Articles Sabita Radhakrishna


metroplusCCIWith the Kancheepuram korvai sari fast languishing, thanks to the disinterest of traditional weavers and the migration to industry, the focus shifts to Benares saris, both cotton and silk. Women prefer the lightweight, gossamer saris of Benares with their ethereal motifs scattered over the length of the sari, the gold making them gorgeous and unrivalled in their elegance, which makes it the ideal choice for any wedding. The Benares Handloom industry is also in the doldrums with the price of yarn going up and the Chinese selling cheaper imitations of the Benares saris. As one deeply concerned over the present state of the Benares weavers some of whom have been pushed to suicide, and one of the guardians of traditional weaving in her region, Smriti Murarka brings her collection of Tantuvi nakshband Benares saris for the first time in Chennai at the Crafts Council of India Textiles and Jewellery Exhibition at the Chola Sheraton on Sept 5th and 6th .

The exquisite floral or geometric ornamentation on silk saris appearing like embroidery is a complicated process. Separate bamboo spindles were used for the making of the motif or naqshas without the technical contrivances which are available today. The designs were formulated by a designer who was also a weaver. It is believed in Varanasi that Naqshband families with the paramparic art of producing integrated designs in a myriad of colours were brought into this country by Muhammad-bin-Tughlak in 1325-1351 AD The Nakshband weavers were expert in tying designs into the loom, and expertise which was soon absorbed by local artisans and weavers, learnt from these great craftsmen. It was only a century later that the names of the Nakshband artisans were known. The Ain-I- Akbari of Abul Fazl has a special mention of Ghias-I-Nakshband. He describes him as a unique weaver the likes of which the world has not seen and to add to his talents he was also a poet. Islamic influences and techniques swept the main textile centres with their new palette of colours and more artisans of Naksh-making. Today there are only two families left, and a general reluctance to pursue this craft. The craft is indeed languishing.

Smriti Murarka who has been a designer of such saris for over eleven years, has tried to revive this craft, and has hit upon an alternate way to reproduce this craft using jacquard designs without computerization. The result though not exactly like the original, is still stunning. Pure zari is used by Murarka, and she gets her quota in Benares which makes fine zari which melds with the gossamer lightness of the sari. Surat zari is not preferred, as the zari produced there is thicker. You might have to pay four to five thousand for an organza sari, but much more for a silk which could be anywhere between 10-40 thousand. “There is no comparison between the two,” says Murarka who has held successful exhibitions at Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta.

Restricted by the feasibility of numbers on the loom, Smriti Murarka still keeps her collection exclusive, through restricting the number of repeats of the sari pushes the price up. Rubbing shoulders with the Murarka collection is Mahua Sarkar Sen with her ethnic tribal jewellery and handloom saris, Nupur Ghosh’s Madhubani hand painted tussars, besides phulkaris, Ashavallis, bags and cholis, antique textiles from Kutch, Vidhi Sanghania’s kota saris, Anupama Bose’s Jaipur embroidered textiles, chanderis, antique textiles from Bhuj, georgettes with chikan work, and many more.

And each purchase of these gorgeous creations will go a long way in helping the craftspersons.


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