Region : North India
BanarasiSaree : Every Indian bride’s dream saree, the Banarasi is woven by skilled artisans in Benaras or Varanasi, a small town in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Wooven from the finest silk yarn, a Banarasisaree is identified by its intricate gold or silver brocade (‘zari’ – gold or silver yarn) work.
The more intricate or elaborate the designs, the heavier the saree. Ralph Filch, one of the earliest British traders and travellers, who visited India between 1583-91 mentions a thriving textile industry in Banaras in his chronicles. Weaving of brocades, using silver and gold threads to create intricate designs started in Banaras sometime in the 14th century during the Mughal period. During the famine of 1603, silk weavers from Gujarat migrated to Banares and possibly started the silk brocade weaving which evolved and touched new heights of excellence in the 18th-19th century. Most of the designs unique to the Banarasisaree have a Mughal touch and include floral and leaf motifs, mina and ‘jaal’ (net) work and compact gold weaving. ‘Jhallar’ or upright leaves decorating the outer borders of the saree is a characteristic feature of the Banarasi. The time taken to weave a Banarasi may vary from 15 days to even six months – depending on the intricacy of the designs.
ChanderiSaree : The exquisitely transparent Chanderi cotton and silk sarees get their name from a small town nestling in the Vindhyachal hills in Ashok Nagar district of Madhya Pradesh. Chanderi traces its origin to the vedic era and it is believed that Lord Krishna’s cousin Shishupal founded the place. Chanderi fabrics come in three forms - pure silk, silk cotton and chanderi cotton and the sarees are embellished with beautiful gold, silver and copper zari work. The royal Scindia family took the Chanderi under its patronage and the Chanderi has for generations dressed royalty. In 1890, the weavers shifted to mill made yarn from hand spun threads and under royal guidance gold thread designs started appearing in the traditional cotton muslin fabric. Combination of a silk warp with cotton weft became a Chanderi statement in the 1970s.
The zari ‘buttis’ or the bigger ‘buttas’ are made using different needles by skilled embroiderers doing the work for generations. A Chanderi ‘butti’ stands out anywhere because of the sheer elegance and precision of the needle work. The transparency of the Chanderi fabric is its unique feature and this comes from the Flature yarn used – i.e. the glue is not removed from the raw yarn. The non-degumming of the raw yarn causes the transparency and shine that is exclusive to the Chanderi.
Region : South India
KanjeevaramSaree : This saree gets its name from the temple town of Kanchipuram in the state of Tamil Nadu, where its woven. Weaving three silk threads with one ‘zari’ (gold or silver yarn) thread is the technique unique to the Kanjeevaram. Another significant feature of this saree is that the end piece (pallu) and the saree body are woven separately and then interlocked with exceptional skill. Heavy intricate thick zari work on the end piece is another characteristic feature of this saree made from high quality mulberry silk. Motifs and designs are drawn from south-Indian temple architecture and nature. Scenes from epic texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagwat Puran also figure on these richly hued sarees.
PochampallySaree : The Pochampallysaree, a favourite of connoisseurs for long, was the chosen saree by former Miss World and leading actress Aishwarya Rai for her wedding and reception. These sarees, also called Pochampally ‘ikat’, are woven in BhoodanPochampally, in Nalgonda district of Telengana (formerly Andhra Pradesh). Following the tie and dye technique, the Pochampallysarees are woven in both silk and cotton. Intricate geometric patterns define these sarees. They are also woven in ‘sico’ – an interesting mix of cotton and silk. The colours used in these sarees are from natural souces. BhoodanPochampally is considered one of the “ iconicsaree weaving clusters of India” because of the sheer elegance and beauty of the sarees woven here. The weavers community here still practices the ‘Gurukul’ tradition of teaching, with a master weaver taking under him apprentices and training them on the job – this has continued down several generations.
Region : Eastern India
BaluchariSaree : This silk saree is woven by rural weavers in Baluchar, a small town in Murshidabad district of the state of West Bengal. The body of the saree has small dot-like designs called ‘butis’ while the border is wider and detailed, usually with floral motifs. The end piece or the pallu is a visual treat m depicting scenes from rural life, the richness of the Mughal courts, stories from the epics Ramayana or Mahabharata or temple sculptures showing gods and goddesses. Large motifs in the centre flanked by narrow decorated borders framing figurines in rows characterizes this saree. Motifs in silver ‘zari’ (silver thread) worked on dark backgrounds in green, chocolate, mustard, purple, red, blue, yellow are also common. Astronomical symbols like the moon, stars, sun too figure prominently in most designs. One significant feature of this saree is that the wide designs on the end piece are often repeated along the decorated borders.
