Chanderi – Beyond Beautiful Saris – And About Them Too

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A Chanderi sari being woven on a hand loom
A Chanderi sari being woven on a loom

Chanderi – Beyond Beautiful Saris – And About Them Too


The weavers of Chanderi have magic in their hands. The sheer length of 6 meters that they weave is nothing less than a sonata. That is why these sarees are always a must have in the wardrobe of any Sari Connessieur.

What's so special about Chanderi Sari


The Saris produced at Chanderi have a unique lustrous and transparency effect. Because of this lustrous and transparency effect, these saris are sometimes called “woven air”. The transparency effect as that of Chanderi is not available in any other fabric produced. This effect is attributed to the fact that single flature yarn is used. In this quality of yarn, the Gum of the raw yarn is not taken out to prevent the tread from breaking. This gives shine and transparency to the finished fabric.

There are a lot of Zari bootis or motifs woven on the sari Pallu or other places, however, they are so woven in Chanderi, that the thread connecting these is not visible. The motifs or the bootis that are unique to this area. Mohar or Asharfi a coin shaped motif is the most common and has been favourite of the royalty for ages. Other motifs include Peacocks, Lotuses, animals, geometric designs and other artistic designs.

History and evolution


The weaving in Chanderi started between 2nd century BC to 2nd Century BC. The recorded evidence Chanderi weavers are found in the 11th Century. A reference to weaving in Chanderi can be found in Massir E Alamgir ( 1658 – 1707 ) when Aurangzeb ordered cloth embroidered with gold and silver be used for Khilkat – a ceremonial robe gifted to someone for honouring. This cloth was maybe the one woven in Chanderi. A British R.C. Sterndal described Chanderi cloth as an expensive, very fine and having works of gold thread on it border and also being the preferred choice of Queens of India. A jesuit priest's account of Chanderi Fabric during his visit to Marwar recorded that Chanderi fabric enjoyed Royal Patronage and was even exported overseas. 

The weaving in Chanderi was always not as it is today. In its earlier days, it was woven as a soft muslin cloth as in Dhaka. The Chanderi weavers were known for producing beautiful motifs in golden and silver Zari on the borders of this cloth. The cloth woven was so fine that it is said that a piece of cloth was sent to Akbar packed in a hollow bamboo. When it was opened, the expanse of cloth was so much that it could cover an Elephant. Chanderi being on the trade route became famous very soon and the product was exported to far off places. Initially, the biggest demand was for Safas made in Chanderi and the Royalty of Marwar and the Marathas were the biggest buyers. The Cloth produced till recently was only white cloth or Saris with heavy Gold or silver zari work on borders or pallu.

With the advent of British and introduction fabric made in mills, there was a setback to Chanderi weavers. When Chanderi came under Scindias of Gwalior, the craft of Chanderi received Royal patronage and flourished. Over this period the weavers in Chanderi also experimented with a lot of things. They started producing dyed fabrics. The introduction of silk in weaving added to the premiumness of the Fabric. Later on, there was a problem of fabric cracking over a period of time. The next evolution was using silk in the warp and fine mercerised cotton in the weft. Today a lot of fashion designers are working closely with the weavers of Chanderi and have given international exposure to Chanderi Fabric. 

The Chanderi Sarees are Protected under the Geographical Indication act of the goods and they can not be copied legally and also due to the expertise of the weavers.

State of weavers


During the opening ceremony of the event, a small discussion came up about the poor conditions of the weavers. When we visited the weaver's colony, I wanted to buy a Sari as a souvenir. However, after visiting a few weaver's houses, it was found that they were merely doing job work. They received raw material from the Middleman, weave the Sari and receive the pre-settled amount as the weaving charges. After visiting a few weavers, only one weaver had sari to sell that too only 03 pieces. A little more understanding revealed that they are weavers, not businessmen. The total process involves sourcing of various material from different sources such as silk which comes from China or Japan, mercerised cotton, that comes from Coimbatore, zari and other threads. After that, there are various processes such as dyeing of yarn, designing of the Sari. Once the Sari is ready, there comes a herculean task of stocking, sales and marketing. A customer will like see a lot of variety to choose from, which requires a huge investment.


Chanderi Saris
Chanderi Saris
A weaver and his Loom
A weaver and his Loom

Now consider the case of a weaver. Each household has 3 -4 looms. The entire family works and multiplexes between the household and other chores and weaving. If there has to do all the above things, this will take a lot of bandwidth and require a lot of investment and a weaver cannot do it singlehandedly. The only way is the collective effort. If a cooperative like Amul in Gujrat can be formed, this can improve the plight of the weavers. With the purchase of one Sari my tour to the “Bunkar Basti” ended.

The weaver Family
The Weaver Family
The Weaver family from whom I bought the Sari. Though not offered any choice I bought it from them as I wanted to buy it from a weaver.

The loom
The Loom

The Weaver
The Weaver

                         The bonus of buying from a weaver was seeing and clicking the picture of the loom above on which the Sari I purchased was made and the weaver who made that Sari.


A word of caution


With MP government through MP Tourism putting in an effort to bring Chanderi on the tourist map and increase the inflow of tourists. This sure is going to yield results. With two back to back film shoots that happened recently in Chanderi, it is already invoking the interest of the tourist fraternity. The only question is with the influx of tourists, the support infrastructure will grow. This growth needs to be planned otherwise the unplanned growth will take away the charm of this small town. Today in this small laid back town, it seems, as if the time has stopped. The fear is with the unplanned growth, the old world charm of this Chanderi doesn't get lost.


Acknowledgements


This tour was organised by MP tourism for the promotion of Chanderi, but the views expressed are my own and are totally unbiased.

I would like to thank

Sh. Ram Tiwari – Dy. Director MP Tourism, the man behind this event. His zeal and passion to increase tourism in MP is unmatched and could be felt during our short meeting.

Dr. Manju Sharma – Collector Ashok Nagar – A down to earth person, who is passionate about increasing tourism in Chanderi.

Sh K.V. Singh – CMO Chanderi – An efficient administrator and a poet at heart. He was very passionate and knowledgeable about the local culture and History.

Kalley Bhai – Our guide for 03 days had thorough knowledge about the history of Chanderi and its monuments. His stories and narrations made out trip more enjoyable.

A special mention to

Mr Neeraj Vrdhman, local convener of INTACH took care of everybody as if we were his personal guests.

And


Syed Nadeem Jafri – Another person passionate to make people aware of the historical riches of Chanderi. This is the guy who made my trip to Boodhi Chanderi possible.

And finally, a Folksong performed by Paramlal Param and Part describing Chanderi. The lyrics are beautiful, meaningful and need attention.


The Chanderi Song




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Chanderi - Beyond Beautiful Saris - Turning the pages of History - 3

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