The great trinity of Indian wedding sarees include the Kanchipuram silk, the Banarasi silk and the Dharmavaram silk. While the former two have been extensively covered and are the instinctive choice for most brides, the beautiful Dharmavaram silk saree has resurged as the saree of choice for the contemporary bride looking for a colourfully ethnic wedding. Interestingly, the weaving of Dharmavaram sarees is one of the latest, in comparison to all other drapes.
Origin and history
Dharmavaram sarees are the exclusive patronage of the town of Dharmavaram, in the Anantapura district of Andhra Pradesh. This ancient town gets its name from Dharmamba, who was the mother of Kriya Shakthi Vodavaru Swamy, the founder of the town. The town took to silk weaving naturally due to the abundance of mulberry trees around the area, which makes for a natural breeding ground for wild silk worms. By the 19th century, the mulberry silk Dharmavaram sarees found nationwide recognition for the sheer brilliance and beauty of the weave. Woven initially as wedding sarees, in shades of red and yellow, the weavers innovated over time to include all colours, motifs, designs and embellishments to keep up with the changing times and increase their client base. Today, the process has been partially mechanized to assist the craftsmen in meeting the demands of a global market. While these sarees are just over a century old, they have established themselves as a firm favourite with saree connoisseurs.
Typically woven by hand with mulberry silk and zari, it takes four to eight days of continuous effort by two weavers, using both their hands and legs to weave a complete saree. A number of processes have to be done before the actual weaving takes place. After collection of the cocoons from the sericulture farms, they are boiled in steam to obtain the yarn. Degumming the yarn with soda ash and soap to remove the natural gums is followed by plying of the yarn to create a balanced texture for the final clothing, that maybe a saree or a paavada, which is a long skirt worn by young girls. Next is the complex process of dyeing, which has many aspects such as the liquid ratio, temperature, pH etc. The pre-loom part ends with drying the yarns, which can then be used to weave the sarees.
Conventionally Dharmavaram sarees are woven by the interlocked weft method. Jacquard weaving is also extremely popular. The designs are loaded on the computer, punched into a card and then loaded on the jacquard loom.
The elegant Dharmavaram silk is woven in two colours, giving an effect of muted double shades that are accentuated by the solid colour border and pallu. This double colouring gives a distinct twisted effect, unique to these sarees. Brocade patterns and motifs include intricate temple designs and a variety of ethnic Indian designs like the elephant, peacock, lotus, etc. Apart from South silk, weavers have experimented with Assam silk, tussar, cotton and cotton silk.
The Dharmavaram silk is predominantly the wedding saree of the south. Hence, initially, Dharmavaram silks were made mostly in combinations of yellow and maroon, both auspicious colours of Hindu tradition. However, with more and more people being interested in the saree, the weavers incorporate a number of other shades into the saree and now Dharmavaram sarees are virtually available in all colours. The distinct double tone of the saree sets it apart from all other south silks.
Modern day Dharmavaram sarees are embellished with decorative stones, chamki, sequins, and kundan. This appeals to the younger generation and makes it perfect for wedding ceremonies, functions, pujas, etc.
Dharmavaram sarees are one of the most religiously and ceremonially accepted sarees. Hence, most of the motifs are oriented towards such emotions. Peacock feathers and peacock motifs make for the most popular designs. Next comes the Brahmakamals, star designs and elephant designs. Sufficient inspiration has been drawn from temple architecture and such motifs are routinely represented on saree pallus. These sarees have a distinct gold plated border with self-printed art work. Motifs also depend on the discretion of the weavers and their genius.
Dharmavaram sarees have two distinct varieties: the handloom and the power loom type. Among the 26 designs available in the sarees, 11 are handloom and the remaining 15 are from the power looms. There are around 240 jaquards of Kalanjali, Evening, Morning and Brocade sarees. Wedding Dharmavaram sarees are also known as Rajwadi sarees, for their exclusive royal colour combinations and texture.
Current state of the art
It was registered as one of the geographical indication from Andhra Pradesh by Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. Dharmavaram silks have gained international ground and have become extremely popular in France and Germany. Today because of the great demand, there are over 1500 silk manufacturing units and over one lakh looms in active production. The annual turnover is around 500 crores with a majority of the industry run by women, contributing significantly to rural families.
Depending on the work and material, a Dharmavaram saree can range from Rs.2,000 to Rs.150,000. Daily wear sarees are of a lower range and the handloom variety is naturally more expensive than the power loom. Designer Dharmavaram sarees are highly prized and have become the first saree of choice for brides in the North of India too.
How to identify a Dharmavaram saree
The double shading of the saree body created by the use of two colours in the weaving process is a distinct feature of Dharmavaram sarees.
Dharmavaram also feature a solid colour contrasting border and broad pallu with gold zari detailing on the border.
Most Dharmavaram silks are made from genuine south silks. You can test the genuineness of the silk by burning one strand of thread. If it burns like hair without leaving a residue, it is genuine silk.
Since most Dharmavaram sarees are made of a heavy silk, professional dry cleaning is highly recommended. Care should be taken to preserve and store these sarees carefully, away from a moist environment to ensure longevity and durability.
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|KNOW YOUR CRAFT: DHARMAVARAM SAREES
|Technique||Handloom as well as Power loom||Distinguishing factor||Dual tone sarees with contrasting borders and broad pallus|
|Place of origin||Dharmavaram, Andhra Pradesh||Materials used||South silk as well as Assam silk, tussar, cotton and cotton silk|
|Manufacturing hubs||Dharmavaram, Andhra Pradesh||Time taken to weave||4 to 8 days|
|Type of fabric||Pure silk, cotton, cotton silk||Varieties||Handloom and power loom varieties|
|Colours||Earlier in auspicious colour combinations like maroon and yellow; now available in a variety of colours||Price||Rs.2,000 onwards to Rs.150,000 depending on fabric and work|
|Motifs||Peacock feathers, peacocks, elephants as well as temple motifs and Brahmakamals||Care||Dry clean the silk variety; store carefully away from moisture|