My holiest saree from the Ghats of Benaras

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Banarasi Saree

A Banarasi saree, often part of an Indian bride’s trousseau is mostly worn by Indian women on important occasions such as when attending a wedding and are expected to be complemented by the woman’s best jewelry. Made in Varanasi, a city which is also called Benares or Banaras. They are among the finest sarees in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade or zari, fine silk and opulent embroidery, decorated with intricate design, and, because of these engravings, are relatively heavy.

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The brocade weaving centers of India developed in and around the capitals of kingdoms or holy cities because of the demand for expensive fabrics by the royal families and temples. During the Mughal period, around 14th century, weaving of brocades with intricate designs using gold and silver threads became the specialty of Banaras. With the migration of silk weavers from Gujarat during the famine of 1603, it is likely that silk brocade weaving started in Banaras in the seventeenth century and developed in excellence during the 18th and 19th century.

Their special characteristics are Mughal inspired designs such as intricate intertwining floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel, a string of upright leaves called jhallar at the outer, edge of border is a characteristic of these sarees. Other features are gold work, compact weaving, figures with small details, metallic visual effects, pallus, jal (a net like pattern), and mina work. The exquisite latifa (beautiful) buti was the outcome of the fusion of Persian and Indian designs. Brocades produced at the royal workshops of other well-known Muslim centers in Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Persia was also exported to India.

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Depending on the intricacy of its designs and patterns, a saree can take from 15 days to a month and sometimes up to six months to complete. The traditional Banarasi saree is done with lot of hard work and skillful work using the silk. The saree making is a cottage industry for about 1.2 million people associated directly or indirectly with the hand loom silk industry of the region around Varanasi encompassing Gorakhpur, Chandauli, Bhadohi, Jaunpur and Azamgarh districts.

As per the GI certificate, Banarasi products fall under four classes (23–26), namely silk brocades, textile goods, silk saree, dress material and silk embroidery. GI is an intellectual property right, which identifies a good as originating in a certain region where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.

There are four main varieties of Banarasi saree, which includes pure silk (Katan), Organza (Kora) with Zari and silk; Georgette, and Shattir, and according to design process, they are divided into categories like, Jangla, Tanchoi, Vaskat, Cutwork, Tissue and Butidar.

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Since a large number of silk dyeing units in the trade use chemical dyes, which cause pollution in the Ganges River, a move is on to shift to natural dyes. Vegetable dyes like Kusum (Safflower, Carthamus tinctorium) are used for yellow, red, puce, light buff and orange, Kamila (Mallotus Philipinensis) and akalbar (Datiscus cannabina) are used with indigo to fix yellow. Kattha (Catechu) served for black along with indigo. Indigo mixed with a yellow dye is used for dark green, light green, grass green, light yellow wish green, haldi (turmeric), to produce various shades in yellow. Indigo mixed with a reel and a yellow dye is used for hetiotrope (Kasni). Khaki (grey) is produced from harra (myro balans and kasis – green vitriol or sulphate of iron). Lac is used in various shades of real.

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