Reviving Banarasis: The warp and the weft of timelessness

The effort to revive Banarais sari is aimed at protecting the expressions of weaving culture and developing new varieties to blend the techniques of the esteemed old and the cutting-edge new. Photos: Shanti Banaras, Swati and Sunaina GOLD, Tilfi

Textiles, embroideries, and weaves are the fabric of Indian culture. They are the dreams, aspirations, and hopes of those who weave them — the karigars. How many times did you marvel at your grandmother’s or mother’s heavy zari Banarasis? Gently running your fingers over the intricate work? Looking wistfully in the mirror at the resplendent sheen the weave casts as you hold the dreamy material against your face?

There is something about the timeless elegance of Banarasis. An “object of permanence” is what textile revivalist Smriti Morarka calls it. She has been engaged in preserving weaving traditions for the past two decades and more. A Banarasi is an experience in itself, she believes. And why not? Unless you feel the touch of the glorious texture against your skin, unless you understand the quiet caress of the heavy drape, unless you are awestruck by the minute beauty of the motifs and the subtle shine of the zari work… how will you know the importance of the weave that demands to be preserved and is a legacy unto itself?

Banarasi, one of the most diverse and versatile weaves of India, is seeing a revival now. A Banarasi can be woven on silk, cotton, organza, tussar or georgette. It can also be woven in many techniques such as kadwa, jaamdani, phekwa, tanchoi, meenakari and a few more kinds.

“The advent of the Mughals in the 14th century led to a shift in the weaving industry of northern India, especially near Agra. The weavers of then Uttar Pradesh would make clothes from cotton, but the Mughal influence focused on the inclusion of silk weaving which paved the way for the thriving silk industry we see today. Varanasi (then Banaras) is credited to be the birthplace of the famous and treasured Banarasi silk sari,” say designer duo Swati and Sunaina GOLD.

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