The motifs and patterns play are significant elements for Indian sarees as the fame and elaboration depends on the designs of the sarees. The traditional sarees are distinctly designed to bring the catchy and ethnic look. Small geometric shapes in the motifs and patterns in Indian sarees include a wide variety ranging from dense basket-weave and interlocking diamond-shaped designs to checks, serrated patterns and chevrons. The motifs and patterns in Indian sarees are indicative of the rich cultural heritage that the artisans have been following since antiquity.
The motifs and patterns in Indian sarees reflect the dexterity of the artisans as well. The designs include small geometric shapes, stripes, dashes, checks, squares, edges, `frills` etc. Most are woven in supplementary-warp or weft threads, creating bands of patterning in saree borders. Because of the nature of their weaving, which traditionally involved the use of several sticks to lift the supplementary-warp threads on the loom, the designs are not only very small but also repetitive. In addition, checks and other net-like patterns are woven into saree fields using ground-warp and -weft threads of contrasting colour. The names of most of these small repeat patterns are usually descriptive which are inspired from nature, items of jewellery or the mundane world.
The names of different motifs and patterns in Indian sarees include the flower-bud like `jhaalar` or frill found along the inner edge of many saree borders and endpieces. These are also inspired from items of jewellery and are known as `kangora`. Much Indian jewellery features rows of elongated beads that are termed as `jasmine flower buds`, a pattern that is similar to the `jhaalar` pattern itself. In the western Deccan, very fine checks with 1/1 or 2/4 coloured or ground thread sequences are often called `goonji` or `gunji`. The `goonj` is a very thin wire used in women`s earrings and the name refers to the fine line of the check.
Names of seeds are also frequently used in the motifs and patterns in Indian sarees. A common name for a slightly larger, but still fine, check in western Deccan saree fields is `moongi` or `mungi` or `lentil seed`. Many repetitive supplementary-warp and weft designs in Deccan sarees are also named after seeds. For instance, small dashes created in eastern Madhya Pradesh sarees are called `jeera` or cumin seed and the repetitive diamond or mat-like bands in some Pochampalli and Bomkai sarees are called `dalimba` or `pomegranate seed` or `saara` depending on the size and shape of the fine-woven pattern. The Tamil or Telugu word for the `jhaalar` like edging along saree borders is `pannu sambu`, spikes of rice or paddy. The supplementary warp-woven bands typical of the Bomkai sarees are usually quite wide, and are woven in sarees throughout the Deccan and the south. Slight variations in the repeat design usually result in totally different names. For instance, a diamond-mesh design similar to the Bomkai dalimba in Tamil puja saree borders is called `hiyilkan` that is the connotation of cuckoo`s eyes, but if there is a small central dot within each tiny lozenge, it is called `mayilkan` meaning peacock`s eyes. In Maharashtra, such designs usually have more down-to-earth names such as `chatai` (basket or mat weave) `zndjali` (net), although the `eye`(aankh) appellative is also found in the narrow chain-like bands of Maheshwari sarees. These references to eyes may have once had a connection with concepts relating to the evil eye, widespread throughout India. The name `centipede` is commonly given to a variety of different geometric motifs that are used in the Indian sarees. It denotes herringbone-like Sri Lankan embroidery used to join two seams which is a part of the Vohra bhat design found in Gujarati `patola`. The tiny herringbone-weave bands created in Maharashtra and other west Deccan sarees. Even the names of weapons and other devices are given to some of the motifs and patterns used on the Indian sarees. For instance, an alternative Marathi name for the herringbone motif is `katari`, a dagger. It is also possible that the tiny supplementary-warp bands woven as a serrated `ribbon` in west Deccan saree borders may also have had a protective function. It is often called a `karvat`, which stands for a saw.
Including these, the artisans of India use some motifs and patterns that are related to the architecture and facades like `temple motifs`. The temple motif consists of rows of large triangles found along ethnic and tribal saree borders, as well as in the endpieces or pallu of Dravidian and some central Deccan sarees. They are usually woven into the ground fabric of the saree in the interlocked-weft techniques. This design is found in Indian textiles namely in the wedding patola of Vohra Muslims. The temple motif has different traditional names in different parts of India. In the north-east, West Bengal and Bangladesh it was commonly called `daant` (teeth). In West Bengal and eastern Deccan, especially Orissa and northern Andhra Pradesh, it is called a `kumbh`, `kumbha` or `kumbham`, a reference to the round clay storage pot and its contents (usually rice or water). The motif of `daant`, like the `kungri` of Gujarat, may have originally been added for protection against the evil eye. The `kumbha` is considered as a fertility symbol.
