Banaras sarees have a wide range of variation that is displayed in the creations of the artisans of Benaras. The Banaras brocades have an array of intricately designed sarees that are sought after not only in India but also in the entire world. The first thing which comes in mind, hearing the name of Banaras is the traditional Banarasi sarees that are the symbol of Indian bride.
Keeping the different design characteristics in mind, Banaras brocade sarees can be divided into several types that include Opaque zari brocades, Amni brocades, Tanchoi brocades, Banaras brocade, Zari Brocades, Kincab Brocades etc. The Banarasi sarees are largely associated with marriage and the sarees are the intricate artwork of zari and sometimes gold and silver flakes by the master craftsmen.
One of the variations of Banaras saree requires the Opaque zari brocades which are usually divided into two groups based upon the amount of (supplementary-weft) zari present. Kincabs are heavy gilt brocades with considerably more zari visible than underlying silk. They are commonly worn as wedding sarees today, especially in northern India. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they were popular dress fabrics among the Muslim upper classes. The other kind of zari brocades were once known as pot-than, `bafthana` or `bafta`, but are often just called `brocades` in recent times. These are the classic brocaded sarees associated with twentieth-century Banaras. The zari usually accounts for 50 per cent or less of the fabric surface. Fashion usually dictates the weight of the silk and amount of zari in these saris; for instance, lightweight, opaque silks with heavy zari borders were popular in the 1950s and early 1960s. On the other hand, in the early 1990s, denser, heavier silks with very narrow borders became more fashionable.
Amni brocades are another form of Banaras sarees that are found in Indian market and are considered as one of the traditional sarees. The supplementary-weft patterning of these brocades is woven in silk, not in zari thread. The threads may be either untwisted, giving a `thick` line to the woven design or they may be made of twisted yarns that produce a finer, denser pattern. One distinctive type of amru brocades is Tanchoi brocade. This is a figured silk that is technically related to complex weaves like the lampas because it has one or two warp and two to five weft colours often in the same shade. A densely patterned, heavy fabric is created that has no floats on the reverse. The unused threads are woven into the foundation at the back. Traditionally, the face of the fabric has a satin weave ground (warp threads) with small patterns made by the weft threads repeated over the entire surface. Tanchoi brocades are originated from China, initially being part of die nineteenth-century Parsi trade between India, China and England.
The third type of Banaras brocade saree may technically be either zari brocade or an amru. The ground fabric is always a transparent silk muslin or organza with fine coloured silk and or zari supplementary-thread patterning. Sometimes the supplementary threads which create the patterning through their contrasting colours are as fine as the ground fabric. This causes the cloth look lightly printed rather than woven and mainly silk and (optional) zari threads are preferred for bringing such effect. A subgroup of this category is the `cutwork` brocade. Here, the transparent silk fabric has supplementary-weft patterning woven in heavier, thicker fibres than the ground. Silk, zari, synthetic fibres and sometimes even wool may be used to create the supplementary-weft designs. Including these, the Banarasi brocade includes the tarbana which is the connotation of `woven water` or `tissue` brocade. Like the other abrawans, it has a very fine silk warp, but the weft threads of the ground are zari instead of silk, giving the cloth a metallic sheen. Several other weights and shades of supplementary-weft zari are often used to create the patterning, giving a very rich effect to an extremely fine and delicate cloth. The Tanchoi brocades have a good market in Benaras and the sarees are basically used in wedding ceremonies when the artisans started incorporating zari in the designs. The weavers use colorful extra weft silk thread for creating patterns, using a technique similar to that of brocade. The motifs include paisley motif and sometimes a labyrinth is created by the artisans. The endpieces of this type of sarees are decked with large motifs of multiple paisley forms-one growing out of the other. The border and the cross-borders of the endpiece are embellished with miniature paisley creepers. Tanchoi brocades use at least three different colours and weave it in such a way so that the front surface has a (warp) satin ground between the (weft) pattern elements. The typical Banaras brocade sarees are sometimes found in traditional Muslim colours of green and gold with inlaid red and black silk work added as highlights to the zari brocading. This type of sarees is also available in traditional Hindu colours of orange and pale blue. The Indian artisans, during the 1890s, incorporated the European designs in their creations as the patterns influenced the Indian weaving technique.
