There is more to know about a Benarasi saree than one can ever imagine! Made in a variety of fabrics, adorned with a host of designs and worn in different ways, the finesse of this garment has ensured that it finds a place in the heart of every generation that wears it.
In the previous post in this series, we looked at how and where a Benarasi saree is made. We also looked at the different fabrics that are used to make it. In today’s post, we explore the designs of Benarasi sarees and how they came to be!
While Kadwa and Fekwa brocades form the primary distinctions of design on a Benarasi saree, we also see various designs on these brocades. Here are some of them -
Jamawar tanchoi is also termed Tanchoi. These are silk on silk brocade weaves with an extra weft silk for the patterning. Tanchoi has a single or double warp and two to five colours of the same shade on the weft. They are known for their intricately woven patterns of flowers, small birds in flight, peacocks and parrot motifs.
Tanchoi is known to have derived its name from one of the three Chinese brothers who came to Varanasi to sell silk. It is thought that his name was Tran Choi and Tanchoi is believed to be a derivation of this name.
Jangla is an extravagant type of brocade in which the pattern is spread out across the fabric. It is believed to be the oldest of Benarasi brocades and Jangla gets its name from its design which is vegetation motifs spread across the length of the saree that resemble a jungle! With unique designs and extreme detailing, Jangla sarees make for a luxurious garment that is perfect for the Indian Bridal trousseau!
Butidar sarees are the most popularly distinguishable kind of Benarasi sarees with their motifs scattered at regular intervals throughout the saree. They are often woven with a combination of silver, gold and silk threads. This contrast makes the gold threads look darker. The Butidar style of brocade weaving is thus also known as Ganga-Jamuna by Benarasi weavers.
Jamdani is a brocade weaving technique that is used by weavers in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal in India and Dhaka in Bangladesh. In this, cotton or silk form the base cloth but only cotton is used for the brocading. In this, the weft forms an overlaid pattern that gives an embossed effect to the brocade work that looks like fine embroidery.
Designs like chameli, jasmine, pannahazaar, thousand emeralds, gendabuti, the marigold motif, pan buti, heart or betel leaf shaped motif, and tircha, which refers to the pattern when it is placed diagonally can be made using the Jamdani style of brocade weaving! And the weavers of Varanasi are known to excel at this technique.
The brocade lends a Benarasi saree its identity but it is the motifs that make a brocade. While the Jhallar motifs are the upright leaves usually found on the border, the Kalga and Bel motifs are the floral and foliate motifs of flowers and leaves. Shikargah is another type of motif that is making a comeback. It is identified by its hunting scenes depicting men and animals! It also has animals, birds, flora and fauna. Paisleys and butis are the droplet-like motifs from Persia that are immensely popular in Indian culture. Jaal or Jaalis are ornamental lattices based on Geometry and Calligraphy.\
L-R: Kalga and Bel, Shikargah, Jaal Motifs
Varanasi has witnessed centuries of the handmade textile evolution. This has obviously resulted in changes in preference of colours, patterns and styles. Floral patterns, animal and bird patterns are said to have been popular between 350 AD and 500 AD. Butidar designs only gained prominence in the 13th Century and the Jaal pattern became popular because of the Mughals in the 16th Century. Designs inspired by Victorian style wallpapers and geometrical patterns inspired by the Jaal became popular in the 19th Century! Several different designs have been popular at different times in the history of a Banarasi silk saree.
Today’s fashion trends are a mix of these traditional patterns and modern colours and styles. Banarasi sarees are often named after the motifs and patterns woven in them.
A typical Benarasi saree will have floral or jaali designs with prominent borders on both edges and an extravagant end called the pallu which may have a corner piece of Paisley or floral motifs at two corners where the pallu begins and the saree ends. This is called the Konia.
The Benarasi saree has reinvented itself with every era that it has been a part of. It has retained its charm and has had generations fall in love with it. It is a garment that has lived numerous stories. It is a garment that embodies those numerous stories. It is a garment that is a story in itself!