The Living Legacy of Banarasi Heirlooms

Banaras, Varanasi and Kashi are the many names given to the spiritual capital of India, which also happens to be the abode for the most exquisite weaving cluster of the country. From the Vedic period to the Mughal era to the current episode in time, this land has been a temple for artisans and craftsmen who have perfected the art of brocade weaving over centuries. Renowned for its exemplary workmanship, Banarasi silk weaves are a treasured handloom for women across all generations. Woven with immaculate artistry and nostalgic narratives, the culture of the land is mirrored in its royal brocades, resplendent motifs and rich hues.

Over the years, the weaving ecosystem of Banaras has been subject to the influence of myriad cultures and traditions, and in due course of time developed a unique design language that is admired far and wide. The brocades of Banaras revolve around its detailed motifs that define the very essence of this drape. Artisans and weavers draw inspiration from the landscape surrounding them and bring to life motifs synonymous with the region. This includes mesmerising motifs such as Paan (Beetle leaf-shaped), Khanjari (Geometrical chevron pattern), Shikargara (Hunting scenes with flora and fauna), Jaal (Delicate net-like pattern filled with birds, flowers and geometric designs) and Sankha (Conch shell) amongst others.

When it comes to a Banaras Brocade, the design created by a multitude of patterns and prints plays a huge role in defining it. The process involved in bringing this drape to life is almost as beautiful as the drape itself. Traditionally, the weaving was done with naksha draw looms, where hand-drawn designs are precisely translated onto graphing cardboard stencils, inch-wise through the process called "Likhai" by the artist known as "Nakshaband" which acts as a design blueprint while weaving. The nakshabandh's experience aids him in making design calculations that are necessary to replicate the pattern as closely as possible. It is said that the higher the number of grids the greater is the intricacy of the weave. A couple of hundreds to even thousands of graphing cards can be required to weave intricate patterns on the Banarasi saree.

Weaving techniques are considered closely guarded secrets and these tricks of the trade are passed down through families and communities. Traditional Banaras weavers use wooden pit looms that are specially designed for them with a complex mechanic structure. Right from the selection of the yarn to the reproduction of rich designs onto the weave, it is an elaborate process and one that requires patience, practice and perseverance from the craftsman. Here are some of the most beloved patterns of the Banarasi weave:

  1. Kinkhab
    When the silk background is hardly visible because it is overlaid solidly with gold and silver.
  2. Minakari
    When the background is made entirely out of gold and silver and the pattern is created in coloured silk threads.
  3. Kadwa
    Motifs of different shapes, colours and textures are woven separately onto the fabric using an elaborate process.
  4. Tanchoi
    It involves a single warp and multiple wefts in similar shades that produce a self-design after weaving.

The craftsmanship behind a Banaras Brocade never ceases to leave us in awe and snippets like this showcase how our indigenous crafts shape the way our communities function and progress. With a mission to preserve and promote heritage handlooms such as this, our repository at Sundari Silks includes a vast array of Banaras weaves that celebrates its legacy. Embellished with diverse motifs and woven in striking shades, browse through our curated collection here.

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