Abrawans and Tissue sarees, the noted Banaras sarees, are well admired in India because of the fabric and gorgeousness and style. The transparent materials of these sarees are usually woven with the finest silk threads. This has earned them the name `abrawan` which stands for `flowing water`. The most luxurious saree, known as `tarbana` meaning `woven water` or `tissue` sarees, have a fine silk warp with a zari weft. These give the sarees a metallic sheen and luster. Different coloured zari threads are woven into supplementary-weft patterns upon the sheer ground. The supplementary threadwork of many Banaras brocades is woven as floats across the back. The borders and the endpiece of this type of saree have a diaper of diamond patterns that are enclosed by a border of running paisley motifs. The Tissue sarees are further decked with the particulars traditional design such as Jangla Butidar, Shikargah menadar etc.
Another brocade of Banaras sarees is Kincab Brocade sarees which are largely covered by zari patterning. In some cases the underlying silk cloth is made invisible by the intricate designs as the designs are created in all over the fabric. They are commonly worn as wedding sarees throughout South Asia. Apart from these sarees, the weavers of Benaras are known for mastering the cut work technique on plain ground texture. This is done after removing of the floated thread which is not woven during the weaving process that is said to provide good transparent look. The cheaper variation of the Jamdani variety is the cut work. This work incorporates the pattern to run from selvage to selvage letting it hang loosely between two motifs. The extra-thread is cut manually and creates the effect of Jamdani.
One of the traditional sarees of Benaras is the silk jamdani which is a technical variety of brocade or the `figured muslin`. This type of jamdani sarees are woven by passing the pattern thread through the various warp threads. While doing so the proportion of the design is kept in mind. Then the shuttle is subjected to the regular weft. The weaver creates intricate designs by repeating this process. The weavers keep in mind the size and placing of the cut-thread according to the character of the pattern. The artisans include traditional motifs in the Jamdani sarees that comprise Chameli (Jas mine), panna hazar (Thousand emeralds) genda buti (marigold flower) pan buti (leaf form) tircha (diagonally striped) etc. Among the most attractive designs, konia or a corner-motif having a floral mango buta are named. A typical saree made in Benaras is Jangala saree which is decorated with wildly scrolling and spreading vegetation motifs. This is said to be one of the previous rose sarees and are adorned with beautifully contrasted gold-creepers and silver flowers of the Jangala motif. The borders have brocaded running creepers in muga silk and gold and silver-Zari threads. The endpiece is made with a fusion of motifs of the borders and condensed Jangala of the field. To give the sarees a stylish and superior glitz, the Jal Jangala design and sometimes meena work is also incorporated.
The Benaras sarees are hugely favoured for the variations and designs which have become the trademark of the region. Butidar sarees are one of the most famed sarees that are made in Benaras. The most striking feature of this particular type of saree is the gold, silver and silk brocades. The Ganga-Jamuna is a particular design that is done with dark gold and light silver shade with row of arches in the endpiece. The Butidar saree is a traditional Banaras saree that are decked with an array of motifs ranging from Angoor Bail, Gojar Bail, Luttar Bail, Khulta bail, Baluchar bail, Mehrab bail, Doller butti, Ashraffi Butti, Latiffa Butti, Reshem Butti, Jhummar Butti, Jhari Butta, Kalma Butti, Patti Butti, Lichhi Butti, Latiffa Butta, Kairy Kalanga, Thakka Anchal, Mehrab Anchal, Baluchar Butta with the use of real gold and silver Jari and Katan silk in the weft.
The rich variety in the types of Banaras sarees has made Banaras as the hub of excellent weavers and designers for sarees. The traditional sarees that are created with great artistry are the creations of majestic experienced hands and thoughts that catch the fancy of people from the entire world.