KANCHIPURAM SILK SAREE WEAVING – VIDEO:
This article; on the most popular and grand silk saree, the Kanchipuram saree which is also known as Kanjeevaram saree is based on my interaction with the weavers and salesmen you see in the attached photographs and video (and also information researched on internet). Its popularity and grandeur is known to all Indian women here and abroad and some foreigners too love and own them. But few may know how it is made and how to pick the best, hence this article. I sincerely hope this blog post would be helpful to you in understanding the making of this saree and buying the best.
Every Kanchipuram silk saree is made from one of the world’s most superior silks. Hand woven from pure mulberry silk, a single saree takes almost a week to finish and some intricate designs even more. The saree you see being weaved in the attached photographs will take 20 days to weave on a daily working of eight hours and would cost Rs. 26,000. Coming back to the making of the saree, the silk yarn, after careful extraction, is dyed in richest of colors and weaved with the zari. First the yarn is washed and then dipped in the required color which is in a boiler and the worker goes on turning the yarn so that the color is evenly mixed in the yarn. The most important aspect in this process is the mixing of colors which will give unique and durable color to the fabric. Then it is again washed and dried. These yarns are then starched. Starching of the yarn is where the color in the yarn will get more permanent nature and gives the yarn a polished look. The silk used in Kanchipuram saree is of the finest quality, one that is not cut or broken.
Pure gold and silver is used to create the zari in a Kanchipuram saree. The cost of a saree largely depends on the amount and the purity of the zari. The art of creating the perfect zari is relatively unknown – only a handful of families possess the knowledge of zari making. Though this makes a Kanchipuram all the more covetable, it also makes acquiring zaris quite challenging. Essentially, the ‘zari’ is a silk thread, twisted with a thin silver wire and then gilded with gold, is interleaved with the silk weave to create the designs or motifs on the saree. Most of the zaris used today come from Surat in Gujarat State. The genuineness of the zaris is checked in specialized Testing Centers in Kanchipuram itself. By custom, 1 Kg of zari would have approximately 500 grams of pure silver, around 5-5 1/2 grams. of gold. But now a days the quantity of pure metal used is lesser – only 420 to 470 grams of silver and 3 to 3.5 grams of gold. This practice enhances the beauty and the value of the silk, as it contains gold and silver in it. And it also has a resale value for the same reason.
The width of any regular saree, even a silk saree, is a standard 45 inches; but the Kanchipuram saree is typically much broader, around 48 inches and the standard length is 6 yards and more with the blouse piece included. The specialty of Kanchipuram saree is that the silk yarn is “double warp”, that means; each “thread” is actually made up of three single threads twisted together. Also, because of the pure mulberry silk used for these threads Kanchipuram sarees are renowned for their texture, luster, durability and finish – thus making a Kanchipuram saree much stronger and more expensive than its counterparts from Dharmavaram and other places. A regular Kanchipuram saree weighs between 500 grams and 1 kg, because of the intricate weave using “double warp” thread, the broader width, and the pure, gold-dipped zari. All these factors have together given Kanchipuram sarees an enviable reputation for weight, size and durability.
Sky-high wages due to lack of skilled artisans/weavers and the sky rocketing cost of silver and gold has already pushed the price range to 6,000 – 60,000; and it is rising higher by the day. But no Indian wedding is complete without it – especially a south Indian one. It is also a hot favorite for women during festival seasons – it being customary to wear them during poojas and while visiting temples. These sarees are now shipped abroad in huge lots to meet the demands of the ever growing Indian and Indian product loving population overseas. The bottom line is, whether in India or abroad – the soaring prices of the Kanchipuram sarees are met with an equal amount of purchasing power!
The Kanchipuram weavers are in this profession by tradition. The very first weavers called by the Chola king, Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 CE), to weave these sarees, were chosen for their sheer talent on a loom. And for centuries now, this skill has been handed down from one generation to the next, with great care and diligence. There are no explanations, theories, or trainings for weaving. It is an art that was inherited, taught by the elders, and honed only by practice, creativity and vision. Kanchipuram sarees are weaved using the Korvai technique. A Korvai saree’s border and pallu are of the same color, and are in bright contrast to the “body”. Weavers use the ancient craft of three-shuttle weaving and interlocking weft to achieve this effect. The saree is ornamented with pure gold zari. The motifs are inspired from nature and temple sculptures — religion, architecture. Weaving a Kanchipuram is tedious but the Korvai technique makes it one of a kind, and stamps it with splendor and durability.
Kanchipuram sarees are registered and patented. What is made in Kanchi district is still a Kanchipuram or Kanjeevarm saree, if it exhibits features (weight, amount of metal, traditional designs) defined by the Geographical Indication Act. The handloom label indicates that the product benefits a weaver, as these days power loom weaving is taking over the traditional hand weaving and what once was an art is getting more and more commercialized and commoditized. As per Geographical Indication (GI) label, a Kanchipuram saree should have 57% silver and 0.6% gold in the Zari. The Tamil Nadu State government has relaxed this ruling to 40% silver and 0.5% gold. GI label adds to the Kanchipuram’s authenticity and helps maintain its standard, especially when sold in global markets.
The times have changed, and the Kanchipuram sarees have also undergone a transformation of sorts. Designs are now available, with embroidery or even crystal work done on the traditional silk saree, in every shade and combination imaginable.
Having read all this, next time or first time you intend to buy a Kanchipuram silk saree make sure you pick the very best by following these points:
- Insist on the Kanchipuram/Kanjeevaram label
- Check the weight and the width of the saree
- Ask for a genuine hand-woven six yards saree
- Look for the GI label
And if you still have doubts you could take a silk thread out of the saree and burn it. If it turns to ashes it is pure silk and if it melts it is fake.
Keep this check list in mind when you go Kanchipuram saree shopping, and you definitely won’t go wrong!