Silken Wraps From The Gharana Of Loom Melodies

Temsutula Imsong‘s liking for the Banarasi saree takes her to Kotwaan, a weavers’ village in Banaras. She soaks the process, art and craft involved in the saree’s making and reunites with the pride of wearing it.

Banaras. Anyone who goes there will know that the Banarasi saree is one thing which the city has in abundance. Did the Banarasi saree give Banaras its name? I wonder.

Going to a shop to purchase Banarasi sarees is not to witness the stories woven into them. The witnessing of the making of Banarasi sarees by weavers is an important gesture in knowing what happens before the sarees reach the stores; therefore, my curiosity took me to Kotwaan – a weavers’ village near Lohta in Banaras.

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The houses in Kotwaan are constructed to accommodate handlooms

 

It is a revelation that the houses in the village are constructed to accommodate handlooms. It is evident to any visitor that the village is all about weavers and weaving alone. More followed during my trip.

Threads and stories

Shakeel Bhai, a weaver whose entire family is of around 90 members (they were making Banarasi sarees while I was there), was my contact in the village. As I explored the village, I interacted with him and his family. They changed my perception of Banarasi sarees forevermore.

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A weaver holding a ‘baana’

 

The Banarasi saree is not just a length of cloth wrapped around the body – it is a result of hours of excruciating labour. It is the fruit of many rounds of interrelated processes. It is the result of a designer’s vision, or dream, to the last detail.

That there is nothing called Banarasi silk is surprising to know. It was told to me that the silk comes from Karnataka. What makes the sarees ‘Banarasi’ is the art, craft and handiwork of its weavers.

What makes them unique?

Everything is done by hand – from designing to cutting loose threads. Every saree has a story behind it. It is a work of art. The process of its making ought to be known in order to differentiate between the saree made on a power loom and the one that is made on a handloom. On a handloom it takes 10 days, and sometimes more. The cost of the saree depends on the material and the different kinds of threads being used.

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A weaver at work

 

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The ‘taana’

 

Silk is very soft. While weaving, extreme precautions should be taken to cool it so that it does not tear. The weavers have to be very cautious as even a drop of sweat can spoil the entire saree, making it worthless to wear or sell.

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A raw saree spoilt because of a drop of sweat

 

It is tiring to observe, at least for me, the Banarasi saree-making process. It is not very hard for me to imagine what it must be like for weavers. Once the saree has been woven on the loom, it is then handed over to ladies of the house who have the responsibility to cut unwanted threads. Next, you may find it easy to marvel at its texture. Having seen the process myself, I can assure you that even 15 minutes of this work is enough to exhaust you. It is evident on first sight. Almost every member of the family plays some part or the other in weaving a single saree – from weaving to bringing a glass of water for someone who is working.

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A Banarasi saree is a result of hours of excruciating labour

 

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Women cutting loose threads

 

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A design for a saree

 

It is important to appreciate anyone who wears the Banarasi saree because those who wear it support families that make it. Purchasing even one saree is a great favour and service done to the people and crafts of Banaras.

It is unsurprising that the custom of wearing Banarasi sarees for marriages and festivities shows that our ancestors had known how important it is to make them. Interestingly, somehow, they created the custom of gifting Banarasi sarees during ceremonies and if we want our crafts to survive, the tradition should not wither away.

The visit to Kotwaan had many takeaways for me: I feel proud of being in possession of a handful of Banarasi sarees; wearing them gives me a sense of fulfilment; spending time at the village has completely changed the way I had once looked at weaves and fabrics.

The Banarasi saree represents expectations, lives, visions, hard work and possibly lots of goodwill too.

Temsutula Imsong is on a mission to make ‘shramdaan’ a national character. She is based in Varanasi.

All pictures and video by Temsutula Imsong.

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