(Last Updated on : 25/10/2010)
Indian sarees have earned the epithet of exceptionality because of the outstanding use of fabrics and the intricate designs. These designs are either derived from the scenes of ancient scriptures of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana or some motifs that are related to the mundane and daily rustic life. Indian sarees are categorized region wise as the choice, availability and culture differs from one another.
Though the history of Indian sarees depicts that previously the sarees were handwoven using silk or cotton as raw materials, now the weavers create different materials and the sarees are designed with excellent creativity. In the western part of India, people use sarees that are decorated with mixing many bright hues together with metallic thread (zari or jari) embroidery, and often include sparkling embellishments such as tinsel, sequins and mirrors. Apart from these, block-printing, tie-dye, etc are incorporated into the weaving and decorating styles of the region. The artisans of this region create sarees that are hugely used for traditional occasions and social gatherings as well. The endpieces of some traditional sarees have no kalga or buta at all, just repeated rows of bel and geometric bands, with or without a jhaalar embellishing either side. Some sarees, especially those worn by tribal and poor low-caste groups, traditionally had no obvious endpiece at all. The intricacy and fineness of the blocks and overall quality of the workmanship are considered to be the creative excellence of the artisans. The sarees symbolize the status of the women in each region and the intricacy and designs with quality fabric are worn by the upper class women.
On the other hand, women of lower class wear sarees that are of inferior quality. Sarees like muslins of Alwar (Rajasthan), which were printed or brush-dyed in different colours on each face of the fabric, the fine translucent muslins called masuria malmal, Kota`s transparent muslins (often called Kota saris) etc are sarees worn by the upper class women of West India. Apart from these, West India is the abode of excellent Chanderi Sarees, Embroidered Tinsel Sarees, Gujarati Brocade Sarees, Maheshwari Sarees, Paithani Sarees, Patola Sarees, Tussar Sarees etc.
The Indian sarees have got their authentic look by incorporating the traditional techniques of making saree as well as including different cultural influences. For instance Bandhani sarees are created by the artisans and about nine totally different social groups are involved with the production of traditional Bandhani textiles in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Bandhani sarees and odhnis are worn by women of all religions, castes and tribes, and are made of cotton, mulberry silk, and even wool in the case of some ethnic odhnis. In recent times, different ethnic and tribal groups still wear odhnis with specific colours and designs. The traditional Bandhani sarees are traditionally worn by wealthier, often urban, women for special occasions, including weddings. The traditional and most famous type of Gujarati saree called the Gharchola is admired in the West India for its ethnic look. Sarees of different colours are traditionally associated with different festivals. Dark blue and pink cloths are worn and given for Diwali, while Gharchola and panetar-like sarees with green grounds are still given for Raksha Bandhan.
South India is one of the major sari-weaving regions that produce silk, cotton, rayon and polyester sarees. Its handloom cooperatives, such as Tamil Nadu`s Co-op Tex, India`s oldest handloom weavers` cooperative sell sarees throughout the subcontinent. Because of this, many traditional designs from different south Indian localities have become incorporated into the repertoire of other areas. In addition to this sericulture is widely practised in Bangalore, Kolar, Tumkar, Mysore, Mandya districts and other places.
Most admired sarees like Konrad silk saree, Mysore crepe saree, Coimbatore silks, Muburtham sarees and several others are produced in the southern region of India. Use of white, coloured, dye resistance muslins and zari works are quite commonly used to design such India sarees.
The Indian sarees are sometimes embellished with coloured chikankari embroidery. According to the social norms, the married and widow women use sarees of different colour. White is the traditional colour worn by widows in northern India. Indian people use intricate designed sarees of vibrant colours. The Zardozi is gold-thread embroidery. It has traditionally featured in the wedding sarees of aristocrats and other very wealthy people. This type of saree is still used among some communities in western Indian for occasional purpose. The east region of India has a distinct style and the artisans of this region follow an exclusive manner while creating sarees for the women of East India. The major natural fibres, namely cotton, mulberry silk and wild silk have traditionally been cultivated and woven in this region. Interlocked-weft weaving is found throughout the eastern half of India from the north-eastern state of Manipur to the south-eastern state of Tamil Nadu, and is commonly found in older Bengali and Banarasi sarees. These types of sarees are decorated with straight borders and temple motifs. Many traditional eastern-region sarees display simple palettes based on the natural colours of the fibres used. Many of the expensive and traditional saree of this region include Jamdani muslins and Bengali Deshi Muslins that are archetypal of the eastern region. Its design is usually simple and understated, with colour added through discrete supplementary-warp or -weft patterning. Decca muslins are the amalgamation of the tradition of Bengal and Bangladesh and representative of the creative faculty that the artisans and the weavers of this region possess.
Bengali silks also possess a rich heritage and are worn by the upper class women in ceremonial and religious occasions. Recently red-bordered, white silk sarees are often worn by high-caste Bengali women during marriages. Such sarees are also traditionally worn in Durga puja held during the autumnal Navaratri (nine-night) festival. Apart from these sarees, east India exhibits an array of sarees including Baluchari Sarees, Bomkai Sarees, Muga Sarees, Pat Sarees, Embroidered Sarees that involves the kantha embroidery, appliqué work, chikankari embroidery, Tussar sarees, Sambalpuri Sarees, Khadi Sarees, etc. When colour was used in eastern Indian saris, it was usually woven in as yarn-dyed thread, creating contrasting monochromatic designs most often in red, black or blue against a white or natural-coloured ground. Bengal is the domicile of `tant` sarees that are said to the pride of Bengal.
The Indian sarees have a great variety as the sarees of North India displays distinct styles that stand apart from the sarees of other regions. The most famous saree of this region is Banarasi saree that is exemplary for the intricate designs created with high quality zari. Sometimes, beads and gold or silver flakes are added to enhance the intricacy and gaudiness of the Banarasis. The supplementary thread designs, including dense border patterns, are almost always woven as discontinuous supplementary-weft with the highly decorated endpiece. Most brocade, usually, have strong Mughal design influences, such as intricate intertwining floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel. A characteristic motif found along the inner and sometimes outer edges of borders is a narrow fringe-like pattern that often looks like a string of upright leaves, called jhaalar (frill). Though Banarasi sarees have a great traditional value, this region is the hub for making exclusive sarees like Bandhani Sarees, Chikan Sarees, Kota Sarees, Tanchois Sarees, Tissue Sarees etc. South India is the centre for creating heavy sarees that are bedecked with zari. The women of this region prefer to wear sarees that carry the traditional importance. The weavers and the artisans of this region create sarees like Chettinad Sarees, Gadwal Sarees, Kanjeevaram Sarees, Konrad Sarees, Mysore Silk Sarees, Pochampally Sarees etc. Each saree has a distinct feature distinguishing them from one another. The endpiece and the border of the sarees are skilfully embellished for creating a style statement of south India.
With changing times the designs, hues and materials for the Indian sarees have been experimented with. While the western clothes have been ruling the Indian market for sometimes the Indian sarees are back with a bang. Whether it`s a wedding, a `pooja` or any other special occasion sarees are preferred by women. In fact Indian sarees remain indispensable attires during festivities. The artisans create mix and match designs in other fabrics like georgette, tissue, chiffon and crepe sarees. Sometimes, modern with traditional touch is seen to create an illusion and satisfy the need of the modern customer as well. In recent times, many modern sarees created for the middle-class urban market use traditional ethnic odhni and sari patterns.