From the land of silk and sandalwood, comes a fine textile fit for royalty. The Mysore silk saree is manufactured in Karnataka, which happens to be one of the largest mulberry silk producers in the country. It has come to become one of India’s fastest selling, and most demanded handloom products. The vibrant (in colour) yet subtle (in work) sarees with a smooth texture, minimalist design and rich feel make it an eternal favourite for weddings and traditional ceremonies. Here’s digging a little deeper into Mysore’s well-kept handloom secret.
Origin and history
The growth of Mysore silk sarees is credited to the reign of Tipu Sultan in 1785 AD. But what has kept the craze going is the quality of fabric, a mix of 100 per cent fine silk and pure gold zari (which is 65 per cent silver and 0.65 per cent pure gold) that comes together to create a perfectly stylish piece of South Indian culture for the discerning global fashionista.
Legend also has it that Maharaja Krishna Raj Wadiyar IV went to Britain to be a part of Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebrations and was taken in by the machine-made silk fabrics that the British royalties donned. He then went on to order 32 power looms from Switzerland and began what is now known as the first production of machine-made silk sarees in India.
It was the Maharaja of Mysore who established the first silk factory in the land in the year 1912 – the Mysore Silk Weaving Factory, which is the country’s oldest silk manufacturing unit. This factory is now owned by the Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation (KSIC), a government enterprise, and exclusively manufactures Mysore silk.
The raw materials used in making the saree are obtained from a single cocoon, which then goes to the silk weaving factory where the density of the silk fiber is measured and prepared.
This is followed by various steps like soaking, twisting, wefting and winding. Once the winding is done, the yarn is ready to be weaved. The weaving process involves two types of looms – the Dobby loom and the Jacquard loom. It takes about four hours to make one saree after which the next step – degumming – begins. Degumming helps to smoothen the fabric. The saree is then sent to dye and wash.
The semi-dry sarees are steam ironed on a massive machine, and the saree is then cut to the desired length. Each saree measures about 5.5 meters and the pallu is made with an exquisite design and has a blouse-piece material attached to it.
At this stage, the saree also gets a unique identification code that allows you to always be sure of authenticity.
The most distinct feature of the saree is the use of genuine silk and pure gold zari which gives it a natural sheen and rich texture. Since the sarees are exclusively manufactured and produced, each piece has a distinct mark, that lets you be sure of the authenticity and long-lasting fabric.
The quality of silk also ensures that the saree is self-maintained, so don’t be surprised if you pull out an old piece from your mom’s closet and find it to be as good as new. Also, the plain one-toned colour sets the saree apart from the rest of the products in the market. You’ll know that it is an authentic Mysore silk saree owing to its simple design and lustre that can be spotted from a mile away.
The sarees have a standard, single colour with gold borders and zari on them. While the traditional hues of orange, red and green are famous, more recent inclusions are lilac, coffee brown and elephant grey.
While zari is the main embellishment for these saris, motifs like mango buttis and floral borders are making an entry onto Mysore silk sarees in order to make them more appealing and fashionable. Kasuti embroidery and Bandhani designs are also seen on the sarees.
From producing the traditional Mysore silk sarees, the industry has now opened up to fabrics like crepe silk and georgette. The point being that these sarees are easier to include in your everyday wardrobe as they are seen as less dressy and more casual.
Current state of the art
Today it is estimated that nearly 35,000 metres of pure silk fabric is produced per month and turned into beautiful sarees, dress materials and dhotis. This makes the annual production approximately 4,25,000 metres. In 2005, the art also got Geographical Indication (GI) which ensures that there is zero duplicity in the market and more awareness about Mysore silk sarees.
Mysore silk sarees are also now manufactured in keeping with some of the style demands of buyers. For this purpose, KSIC employs NIFT graduates to innovate and design these sarees based on the trends.
An original Mysore silk saree can cost you anywhere between Rs.3,000 and Rs.7,000 depending on the quality of the fabric. The more expensive ones can go upto Rs.2,00,000.
How to identify a Mysore silk saree
Each Mysore silk saree has a unique code embroidered in a corner, which gives you:
- The history of the saree
- Details about its manufacturing
- How many hours were spent on it
- The wages that the weavers received for the saree
That is one of the most telling signs and the easiest way to spot an original from a fake.
You can also do a touch test. Rub the silk fabric with your hands. If you feel warmth on rubbing it, buy it. Artificial or synthetic silk don’t give the same feel.
The best way to maintain and keep your saree as good as new is by dry cleaning it and storing it in a special saree bag. If you have to wash it at home, avoid using detergent during the first three washes. Also, always do a test before you wash the saree by washing a very small corner of the it first to know if the detergent works, and if the colour runs.
A special thanks to Jyothy Karat (A Photographer’s Journal) for all weaving photos within this story. These pictures were shot at Melkote (about 40km from Mysore on the Bangalore-Mysore highway), a small colony with a tradition of 100 years of weaving.
Other images from Shutterstock/ Wikimedia Commons
|KNOW YOUR CRAFT: MYSORE SILK
|Technique||Handloom||Distinguishing factor||Vibrant colours, subtle work and a distinct fabric richness|
|Place of origin||Mysore, Karnataka||Materials used||Genuine silk and pure gold zari|
|Manufacturing hubs||Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation (KSIC), Mysore||Time taken to weave||3 to 4 days|
|Type of fabric||Silk||Varieties||Silk, but now crepe silk and georgette are also available|
|Colours||Bright colours like orange, red and green as well as lilac, coffee brown and elephant grey in recent times||Price||Rs.3,000 to Rs.7,000|
|Motifs||Zari work as well as mango buttis and floral borders||Care||Dry clean and store in a saree bag. Change folds from time to time|