For as long as I can remember – I have been in love with the ever-graceful Indian ensemble – that is Saree. Growing up in a family full of vibrant ladies, seeing my mom, grand-mom and aunts routinely donning sarees for almost all occasions – from work to parties and festivals, I was tremendously awed by this amazing Indian ethnic outfit, even as a little girl.
Although till a certain age, I could not indulge much in my passion of buying and tying sarees, I ensured my love for saris deepened – with each new sari I chanced upon. Once I started working – in all my love and devotion, I decided to collect beautiful saris from all regions of India.
And believe me – my quest was not at all easy! Soon, I realized there are scores of saree types in India – contemporary ones not included. Almost every region has its own special art, handloom or design. Whoa! ‘The more I unearthed, the more I fell for it’ – was the case with me now. I collected some of the most beautiful and unique pieces, sometimes ending up spending a small fortune on handloom silk sari wonders. But, more I read up on the subject, the more I discovered that I had a long way to go.
Nonetheless, my continual tryst with India’s rich legacy of sarees ensured that I had the good fortune of seeing, feeling, and many times, wearing some of the most exquisite arts of India. Here, I list down 12 of my most favourite Saree arts – absolute classics, which are must-haves in any saree collection –
Made from the traditional tie and dye art with characteristic ‘dots’ pattern, Bandhani sarees are made in fine cotton, georgette, cotton-silk blends, crepe, chiffon and resilient silk variants. Vibrant, colourful and detailed in their tediously tied and dyed dotted designs, these sarees are available with or without Banarasi and Zari borders. Rajasthan and Gujarat are prime destinations for buying these fit-for-summers, flowy and fluid sarees. Women of all ages can wear these. In fact, this is one style that looks great on young girls.
2. Kanjeevaram Sarees
If you are a sari lover, then Kancheepuram or Kanjeevaram saris must be on your list. Amazingly ornate and strikingly gorgeous, this pure silk sari from Tamil Nadu is every Indian bride’s dream. Kanjeevarams are wedding sarees, and can be quite expensive. However, given the fact that they are handloom sarees – they are worth every penny. Meant for special occasions, Kanjeevarams often have a glistening texture, accentuated by gold Zari pallu and borders.
3. Mysore Silk Sarees and Bangalore Silk Sarees
Southern state of Karnataka accounts for almost 70% of the total Mulberry silk produced in India. Naturally, silk sarees are the glorious treasures here. Popular for their amazing gold inlay, Mysore Silk Sarees are gleaming examples of the Indian craftsmanship. Bangalore silks, relatively simpler and less ostentatious, are equally resplendent. Bangalore Silks have lovely woven borders, and their simplicity makes them perfect for corporate and office wear.
4. Maheshwari Sarees and Chanderi Sarees.
Getting their name from the town of Maheshwar (which means Lord Shiva) in Madhya Pradesh, somewhat ignored Maheshwari Sarees are among the pristine treasures of Indian arts. Maheshwari cotton-silk blended sarees are make for extremely versatile, easy and elegant wear. These saris may sometimes have striking checked patterns. They almost always have broad, contrasting borders and pallus.
Chanderi Sarees are precious handloom sarees from Madhya Pradesh. They get their name from the town of Chanderi. Chanderi saris are made in cotton, silk and cotton-silk blends, and are my absolute favourites for their demure appeal. Today, Chanderi (the silk-cotton blend) itself is an extremely popular fabric, and Salwar Suits and Lehenga Cholis are also made in this breathable, slightly lustrous fabric.
5. Kota Sarees – Kota Doria/ Kota Masuria Sarees
The summer staple, Kota sari is an absolute must, if saris form an integral part of your work wardrobe. Available in a huge variety, these sarees get their name from the city of Kota in Rajasthan, where they are typically made. These breathable sarees with a special chequered weave are so light that they feel ethereal on skin. Essentially made in cotton (Kota Masuria), these saris are also made in silks and silk-blends.
6. Kalamkari Sarees
One of the most ancient art forms translated on fabric using natural dyes, Kalamkari means an artistic creation made by pen (kalam). Kalamkari saris are supposed to have hand painted designs, but printed Kalamkari saris are also available. Colourful and eclectic, Kalamkari patterns are recognizable by their specific drawing style, inspired by Hindu mythology, ancient caves and sculptures.
7. Kantha Sarees
Kantha is an embroidery type, practised in Bengal, Odhisa and Bihar. This rustic embroidery, which was used to create bed linen, cushions, is a simple thread and needle stitch. Kantha stitch, when strategically done in many colours on pale base tussar silk sarees, produces graceful Kantha sarees. Madhubani paintings of Bihar are often used as a subject/ style in Kantha sarees.
8. Lehariya Sarees
Lehariya is popular tie and dye art that works with wave (lehar) pattern. The base fabric is tied in such a way that the resultant sari, after dyeing, has a kaleidoscopic wavy design. Simpler in execution than complex Bandhej, Lehariya is made in Rajasthan. Vibrant and bright, Lehariya sarees are a burst of colours, and I love them for all their multi-hued glory.
9. Patola Sarees
Getting their name from the Patan District of the state of Gujarat, splendid Patolas are rich handloom sarees, wherein each authentic piece takes weeks to months to be made. Patola Saris tend to be so expensive that they were initially worn only by the royalty. The real art of weaving a Patola saree is a closely guarded family tradition of weavers in Patan/ Rajkot area. Nowadays printed Patola silk sarees are also available – where the pattern is similar to Patola, but the handloom weave is absent. My favourite is Patola Ikhat weave saree in cotton-silk.
10. Zardozi and Aari embellished Sarees
Both are ornate, intricate embroidery arts practised in India, adapted from Mughal, Persian and Central Asian arts. These hand embroideries are done using metal threads and metallic beads. Zardosi/ Zardozi essentially refers to decoration done using gold thread. In ancient times, it was done for the royalty. Aari is more colourful than Zardozi, and involves delicate, tedious needle work. Bridal Saris, Wedding Sarees and premium-wear sarees are often embellished with these lovely arts.
11. Sambalpuri Sarees
Orissa’s famous Sambalpuri Sari is another wonder that is must for a modern woman. Generally crafted with coarser cotton or silk yarn, these handloom saris have a typical Ikhat weave. Yarns are tied and dyed before weaving to achieve splendid designs. These complex weave sarees are amazing for all weathers. They do not wrinkle, and look great on women of all ages.
12. Banarasi Sarees
Any discussion or write up on Sarees and Indian weaves is incomplete without the mention of always loved, heavily engraved Banarasis. Magnificent to the core, the intricate Banarasi saree makes for perfect wedding attire. Many North Indian women wear rich Benarasis for their weddings, or include them in their trousseau. Banarasi brocade is extremely popular, and is used to craft Bridal Lehenga Cholis and Wedding Ensembles. Banarasi saris are crafted in pure silk, organza silk (kora silk) and, more contemporarily, in georgette.