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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2003

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Best of Benares

`Benares Comes to Town', an exhibition-cum-sale, opening today at Vimonisha, offers rare glimpses of the temple town's art and textile traditions

MINUSCULE BASRA pearls twisted round exquisitely fashioned zardosi florets and vines transform a 150-year old Benarasi blouse, lehenga and chunri. An antique jacket, worked with paisleys, brings to life Varanasi's forgotten techniques of `kal balta' and khinbab'.

Part of revivalist scholar Monica Singh's family heirlooms, they also form part of an exhibition-cum-sale of textiles and art and craft from Varanasi.

Titled "Benares comes to Town', the display captures the spirit of a craft culture that combines the myths, legends, images, symbols and philosophy of human civilisation's oldest `living' city with Islamic aesthetics and craft traditions.

The Varanasi Art and Crafts Exhibition also features the rare pink enamelled minakari jewellery, which is exclusive to Benares, the ancient craft of woven Tibetan Gyasari, Ganga Jamuna or two-toned silver, copper and brass artefacts, Ganga jal kalashes and minakari embellished artefacts — symbols of the city's fusion heritage.

Monica Singh's collection includes Benarasi saris, salwar kurta yardage and sherwanis, many of which she has revived. Working with traditional weavers, she has resurrected many a forgotten format, motif and weave and combined them with contemporary design sensibilities.

The results are spectacular, whether reflected in white and gold tissue, with antique pearl and zardosi border, white on white, or sherbati coloured kora saris. The colour palette ranges from Varanasi's traditional soft colours to stark black, embellished with silver motifs, embroidery and beads. The harmony of traditional motifs and borders makes the salwar kurtas stunning. The saris on display include Jamewar, Jamdani, Tanchoi, Kora, Tussar, Paithani and Baluchari brocades. Sikargaha, khadi and organza, crepe, cotton and georgette embroidered saris are also part of the collection. And there is yardage too, just perfect for sherwanis and dressy kurtas for men.

Varanasi, they say is a world in itself. So too is the ancient town's incomparable textiles and craft heritage. Experience it all at the two-day `Benares Comes to Town', which opens today at Vimonisha Art Gallery, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, off Nungambakkam High Road.


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