It’s all about the silk


Where Do I Begin… the sweet love story, of my love for sarees? I think most Indian girls would share these sentiments. No Matter how much I lust for designer wear, the happiness that a saree brings remains unparalleled.

For me, Childhood memories are filled with me playing house and trying to drape a dupatta as a saree, pretending to be a house guest, that my sister would have painstakingly dressed up in my mom’s saree, or many a boring afternoon spent simply browsing silks and staking claim, that you would wear it at some distant cousin’s wedding, looking forward to the sarees that I received as gifts every year during the festivals. All I can decipher it’s difficult to pin a moment when the affair started.

Having spent my formative years in Chennai, my favorite saree is the Kanjivaram saree. While I love Chanderi’s, Banarasis, Tussar’s and Cottons, I do have a special affinity for the Queen of Sarees, as I like to call them. As I delved into the history, it came as no surprise that it boasts of one that is very rich with an interesting mix of fact and mythology. I would like to believe that it is my natural eye for style and exclusivity (ahem) that makes me love them so.

The first Kanjivaram’s were apparently woven during the time of the Chola Dynasty around 985 -1014. Weavers from Andhra Migrated to Tamil Nadu at the time and the intuitive skill until this day, is passed down through training, and no explanations or theories. If one were to trace it’s origins before that as well, then legend has it that the fabric was also Lord Vishnu’s favorite fabric and the weavers are descendants of Sage Markanda, the master weaver of God, who wove the fabric from Lotus fibre. At South Indian Weddings, and festivals, it is considered auspicious to wear the saree. My guess is because of it’s rich history. It is after all the favorite fabric of the gods 🙂

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A Kanjivaram saree takes about 7 -10 days to weave by hand if it’s basic, and those that have intricate work can take weeks or months.  The sarees always feature traditional motifs, and are inspired by , the gods, temple motifs like flowers, leaves, lamps, temples, graceful birds like swans, peacocks, parrots and even Lions. The designs tend to be very traditional, because the first sarees were woven for temple deities.

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 The better the quality of the saree, the heavier it will be. The reason is that in a Kanjivaram sari is the silk yarn is “double warp”. It means that one thread is made up of three single threads twisted together and therefore it is heavier than a normal saree. A regular saree is anywhere between 500gms – 1 kg. Classic Kanjivarams have intricately woven  zari.  The zari is a silk thread that has silver wire twisted around it and then dipped in gold.

Needless to say, the saree has the dignified air of a queen and below are a few things to keep in mind, if you are planning to buy yourself a gorgeous piece of silk heaven.Though I am no expert, I thought it would be useful to share, what I know about buying a Kanjivaram.

1. Kanjivaram sarees are broader in width than regular sarees, so wear them with heels or be prepared to tuck in quite a bit, if you are short and decide to wear it with no heels

2. When you are buying a Kanjivaram, make sure to check if it is a Handwoven saree or a Power Loom. The obvious distinction between the two is that the latter is mechanised, and will lack the sheen and lustre of a handwoven saree. Even Zari options exist, so you can opt for a sari that’s not made with genuine zari, but of course that’s not going down as heirloom for sure.

A Kanjivaram with intricately woven designs with Zari.

A Kanjivaram with intricately woven designs with Zari.

3. The best way of checking for purity of silk saree is to take a few threads and burn them. Pure silk will coagulate and leave a black powdery residue and will also emit an unpleasant odour.  Or else simply buy it from a genuine seller and save yourself experiments

4. A genuine Kanjivaram will cost you 6000 Rupees upwards. You could get something that is a bit cheaper around 4000- 5000 Rupees, but then there will be absolutely no Zari. If it is any cheaper, in all probability you are not buying a handwoven Kanjivaram.

5. If you want a saree that looks rich and like it has a lot of work , then you could opt for a Kanjivaram along with a Jacquard weave. You can enjoy the richness of an intricate Kanjivaram without it being too expensive and also heavy. The Jacquard weave looks through the body of the saree, makes it look very rich.

A Kanjivaram saree with a Jacquard weave in the body and zari on the border

A Kanjivaram saree with a Jacquard weave in the body and zari on the border

6. If you don’t want to do a traditional saree, where the body and border are in contrast, today weavers are moving with the times and doing Modern Kanjivarams. The designs tend to be more contemporary and they play around with the designs, not limiting it to simple contrasts.

A modern Kanjivaram, playing with colour

A modern Kanjivaram, playing with colour

7. Kanjivarams stand the test of time, my MIL actually draped me in her mother’s 10 yard saree, before my wedding, when I wanted to do a dress rehearsal before D-Day, when I was going to wear a 9 yard saree. Needless to say, the saree was in Tip Top Condition. This is heirloom no doubt.

8. If you see a Richly Woven Kanjivaram without Zari, buy it! I’ve been told by people at the store, that the weavers are doing a lot more of the ones with Zari and lesser of the ones without it, because the demand is less. But believe me when I say it, it looks gorgeous and it being less in demand has only made it more expensive.

A Kanjivaram with no zari at all. Simple and plain and exclusive

8. I also recommend keeping the blouse interesting, as I love wearing those that I have taken care to get stitched

9. The best place to buy them is of course Kancheepuram itself, but one has several options today – my favorite stores are Tulsi Silks, Sarangi, and Sundari Silks, of course all based out of Chennai.

I love my sarees, so much so that I am contemplating a vintage wooden cupboard to store them in,but I live in Bombay and even contemplating more furniture may give my husband some serious sleepless nights 😛

I hope that this blog does help you revive or kindle an interest in the glorious Kanjivaram and you share the love for them, as I do 🙂

2 thoughts on “It’s all about the silk

  1. Just to add to point no 3 — a handwovern saree will have a rough knobby feel whereas a powerloom saree will feel very smooth. Go for the latter even if it costs a bit more — it is worthwhile!

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