The famous weaves of Banaras got a new twist at this exhibition

You can give many reasons for the downfall of Banaras handlooms, but textile designer Sribhas Chandra Supakar attributes it mainly to the industry’s inability to match its pace with the changing times.

Underscoring how important it is to innovate to fit into the new slot, Sribhas brought forth a collection of contemporary patterns and designs created by the weavers of Varanasi in his exhibition “Kashi Kaleidoscope” held at Alliance Francaise recently.

So whether it was the knee-length khadi dress using the Banarasi Fekhuan — which is brocading from end to end — or making a tree motif with the same technique on a long curtain just apt for a swish living room, or the furnishing material for interiors with traditional designs of Shikargah in Banarasi Kaduan, Sribhas showcased the myriad reinterpretations possible with the same age-old weaving techniques.

“Every trade witnesses change and so did weaving. Banaras handlooms are craft-based, and when people stopped being honest to the craft, it started to go down. Nobody wanted to do laborious and time-consuming work,” explains Sribhas responding to how the presence of Chinese copies of Banarasi Silk, setting up of powerlooms in Surat affected the business. Having inherited a love for handloom textiles from his father Jadunath Supakar to whom the exhibition was dedicated, Sribhas chose to revive a few techniques and textiles which are hardly in use now, like Awadhi Jamdani, Gethua, etc.

Jadunath Supakar studied Fine Arts at Santiniketan and later worked with the State Handloom Association as a designer. He was the director of Weavers’ Service Centre, Benares, where he worked for the cause of handloom textiles and was also awarded a Padma Shri for his contribution.

“These extremely lightweight fine textured muslins used to make a fashion statement when Nawabs of Lucknow wore them over their kurtas, etc. but then they slowly disappeared as it required laborious work. The commercialised version came to be known as Lucknow Chikankari. We took to Jamdani in a big way with the purpose of reviving it. We could do a lot with it,” says Sribhas.

Hung right next to the pristine white Awadhi Jamdani, the pink Jamdani lehenga with breathtaking work was a specimen of exemplary skills and Sribhas’ commitment to revive the fabric. “It took us two years to make. You won’t find it anywhere. I also took my father’s old paintings like ‘Vishwaroop’, ‘Raaslila’, imagery from miniatures and transposed it on these small jamdani panels,” adds Sribhas, who owns a handloom in Varanasi and hires weavers to execute his designs.

“The pink lehenga is a masterpiece. Of course, the idea is mine, but the work ultimately has been done by the weaver. I want the weaver to get recognition so that the younger generation of weavers start associating respect with the profession and take it up. A weaver had quit weaving and was working as a labourer on a construction site. With great difficulty, we managed to bring him back to the profession,” says Sribhas.

Gethua is another rare weaving technique being kept alive by Sribhas.

“There are hardly any people who know it. In Gethua brocading, threads are selected using an operation known as heald. When the Festival of India was held, I had overheard my father saying how he felt so sad because he couldn’t do Gethua. I wanted to fulfil his dream,” says Sribhas.

(For details contacts Sribhas at 09336918211)

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