Heritage,  Sarees

My Saree Stories: Part 12

It was the Sankranti season, and in Maharashtra it is common to wear black to conserve heat in this winter season. I aired a lot of black sarees, but each is unique in its weave. Enjoy learning about some unique sarees from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal in this edition.

Saree #111: A grey and black ilkal with a Gomi border

Now, this is a saree I’m excited about. It is an Ilkal. Ilkals are sarees which originate from the town of Ilkal in Bagalkot district of North Karnataka. You all know that. So what’s different?

Ilkals are typically found in bright and bold colours. And I was looking for a monochrome. Secondly the pallu of an Ilkal is typically red and I wanted something else. So finally found this grey and black Ilkal with a cotton body and silk pallu, joined together in the classic ‘tope teni’ manner of weaving.

As Ilkals go, they can have plain, striped or checked bodies. This particular saree has thick stripes which is known as Jabra patti. I don’t know Kannada but I secretly think it is derived from ‘zebra stripes’. Sounds quite similar, doesn’t it?

Now here’s where things changed. When I was sold this saree, I was informed that this had a Gayathri border. But as I sat down to research about Ilkals I realized it wasn’t true. This saree has what is called a Gomi border or Gomi Dadi.

Gomi borders look like arrowheads and I’ve attached a close up of this. It is believed that these resemble jowar stalks and symbolize the harvest festival. In the ancient times, pregnant women were gifted these sarees as it symbolized fertility and a good harvest. These days Gomi borders are also being woven on Patteda Anchus and Maheshwari sarees.

So what is a Gayathri border? This is a new style border which was not part of the old weaves. I am attaching a picture of a Gayathri border from the web. You will see that there are several layers. Starting from the edge, the layers are:

  • Kadijaal, the blank space;
  • two parallel rail track like lines called Gaadi dadi separated by a plain Kadijaal. However zoom in to see an elaborate motif vaguely looking like Om inside these Gaadi Dadi lines. That’s perhaps why the name Gayathri is given;
  • Two more thin parallel broken lines called Dundu; and
  • two sawtooth like lines facing away from each other called Jomaale.

Hope this was interesting. My penchant for teaching unfortunately rubs off on social media posts too! So apologies to those who got bored.

Btw I splurged on Ilkals on my trip to Belgaum in November last year. So maybe some more border tales will follow.

Saree #112: A chaduranga chukki ilkal

It is a tradition in Maharashtra to wear black on Sankranti. I’m wearing a black cotton Ilkal saree with a silk pallu. This saree has small checks all over its body and is called the Chaduranga chukki pattern. I think the word Chukki means dots or connecting lines. This variant of the Chaduranga Chukki saree has small motifs in the centres of the squares. I wonder if it has a special name. I couldn’t find a reference to this.

Saree #113: A grey Chattisgarhi Kosa

This Saturday I had been invited to Nagpur as keynote speaker at a state level research conference for allied faculty, mostly from Physiotherapy and Nursing. I had to choose something formal looking. And so chose to wear this grey Chattisgarhi Kosa silk saree which has a wonderful weave.

Chattisgarhi kosa silk is obtained from an Indian silkworm called Antheraea mylitta which grows on arjun and sal trees. This is a type of tussar which is known for its sturdiness. Korba and Champa in Chattisgarh are famous for their kosa silk weaves. While the original kosa is available in natural shades of dull gold, fawn or cream, several shades are available after dyeing with natural dyes.

Just moments before it was my turn to speak I scrolled through my phone to discover that the results of an entrance test had been declared and my nephew had done well. All that excitement got transferred to my presentation. And could make a sleepy audience wake up and listen on a cold winter morning. Then time for thanksgiving at Sai Mandir before I returned home to celebrate with the family. An eventful day indeed.

Saree #114: A black and gold Kanjeevaram for Sankranti

When I got married I was sad to discover that wearing the colour black was banned for a year. It was considered inauspicious. And I’ve always loved wearing black. And each time I picked up a gorgeous saree to gift a close one, I was chastened as it had some black somewhere. I found that so frustrating. And now Maharashtrian friends and colleagues tell me that Sankranti is the time to wear black. I am so excited that I can wear black all week!

This morning by design in the department we all decided to wear black. Out came my black and gold Kanjeevaram which I hadn’t worn for the last twenty years as it wasn’t suitable for an auspicious occasion. And we had the mandatory group pic.

Saree #115: A Bishnupuri script block printed saree

The saree I’m wearing is a Bishnupuri silk. Bishnupur is famous for its medieval temples, terracotta art, classic music and silk weaving. Two kinds of sarees emerge from this town in West Bengal- the Baluchari and the Bishnupuri.Bishnupur was the capital of the Malla dynasty. The Malla kings patronized silk weaving, as silk was used in most of the Krishna temples in the vicinity. Weavers from Bardhaman, Garh Mandaran, Hooghly and other places shifted to Bishnupur to receive their favour. As one of these stories goes, some of these weavers originally belonged to Murshidabad. When the Bhagirathi river flooded over, they shifted to Bishnupur. With these weavers came their talent for producing some of the finest silk fabrics. Bishnupuri silk sarees are very light weight. Several different patterns are used, which include block printing, hand painting and batik. This saree has brightly coloured Ganga Jamuna temple borders with a script block printed pallu. Forgot to click in the morning, and by the time I returned from the movie, I had a crumpled saree and a tired face to show.

