If you’re looking for a pretty saree to wear for a party, then you’re truly spoilt for choice here in India, given the sheer variety of textiles, designs and handicrafts. But if you’re looking for a saree, that’s both a work of art as well as an investment, then you’d best buy a gorgeous Kanjeevaram silk saree.
Bollywood actress Rekha is never seen in public without a dazzling Kanjeevaram silk saree draped about her. Both Aishwarya Rai and Vidya Balan wore Kanjeevaram silk sarees for their weddings, Aishwarya in a rich golden yellow saree with Swarovski crystals on it and Vidya in a deep red silk saree with gold zari work. Vidya also wore Kanjeevaram silk sarees for the other smaller rituals during her wedding including this gorgeous Sabyasachi design, which included a mélange of brilliant colours and geometrical patterns. And there’s a reason why Aishwarya, Rekha, Vidya Balan and Sridevi continue to fervently swear by this gorgeous work of silk.
Among the dozens of different handwoven silks made in India, there is none more expensive than a Kanjeevaram saree. A basic Kanjeevaram saree costs around Rs.25,000 (and this is just the cost of the silk, the weaving work and the zari border) and the cost can go upto Rs.40 lakhs even. That’s right! The most expensive saree ever made as entered by the Guinness Book of Records was a Kanjeevaram saree commissioned by Chennai-based saree conglomerate for a Bangalore-based businessman for a sum of Rs.40 lakhs. They later brought out a limited edition of this saree, one of which was snapped up by Nita Ambani.
Named Vivaah Pattu saree, this saree features the reproduction of 11 paintings by Indian art icon Raja Ravi Varma. Truly an outfit made for a queen, this saree is made up of navratna stones like diamond, emerald, ruby, yellow sapphire, sapphire, topaz, pearl, cat’s eye and coral. It also has embroidery in metals such as gold, platinum and silver.
Despite all the encrusted gems, the saree is fairly light-weight once it’s worn and doesn’t pull the wearer down and this comes from exquisite zari work. Today a Kanjeevaram saree remains one of the few sarees in India where gold is still used in the weaving process.
Your grandmother’s vintage Kanjeevaram sarees, costing less than Rs.1000 then, would be worth at least Rs.30,000 because of the generous amount of gold thread used to weave sarees back then when gold prices were still reasonable.
In fact, saree conglomerates in Tamil Nadu send out agents to ferret out women who want to sell old damaged Kanjeevaram sarees because when melted, even simple sarees fetch at least 100 gms of gold, which can be reused to weave in new sarees. But today, due to exorbitant gold prices, most of the gold threads are being replaced by gold plated threads. And this includes those sarees which cost anything between Rs.25,000 to Rs.40,000. It is only over Rs.50,000 that a significant amount of pure gold is used in the sarees.
We may not be able to afford to buy sarees for Rs.40 lakh, but if you truly want to own an exquisite Kanjeevaram saree, then be prepared to spend at least Rs.1 lakh. Only then do you truly benefit from the excellence in weaving techniques and the generous amount of pure gold woven into the saree that endures over decades.
As opposed to the machine-made art zari Kanjeevaram sarees which are mass-produced in matter of days, a pure handwoven Kanjeevaram silk saree takes a minimum of 4 weavers and three months of daily labour to finish and that alone makes these sarees exquisite. And these sarees last forever!
At a price range of Rs.1 lakh, gold zari work done on your saree is not mere embellishments done on the textile whose rough raised protrusions can be felt by the hand. Instead, the weaver skillfully weaves in the gold and the silk together until it forms six yards of smooth shimmering cloth like flowing water. At higher costs, the pallu work is also gorgeous, ranging anywhere from a simple thick gold pallu to woven motifs of mangoes, parrots, lamps and mythological scenes – all done in gold and silk. Motifs of tiny flowers are made all over the saree into addition to the pallu giving it a very intricate lattice-like look. And sometimes it includes embedded crystals too.
Finely interwoven silk threads of various colours along with gold brings out a double shade effect that appears different in each angle of light and it’s hard to make out the two separate colours woven even on close scrutiny.
In south India, women love to stock their wardrobes with pure silk Kanjeevaram sarees, all in bright primary colours, double shades and with zari work. But the most expensive ones laden with gold are reserved for brides as their primary wedding outfit where this revered yellow metal adds to the sanctity of the occasion. And these sarees are preserved and passed on through the generations.
But the weaving community is slowly disappearing today. Traditional craft families are now yielding to better-paying assembly-line factory jobs. And with rising gold prices, pretty soon buying a kanjeevaram saree may prove even more difficult than it is today.
So set aside that money and invest in a Kanjeevaram silk saree; it is worth every bit of money you spend on it because 100 years from now, your saree will still hold that same shimmering magic that it has today.
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