Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chanderi… Handloomed silk saris

Last month as we were travelling through various cities in India, I made it a point to scout out artists in local markets and buy directly from them. During one such quest I met a family of weavers from the town of Chanderi where the famous saris with the same name and gossamer glow are handmade on looms. Chanderi sari is now protected by the geographic indicator (GI) and can only be called so if it’s produced in the region as defined under the GI and is recognized by World Trade Organization. Further demarcation for these Chanderi saris is that they can only be hand loomed, so if you are buying a real chanderi you can rest assured that it is handmade and not woven on a power loom.

The fabric that is made in Chanderi is then often sent to other places like for hand printing it goes to Rajasthan which is famous for its block print, or for dyeing and embroidery it’s sent to other locations. I am a purist so I ended up choosing a sari that was made with dyed threads and woven zari border so it was produced entirely in the Chanderi region.  


The family that I met was a third generation Chanderi weaver and it all started when their grandfather decided to move to his new bride’s town Chanderi. Their grandfather was originally from Kota in Rajasthan where his family weaved Kota saris but once he visited Chanderi and saw the fabric being weaved, he fell in love and wanted to pursue this craft. The rest as they say his history… Their grandfather is no more and now their dad designs all the saris and their details, the elder brother mostly stays with their dad in the village and helps out in execution of his ideas and production of saris and the younger brother mostly tries to market them in the city. 

Chanderi fabrics have been woven since 7th century BC but the lack of written records leads many to believe that it was part of a legend, a fable. There have been proven records of this special fabric weaving and its export from 13th century AD onward
Chanderi was predominantly woven with hand spun cotton and was used to produce fine quality turbans for the Marathas and was a favorite of Mughal emperors as well. These turbans were woven on a 6" loom but possibly no weaver of this school of weaving is left in Chanderi which enjoyed the patronage of  royal families of Gwalior, Indore, kohlapur, Baroda and Nagpur.
Chanderi saris were produced for the royalty and nobility of Gwalior, Baroda, Nagpur and beyond. It is said that the Maharani of Baroda had a special affinity towards chanderi and could feel the 200 count cotton with a rub on her cheeks and appreciated the finer details the motif work. The artists often got paid extra when the queen was happy with the fine results.
These clothes woven in Chanderi were much coveted by the royal families, who could afford to buy the very best, for festivals and special occasions like child birth, marriage, etc.

Around 19th century the good quality hand spun cotton wasn't readily available to the local weavers and they were forced in to using mill spun thread. Since the mill spun cotton thread could not produce the required gossamer shine which was the specialty of Chanderi cloth, the weavers started using silk thread. The historic quality of Chanderi suffered quite a bit at the time when the light and breezy quality of cotton weaving was replaced by the silk thread just to keep the traditional and most popular shine of the fabric.

Not knowing what the 18th century fabric actually felt like and how was it different from the one produced today, I welcome the Chanderi as I know it today in my life and would like to preserve the form that it has morphed into today. For it was the flexibility of the weavers in the 19th century that were willing to switch to silk thread so they could keep a tradition and their means of livelihood alive.

8 comments:

  1. wow beautiful you and of course very nice post ,keep rocking shalini

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  2. That is a gorgeous gorgeous chanderi! I am an avid saree collector myself and am yet to procure a good looking chanderi. Thank your for this post. Enjoyed reading this.

    ~deepa

    p.s: come and check out Aalayam's diwali post - you will like it.

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  4. I appreciate your fantastic blog information...... Chanderi Block Printed Sarees are all time beautiful & elegant attire because it is extremely easy to wear, carry and equally easy to wash and maintain.

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  5. Really very nice looking, i think there is various varieties of chanderi sarees, now i want to buy chanderi sarees online. its looking really beautiful. thanks for post.

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  6. Wonderful post on Printed Chanderi Sarees. The one good thing about chanderi sarees is that they come in so many varieties and colours

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