It comes in several colours, adorned with designs in various shapes and sizes. It is also made of different fabrics so one can say, it has different forms. But there is nothing in this world that can match the charm that a Benarasi saree exudes. In the previous post, we spoke about how the Benarasi saree came into existence. Let’s take a look at who and what makes a Benarasi saree look and feel so irresistible.
Where is a Benarasi saree woven?
The handloom silk industry of the region around Varanasi encompasses Azamgarh, Bhadohi, Chandauli, Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Varanasi. Only brocade made in these six districts qualifies to be legally sold as Benaras Brocade. The Benarasi Brocade from these six districts was given the Geographical Indication status by the government of India in 2009.
Benarasi sarees are made in workshops known as karkhanas. These karkhanas are scattered in and around Varanasi. The traditional handlooms on which brocades are woven are called jallas. The jallas were replaced with Jacquard looms in the 19th Century.
The artisans working in these karkhanas are called kaarigars. They work under a master weaver. A master weaver has anywhere around 15-20 weavers training or employed under them. A majority of brocade karkhanas are located in the Alaipura and Madanpura districts of Varanasi. While the kaarigars of Madanpura stick to traditional designs and conventional techniques, the weavers of Alaipura are fond of experimenting with new methods, materials, and motifs. Talk about a fine balance between the old and the new!
What makes the Benarasi Brocade so special?
Brocade is a speciality of the Benarasi fabric. It is a type of weave in which patterns are created by thrusting zari threads at intervals so as to create the desired designs. Brocades are of two types - Kadwa or the discontinuous brocade and Fekwa or the continuous brocade.
Kadwa (also pronounced as Kadhua or Kaduan) is a type of handloom weaving where each motif is individually woven by the kaarigar . There are no floating or extra weft yarns at the back of this material. It is an extremely labour and time intensive technique, but it makes it possible for many different motifs of various colours, shapes and sizes to be woven on the same saree. Kadwa is a difficult brocading technique that requires immense finesse.
Fekwa (or Phekwa) is a type of handloom weaving technique where the motifs run from end to end across the width of the fabric. Sometimes, especially when the motifs are not carried through the entire width of the fabric, there are floating yarns at the back of the brocaded fabric. These yarns are usually cut off, before a material is pronounced finished. This is often referred to as cutwork or Katruan.
What are the different fabrics used to make a Benarasi saree?
L-R: Tusser silk, Organza, Matka Silk, Katan Silk, Fekwa Brocade, Khaddi Georgette
Katan or Pure Silk is a plain silk fabric that is woven with pure silk threads. Katan sarees are known for their rich luster and durability. Benarasi sarees are ubiquitously recognized as being made of silk because of Katan!
Organza or Kora Silk sarees are made when gold-coated silver threads are woven around silk yarn to create the Zari Brocade. Benarasi Organza sarees stand out for the richness that the gold and silver zari work lends to them.
Khaddi Georgette Benarasi sarees are easier to wear than most drapes. Khaddi Georgette is a fine, light weight and pure silk fabric that is made by twisting yarn. This makes it thinner and lighter than Katan and that’s why Khaddi Georgette is also known as Summer Silk!
Matka Silk has a coarse texture like that of tweed. It lasts long and isn’t as expensive as other kinds of silk. Matka Silk sarees are known to be thick but are lightweight and airy!
Tussar Silk is another lightweight fabric that is known to have an affinity to colours. Tussar Silk sarees have a delicate sheen and are really soft to touch. This silk is also known as Kosa Silk.
It doesn’t stop here. Like the vastness of Varanasi’s history, it's handlooms too, go through an extensive process before they come to us. In the next post in this series, we will take you through the different designs and motifs that make a Benarasi saree.