BomkaiSaree : Also called SonepuriSaree, Bomkais are woven in Bomkai village in the western part of the Eastern Indian state of Odisha. While earlier, low-count, coarse and heavy cotton yarn was used to weave these sarees, usually in intense, dark colours, now they are also woven in silk. The designs are modern with a traditional touch. While Bomkai cottons are popular for everyday wears, the silk Bomkais are in great demand among the affluent and for special occasions like marriages or festivals. The saree is identified with the intricate thread work displayed on the end-piece (pallu). Odisha being a coastal state, fish is seen as a recurrent and popular motif on the Bomkaisaree. While traditionally these sarees had a red, black or white backgrounds, now they are often found in several different colours. A modern inclusion has been the weaving of the warp in a certain way to create multi-coloured end-pieces (pallu). Small flowers, birds like peacocks, things of everyday use like pestle or small drums etc. are other common motifs figuring on these sarees. Another prominent attribute of Bomkai is the ‘miktapanji’, the supplementary-warp style borders in the sarees made by some weavers.
Region : Western India
PaithaniSaree :This gold and silk saree is native to Paithan town in the state of Maharashtra. There is an abundance of Buddhist motifs - like the lotus, on which Buddha sits or stands - in this saree due to the proximity of Paithan to the Ajanta Caves. The artisans also draw considerably from the flora and fauna of the region for the designs. These include parrots, peacocks, swans and the pheasant and smaller motifs like circles, stars or cluster of leaves on the body of the saree. Designs like the ‘Asawali’ (a flowering vine or flower pot), ‘Barwa’ (strands of ladder) and ‘Panja’ (a geometrical flower motif) are unique to the Paithani. The saree is easily identifiable due to the deep contrasting colours traditionally used for the body and end piece (pallu). The ‘pallu’ usually has a golden base with silk patterning. This saree often has a light-shade effect, achieved by bringing together two differently coloured threads in the process of a simple weave.
PatolaSaree: These double ‘ikat’ woven sarees get their name from Patan in Gujarat. These very expensive sarees are now being woven only by a few families and the weaving technique is a closely guarded secret. The process of weaving Patolasarees is very time consuming and it takes six months to about an year to weave a single saree. Both the weft and warp silk yarns are wrapped, tied and resist-dyed for each colour, forming the required pattern of the final fabric. The process of intricately tying and dyeing both the weft and the warp before weaving is termed double ‘ikat’. These sarees are vibrant, featuring myriad hues and famous for their geometrical designs. Once exclusive to members of the royal households, these sarees now figure in the trousseau of those who can afford it. However, these sarees have a niche market because of the exorbitant cost and market supply constraints. Among the patterns woven onto to these sarees by Hindu and Jain weavers, the double ‘ikat’ variety mostly has motifs from flora and fauna like parrots, elephants and flowers. Dancers also figure in the patterns. Muslim weavers on the other hand are partial to geometric and floral patterns. A bird design ‘NariKunj’, woven in dark colours, is a popular choice amongst upper caste Hindu women.
Region : North-East India
Muga Silk Saree : Also known as Assam silk sarees, these are mostly woven in Sualkuchi in Kamrup district of the north-eastern Indian state of Assam. Of the three types of wild silks in Assam, golden Muga is one. Muga silk is produced by a silkworm called Antheraeaassamensis which is found only in Assam. The other two wild silks found in Assam are white Pat and lesser known warm Eri. Mugasarees are woven from golden Muga silk. Though earlier the low-porosity of the silk was considered antagonistic to dyes, it was later found that this silk too takes to dyes well. The unique feature of Muga silk is that it becomes more lustrous and shiny after every wash and the silk is famous for its longevity and durability.
The above mentioned region-specific sarees are just the tip of the iceberg. There are several more such sarees being woven in silk and cotton across the length and breadth of India. This list includes other well knownsarees like the famous Jamdani and Tant (cotton) sarees of West Bengal, the Gadhwal and Gotasarees of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the Tanchoisarees of Surat in the western state of Gujarat, the Pattu cotton sarees of south Indian state of Kerala which are unique in their white and gold look, and the Sambalpuri and Kotkisarees of Odisha. The northern tip of India produces the elegant Tabi silk and Chinan silk sarees, woven in Kashmir. The famous tie and dye Bandhanisarees of Rajasthan are extravagant in the use of bright colours. Also well-worn are the nine yard popular Nauvarisaree of Maharashtra.