‘Handwoven sarees represent the life and breath of our nation’

The Asian Age.  | Alka Raghuvanshi

Life, Art

For one, the designers have started to look at weaves with the seriousness and respect they deserve.

Hand-woven saree represents the very life breath of our nation, its cultural diversity and creative genius.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a staunch votary of the hand-woven saree. To me, it represents the very life and breath of our nation, its cultural diversity and creative genius. Of course they provide employment to nearly 49 million people — highest after the agriculture sector is one of the most important points for my advocating it by example and whatever one can do by way of propagation. I consider myself really fortunate that I can write about it to spread the word to a larger audience.

I think some very important steps that have been taken at the governmental level have turned the entire Banaras weaving sector around, almost like a magic wand. The fact is that the Prime Minister’s Constituency has lots to do with it. And if that be the reason, I wish every craft pocket gets the top leaders to root for them.

For one, the designers have started to look at weaves with the seriousness and respect they deserve. I don’t care if they are doing it to curry favour or if they are fed up with the cut-and-paste sarees they were doing. For those who don’t know what I am talking about — for half a decade or so, there came a brigade of designers who were nothing but glorified darzis or tailors whose only claim to fame were sarees that were created by lifting from the creative genius of weavers from different parts of the country, and using other weaves by stitching them in varying breadth on to another piece of cloth.

In some cases they used embroideries juxtaposed with the woven cloth. So, you could have on the same saree, pieces of phulkari jostling for attention with a kalamkari or a Banarasi brocade fabric shouting cheek by jowl with a Kutchi mirror work piece. Although, technically they might fall under the broad purview of handlooms, I find them to be ethically dishonest as they are just assemblage of yardage or embroidery created by some other weavers with a designer’s name and a whopping price tag.    

Having said that, only once in a while, do these cut-and-paste sarees work, but mostly they are best left alone. In my grandmother’s time, they were called “Club sarees” and only the brown memsahibs wore them to the parties and clubs where as the other women sported traditional woven Banarasis at least in the north.      

My contention is that embellishment should not be super imposed, but should be an intrinsic part of its very life breath. To me it is an indicator of the breathing with one person’s breath. I feel that there are a plethora of weaves as options so why embellish on top, even for the most dressy occasions. I am not for a minute negating embroidery as a genre, as long as it in embroidered on the fabric itself and not cut pasted.

But then I am purist — just as I don’t want to mix my kathak with contemporary dance, the same way I find the mutilation of the original appalling and the sticking on to another even handwoven fabric far from aesthetic. I find it is like bastardising the pure form in the name of innovation. I certainly will never advocate these sarees, especially as aspirational high points for the younger generation. In any case, I think the fashion and trend of these cut-paste sarees is finally getting over now and even the younger people are looking at the pure weaves and revival sarees. Even high-end designers are looking at pure weaves. Despite the high pricetags, these sarees are thankfully being perceived as downmarket.

Apart from being unaesthetic to look at, they are uncomfortable to wear. The comfort factor is also one that alienates many of the younger people who wear sarees. I always point out to designers who believe that  comfort is huge factor in getting the younger women to wear sarees. These are best suited for our weather conditions and only if they can be comfortable will there be enough takers for them. The cut-paste sarees by definition become too heavy and don’t drape naturally thanks to the machine stitching and the varying weight of the different fabrics and consequently are uncomfortable.

Apart from the vital fact that traditionally we have sarees to suit every weather — from the wispiest of kotas and chanderis to the warmest pashmina woolen sarees, to the snug mugas to the resplendent kanjivarams and banarasis, to tussars in every form and type, there is a saree for every occasion on a day to day basis too.

Of late, I have been embroiled in a rather acidic conversation with some saree enthusiasts about whether these cut paste sarees constitute handloom. While there is one viewpoint that these can be considered a handloom saree, their logic being that since all the fabrics are handloom or handworked by way of embroidery, it can come under the purview of the handloom. But, I have a very strong opinion on the matter and feel that they are best left alone and  shouldn’t be touched with a bargepole for the sake of good taste! I rest my case.