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Classic weaves

Softer traditional motifs and newer fabrics mark the ongoing Benarasi Maha Mela

MUCH AS it is known for its sacredness, Varanasi is also known for its unique handloom tradition. The Benarasi sari has been a `must have' in the trousseau collection, since time immemorial. It became popular during the Mughal era, which is reflected in the traditional motifs that embellish the borders and pallavs of the sari. Incidentally over 200 different designs find their way on to each sari. An average of ten craftsmen work on each sari for over 15-20 days to create a sari, each one a masterpiece in itself. For the thousands of weavers living in areas around Varanasi, especially in Gorakhpur and Azamgarh regions, this is more of a cottage industry, each unit specialising in a weaving style classified as a gharana that are patronised by the Central Government.

As older generations in these gharanas give way to the new, young weavers today seem to infuse fresh concepts into the tradition, one, to counter the challenges, such as the embroidered pieces from Kolkata or the zardosi-embellished offering from Lucknow and the other to be up-to-the-minute, in terms of fabrics, styles or hues. "Bahut hua farq. Quality badal gaye. Designs badal gaye. Ab novelty aa gai hai (There has been tremendous change then and now. The quality of the saris has improved. Newer designs have come in. There is an element of novelty," says Ilyas Ahmed, a weaver from a gharana who has won Government of India Master Weaver Award, at the Benarasi Maha Mela organised by Pitambari, Meridian Plaza, besides Lal Bungalow, Ameerpet (Tel: 55621692), till February 29.

Photos: Satish H

And how? Instead of conventional large butis, one finds smaller yet the same traditional motifs. The jaals, yet another characteristic of Benarasi patterns for the sari, transform from solid meshes to softer vines. The saris present a shift towards narrow borders and aanchals, though replete with traditional floral motifs. One also comes across abstract geometric motifs. As for the zari, "we have an exclusive collection of saris that have pure silver. The saris turn out expensive with pure zari. We have introduced saris made with `tested zari', a non-zari option. This apart, we have come up with newer fabrics such as summer jutes and nets," says Rasheed Ansari, winner of the best design award for his jamdani sari at the Vishwakarma Exhibition, held in London.

As for the hues, Rasheed recommends sea green, mauve, gajar (carrot pink) and `fanta' (orange) colours for the season, which can be found at the expo.

Priced at Rs. 800 onwards, the saris are available in various weaves such as cottons, silks, crepes, chiffons, summer nets and tissues. "Customers can purchase from the weaver directly at the weavers' price. We wanted to provide the cost benefit to our consumers. Also, consumers can bring their old saris to get a new sari woven by order with the same motifs," says Manish Jaipuria of Pitambari.

As for the consumers, "we have come for the Benarasi prints," says Anita a housewife. "I am looking for the Benarasi georgette saris," says Shravani, a B.Tech student. Benarasi saris then continue to have the timeless appeal.


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