it was during the Mughal Emperor, Akbar’s period that this textile industry flourished to such a great extent, in and outside India. Akbar sure did have some great selections for his wives and he, mostly adorned fine gold and silver zari worked Banarasi Silk.
Did you know that Banarasi is not a fabric but a weaving method? Well, I didn’t. Banarasi is more about the weaving process of the fabric and zari than the fabric. The zari threads drawn from gold or silver alloys are basically flattened to thin metallic strips. These strips are wound around silk yarns that are then flattened out for future use.
The motifs that you see on the Silk is made out of the Zari threads while the rest of the Saree is made out of Silk Sarees are Pure Silk or Art Silk. The most popular Islamic motifs are floral patterns, jali work, and stylised foliage patterns and monuments. Geometric patterns and Hindu God embossed designs are also quite popular. This weaving is a lot harder and time-consuming than we realize.
A single Benarasi Saree can take 15 days to 6 months to be weaved. The Saree design is first created on paper. Each design is created on cards called Punch Cards. Every row requires a different pattern and hence around 6,000 Punch cards are required to create one Saree. Phew… That really seems like a lot of work.
Now I get why people pass Banarasi Sarees as an heirloom. Anything that takes so much effort, time and perfection is an absolute delight to own. I am getting mine now, are you?