Saree #116: A black Patteda Anchu from Karnataka

Today’s saree is a black chequered patteda anchu with a Ganga Jamuna borders in tomato red and turquoise blue. I find these reversible sarees very comfortable. Totally no fuss and ready to wear as you don’t need to get a fall stitched either. I’ve written in detail about patteda anchu earlier too so won’t repeat. You may find the old details here.

Saree #117: A Pedana hand block-printed Kalamkari saree

I have written in detail earlier about Srikalahasti Kalamkari sarees which are hand-painted. Today’s saree is a Pedana hand block-printed cotton Kalamkari. This again comes from Andhra Pradesh from Pedana in Krishna district. Artists from Pedana have successfully revived the ancient art of what was originally called Machilipatnam Kalamkari.

There is an ancient memoir from the 17th century where a French physician François Bernier describes Akbar’s tent. He describes the inside of the tent as being lined with beautiful hand-painted chintz. He says this was made of cloth where the colours improved and became better and brighter after each wash. This was Kalamkari. Which the French and British called chintz.

The Golconda Sultanate patronized this art in Andhra Pradesh. Pedana Kalamkari involves the tedious process of making exquisite hand-carved wooden blocks.

This saree has Mughal style paisley floral prints. The Kalamkari artists experiment with varying motifs of flora and fauna quite akin to those that adorned Persian durbars. Unlike the Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari which features human forms, these designs traditionally used to avoid them keeping in with Islamic tradition.

Natural dyes are used to make these designs. The beige colour of the cotton is acquired from the myrobalan seeds. The brick red comes from chawal kodo, while indigo gives the blue colour. The yellows come from pomegranate flowers.

It is said that the rich mineral content in the water of Machilipatnam gives these sarees their bright colours. However there is a serious problem of water scarcity. These artists have to walk almost 150 km to find adequate river water. And then since the salinity is high due to proximity to the sea, their colours bleed.

Unfortunately people do not promote original Kalamkari artists and resort to buying and selling cheaper screen printed versions of this art. It is a tough proposition to preserve this heritage under these circumstances.

Saree #118: A kantha embroidered silk saree

I had to attend a conference in Nagpur yesterday morning. And since I’d heard that there had been a hailstorm on the previous day, I decided to wrap a black shawl around my black Bangalore silk saree with exquisite Kantha embroidery.

Imagine my surprise when I walk into the auditorium and see my friend Tripti Srivastava on stage wearing an almost similar saree, complete with a black shawl around her shoulders. She gave a whoop of delight and gestured to me from stage about the hilarious manner in which we were twinning! We had to get a picture between the sessions. And then we discovered that her saree was a Banarasi unlike mine, but from a distance they looked remarkably similar.

Saree #119: A Himroo silk saree for the silver jubilee function

We had the silver jubilee reunion of the 1995 batch in our institute. I was hesitant to go to the programme as I hadn’t taught this particular batch. I joined the college in 1999. But since I was invited and because it is always fun to hear students talk about their experiences I went along. Imagine my surprise when I had my saree blog followers among the alumni who were familiar with me.

I wore a Himroo silk saree. Notice the Persian style designs woven so subtly. It was remarkably cold outside and I had an open air dinner to attend. So finally the coat came out of my cupboard. And we had a scooter to click a mad pic too!

Saree #120: A traditional Dhaniakhali with matsya pattern

Today’s saree is a Dhaniakhali (also pronounced Dhonekhali) from the Hooghly district of West Bengal. These cotton sarees were originally woven in the ‘kora’ or natural shade with contrasting red or black borders. But now we see other colours being introduced. Dyed yarn was used first in 1942.

The typical Dhaniakhali is known by its simple decorative borders. These are slightly coarser than the usual Bengal cottons, last for long durations, and affordable, and hence was the preferred ‘ghar ki saree’ for long by the women of Bengal. In fact these days it is known as the Mamta saree, as Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee prefers these sarees in white with green or grey borders. She is averse to red and crimson borders.

Normally, cotton yarns of 80 to 100 counts are used both in warp and weft with extra warp. Additionally ‘sar’ reed which is a plant from the bamboo family is also used and it provides the traditional coarse texture and flexibility to these sarees. Dhaniakhali sarees are woven on two kinds of looms: the barrel dobby or Jacquard loom. This method was originally used for weaving soft dhotis with thin decorative borders with serrated edges. With time the thickness of the borders were increased from 2.5 inches to 6 inches or more. These broad borders are called maathapar or beluaari paar.

Another practice used by Dhaiakhali weavers is hank yarn sizing. By this the cotton fibres are bound together and coated with some natural adhesives so that the strength and resistance to abrasion improves. It helps in making the fabric smooth and strong. The natural starches used by weavers for this purpose are sago, arrowroot, wheat, and puffed paddy (khoi).

A dhaniakhali saree is distinguished by the presence of ‘khejur chori’ or braided design in the pallu. Here an arrangement of special weft threads of twisted cotton yarns in two colours is woven in pallu.

This particular saree that I am wearing is a Basak Dhaniakhali with a matsya design. I was not too keen on wearing horizontal stripes, but the beautifully woven fish designs all along the saree and the affordability too made me change my mind.

Catch up with my other saree stories, if you haven’t done so already!

My saree stories: Part 1
My saree stories: Part 2
My saree stories: Part 3
My saree stories: Part 4
My saree stories: Part 5
My saree stories: Part 6
My saree stories: Part 7
My saree stories: Part 8
My saree stories: Part 9
My saree stories: Part 10
My saree stories: Part 11

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