In Dravidian India this border design usually refers to `mottu` or `mokku` in Tamil meaning flower buds and the endpiece design is called a `reku` meaning bundle of grass. The `reku` is a large design that looks like a reverse temple design because visually the central panel dominates instead of the border edge. In northern Karnataka five pointed spikes are embroidered and woven into local sarees in an effort to keep away the evil eye. This motif is termed as `karavai` (saw) by the Kanchipuram weavers for serrated borders, which also suggests a protective association. As per the historical evidences, the temple motif is of pre-Islamic, possibly tribal and the origin is adopted by caste Hindus. The artisans of India, use floating geometric motifs to enhance the embellishment of the sarees. A separate subgroup of geometric motifs is woven as discontinuous supplementary-weft figures free-floating against a plain ground. They are usually larger than the supplementary-warp and -weft motifs discussed earlier. These are not necessarily any larger than temple motifs, and are often found in tribal and ethnic sarees of the eastern Deccan. Most of these motifs fall into two types that encompass patterns based on the square or `chauk`, and on the triangle or `trikon`. The triangular shapes are usually depicted with an additional small diamond or triangle placed on top of the main triangle peak. They are known by a variety of names taken from daily life. According to some scholars, the commonest name for this motif is `singhaulia` which may simply mean `embellishment` or `decoration`. An alternative name is `maachhee` meaning fly.
The `singhaulia` has earned the fame due to be one of the oldest patterns found in the archaeological record. Even double triangular motifs created in an hourglass-shape are also found in tribal sarees. In Oraon sarees they are known as butterflies. The distinctive pagoda-like motif, `phool cheeta chauk` or flower leopard seat are found in Gond sarees. It has been translated as a `marriage motif`, which it is, but so far there has been no serious study of this uniquely Gond design.
The artisans of different region create motifs and patterns that are distinctive in their form. Square motifs are also commonly found in the tribal and ethnic sarees of the eastern Deccan. The patterns are rarely simple squares, however, and they usually have several internal concentric squares inside the main one, with embellishments on the outer sides of each corner. They are generally known as `chauk` by non-tribals. Another most widely used motif in Indian saree is the creeping vine motif which is primarily associated with expensive figured textiles that have Islamic connections it became an `establishment` design on expensive fabrics since the Mughal times. Apart from these motifs and patterns used in Indian sarees, the artisans of the country use the floral motifs widely. Flowers have played a major role in Hindu and early Buddhist iconography, and many designs were then used by the Muslims. Although the Islamic depictions seem to have been purely decorative, various Hindu representations were often symbolic of good luck, health and prosperity. The jasmine flower has long been a popular floral motif, known to have embellished textiles given to the seventh-century north-Indian king Harsha. Various types of flowers are depicted in traditional sarees. In many Deccan sarees, narrow bands of repeat supplementary-warp figuring, generically called phool(a). The patterns in these bands tend to range from small circular geometric motifs called `jai-phoola` (jasmine flower) in Orissa, four- to eight-petalled flowers often called `rui phool` (cotton flower).
The motifs and patterns in Indian sarees depend on the intricacy of the designs that are displayed in the traditional as well as in the sarees that are worn in the occasional ceremonies. One of the most complex and enduring symbols of both Buddhism and Hinduism has been the lotus. It is likely that the fecund aspect of the lotus, not the spiritual, is emphasized when it is depicted on traditional sarees, in particular wedding sarees. Buta and Buti are considered to be another group of floral motifs that are seen in the sarees. As with the phool, however, these names are also given to geometric motifs. The smaller `buti` are usually woven in repeated rows across the saree field, while the `buta` are usually created in rows along the endpiece. Although it is highly likely that buti and buta are indigenous north-Indian designs, the words used to describe them are of Persian origin.
During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the kalga became an important motif in a wide range of Indian textiles, perhaps because it was associated with the Mughal court. In addition to these motifs and patterns, the heart-shaped leaves of the peepal tree, kadamba trees, sun-tree, peacock, goose and other water birds, fish, elephant, tortoise, conch etc are used by the artisans to enhance the intricacy of designs in the sarees. Even the hunting scenes that usually features men, horses, elephants, tigers, rabbits, deer, peacocks, parrots, and other animals, cavorting between entangling branches and leaves. This might seem an unusual design for a saree or any other textile made for personal use, but it was found in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Banaras brocades and Gujarati bandhani.
Keeping in mind the ancient tradition and the culture of India, the artisans have started creating different motifs and patterns in Indian sarees. The motifs and patterns ranges from natural objects to architectural details that defines the creative excellence and the adaptability of the artisans. The motifs and patterns are the connotation of such things that are either considered as auspicious or have connections with the traditionally renowned facades.