Borrowing its name from the village of its origin, Kanchipuram aka Kanjeevaram is essentially a silk saree that can well be considered South India’s answer to the more popular Banarasi saree. Owing to the thick fabric and deep colours mixed with hints of gold, this saree is preferred for festive occasions and celebrations. Like with most silk sarees, you can count on Kanjeevaram or Kanchipuram silk sarees to be the perfect outfit choice when you are looking for a classy ethnic option.
Origin and history
The story of the Kanjeevaram silk saree begins in Hindu mythology. Legend has it that the Kanchi silk weavers are descendants of Sage Markanda, who was considered to be the master weaver for the Gods themselves.
Settled in the small town of Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu), the famous Kanjeevaram saree weave goes back 400 years. It was during the reign of Krishna Devaraya (from the Vijayanagara Empire) that the art really took off. Two major weaving communities of Andhra Pradesh, the Devangas and Saligars migrated to the town of Kanchipuram. They used their excellent weaving skills to make the silk saree that bore images of scriptures and figurines found on the temples around the village.
It didn’t take long for the saree to evolve into a must-wear for women at traditional ceremonies, weddings and other festivities, and the practice still continues in South India.
You Might Also Like: 6 Most Beautiful South Indian Sarees To Add To Your Collection
Kanchipuram silk sarees are woven from pure mulberry silk. While the silk belongs to South India, the pure gold and silver zari comes from Gujarat. The silk thread that is used to weave the saree is dipped in rice water and sun-dried before it is used in order to increase both, its thickness and stiffness. The silk thread is then interlocked with a thin silver wire and woven through after which a golden thread is used to complete the procedure.
The warp frame use to weave this fabric has about 60 holes, in which there are 240 threads in the warp and 250 to 3000 threads in the weft, giving it a sturdy feel. The pallu, the border and the body of the saree are generally woven separately, and then interlocked together with much precision and neatness.
Since the colour and designs of the body, and the pallu are quite different, weavers weave both of them separately and eventually join them. You can spot a zig zag pattern (known as the pitni) where the body meets the pallu. It is also quite a common practice to weave the border of the saree separately and then join the three together. The joining of the three (known as korvai) is done with such precision that even if the saree tears, the border will not detach.
Also since the zari is made of three silk threads twisted with a silver wire, the fabric is extremely strong and durable. This, however, can also add to the weight, making a regular Kanjeevaram saree as heavy as two kilos.
Shop for Kanjeevaram sarees.
The sarees are known for their vibrant colours and eye catching designs, which are mainly inspired from the scriptures and figurines from the very many temples in this small village. Since the pallu and the body of the saree differ in colour and design, you can expect a variety of contrasting shades too.
Ever since its inception, Kanchipuram silk sarees have stayed true to the inclusion of temple figurines and mythological stories into the design.
The border of the saree comprises of motifs from the temples, palaces and general paintings, and the body includes pyramidal temple designs, checks, stripes and floral buttas.
Over the years, the traditional and much preferred stripes or golden dot designs have given way to more symbolic motifs such as fruits, animals, birds, the sun and the moon, and even stories from mythology.
Kanchipuram silk sarees were initially a nine-yard weave but over the years the more practical six-yard weave was included too. The original golden and silver zari is also now replaced by a cost effective metal or copper zari that manages to hold on to the sheen of the texture while reducing the cost. However, if you want an original you need to ensure that the zari work is not artificial.
Shop different varieties of Kanjeevaram silk sarees.
Current state of the art
Kanchipuram sarees have been recognized as a Geographical Indication by the government since 2006. This can be considered as a mark of authenticity and has helped improve the sales of Kanjeevaram silk sarees. As of now there are about 5,000 families involved in the production and there are 15 silk and cotton yard industries and 60 dyeing units in the region to aid the production process.
A Tamil film titled Kanchivaram was also made in 2008, on the weavers, which helped get their problems into mainstream media focus. Last year, the government introduced a policy to promote e-marketing of local handlooms. Thirteen e-commerce entities have partnered with the Office of the Development Commissioner (Handlooms) to market handloom products from the weavers themselves. What this means is that now when you go online to buy a Kanchipuram saree, chances are the fabric is coming directly from the weaver, allowing them to make a decent profit.
An original saree with pure silk and pure zari can cost anywhere between Rs.7,000 and Rs.2,00,000. To cut down on the cost you also get budgeted versions like the pure silk plus imitation zari or the half silk-half synthetic plus imitation zari saree, which manage to hold on to the sheen of the original, but lose out on the durability of the fabric. These sarees cost a lot less and can be bought at a price of just Rs.2,000 to Rs.5,000. However, these are not considered to be originals.
- One of the most telling signs is that the border of the saree and the body will be in total contrast. However, you do have cheaper versions in the market, which follow the same design rules but make use of artificial zari. You need to look closely at the colour of the finished zari work to identify a fake.
- One of the most foolproof ways to tell the difference between an original and fake Kanchipuram silk saree is to pick a few loose threads from the saree, burn them, pick the remaining ash and smell it. You’ll be met with a smell similar to that of burnt leather or hair. The ones made using artificial fibers will have no ash upon burning.
- Another easier and more doable test would be to look for the loose ends of zari in the saree. Pure zari is made of red silk thread, that is then twisted with a silver thread and dipped in gold. If you find the zari thread white or any other colour, you can be certain that this is a fake.
- Also look for the Silk Mark that is given to pure Kanchipuram silk sarees.
Dry cleaning is the most preferred method to maintain the saree. However, if you do have to wash the saree at home avoid using soap during the first three washes. A rinse in cold water is more than enough. It is advisable to store the saree separately in a plastic or saree bag.
Read more about Kanjeevaram silk sarees.
Images credit: Shutterstock
|KNOW YOUR CRAFT: KANJEEVARAM SILK
|Technique||Handloom||Distinguishing factor||The Silk Mark and the use of real gold or silver zari|
|Place of origin||Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu||Materials used||Mulberry silk thread and zari|
|Manufacturing hubs||Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu||Time taken to weave||1 week|
|Type of fabric||Silk||Varieties||Silk with real zari and Silk with artificial (copper) zari|
|Colours||Available in vibrant colours with gold work; usually the pallu and body are of different colours||Price||Starts from Rs.7000 to Rs,2,00,000 depending on the fabric and work|
|Motifs||Mainly pyramidal temple designs, checks, stripes and floral buttas||Care||Dry clean or rinse in cold water at home (without detergent). Store in a saree bag|