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Kancheepuram Silk Sarees

Kancheepuram, famous for its numerous temples is also renowned all over the world for its Kancheepuram silk sarees. Kancheepuram silk saree also known as Kanjivaram saree is unique in its design, raw materials used and most importantly it’s weaving technique. Unlike other sarees, Kancheepuram silk sarees are woven naturally by the use of manpower which requires many labors. Ranging from simple contrast border silk sarees to gold zari and patterns Kancheepuram silk sarees can be worn by women of all ages. Silk Industry in Kancheepuram accounts for almost 50 percent of the total revenue generated offering exotic and lucrative sarees famous not only in India but all over the world.
Kancheepuram Silk Sarees

History of Kancheepuram silk saree

Kancheepuram silk history dates back to the reign of Krishna Deva Raya when the Devanga and Saligar weavers who claim to be descendent of sage Markanda, the master of weaver of Gods who were supposed to have woven tissue from lotus fiber. The Devanga and Saligar weavers were famous for their unmatched expertise in weaving silk in Andhra Pradesh who later settled in Kancheepuram around 400 years ago.

The silk weaving at Kancheepuram started out of temple traditions, where these sarees were worn by Queens, wives of Zamindars, aristocrats and other influential peoples during weddings and festive occasion. Earlier Kancheepuram was primarily a cotton weaving center, later silk began to be used for weaving which was century and a half back when the king of Mysore descended the throne. Today there are several weavers in the town and their products marketed by many cooperative societies in Kancheepuram. It is said that cotton was considered to be a favorite fabric for Lord Shiva and silk was considered to be a favorite fabric for Lord Vishnu.

Raw materials used in Kancheepuram silk saree

Kancheepuram silk saree distinguishes itself from the rich raw materials it uses in its weaving. Below are some of the raw materials used in weaving Kancheepuram silk saree:

Pure Silk: Kancheepuram silk saree is made up of pure indigenous silk or mulberry silk which comes from Karnataka and is later washed in the water of Palar river. The Filature/ Multi end fine quality raw silk of 16/18 denier is used in warp preparation and Filature/ Charka coarse quality silk of 22/24 denier is used in weft preparation. Cross breed silk (Bivolltine X multivoltine) variety is used in silk saree production.

Zari: Zari is used to make Kancheepuram saree. Zari is a silk thread twisted with thin silver wire and then immersed in pure Gold. The basic components of zari are silk (20-22 percent), silver (50-55 percent), Gold (0.5-0.6 percent) and others (22-29 percent). The zari was earlier supplied from Surat, a city in Gujarat but now it is produced in Padiyur Sarvodaya Sangh (PSS) which is the certified unit of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) near Kangayam.  The quality of saree depends upon the quality of Zari used. If the quality of Zari is good, then the luster of saree lasts for long otherwise the saree becomes firms and rigid during the course of time.

Design and characteristics of Kancheepuram slik saree

Kancheepuram saree is characterized by its heavy weight, classic colors and rich zari border or pallu. These sarees are made in vibrant colors such as bright or earthy scarlet, brilliant reds, orange, emareld, henna green, peacock blue, maroon, turquoise, saffron, black,and ochre. The borders are also designed very elegantly, with popular choices as brick, birds, animals, leaf, mango, nayapaisa, sovereign etc. The color combination of the saree and border is always maintained to be vibrant like a mango yellow body of saree is combined with a deep maroon border etc. Some of the popular designs of saree are:
  • Rudraksham (representing rudraksha beads)
  • Gopuram (representing temples), mayilkan (peacock’s eye)
  • kuyikan( nightangle eye), Tissue Saree (woven with golden lace)
  • Puttas( figures and flowers and independently drawn on saree and later joined to the pattern in saree)
  • Kottadi or Check pattern (squares or rectangles running all over length or breadth of the saree)
  • Thandavalam or parallel lines (stripes running along the length of the saree)

Procedure of making Kancheepuram silk saree

Procedure of making kancheepuram silk saree is time consuming consisting of interlocking of its weft colors as well as its end piece and in the end creating solid borders and a solid “Mundhi”. Simple Kancheepuram saree takes about 10-12 days for preparation; however the highly decorative one takes about 20 days for preparation. The weaving process consists of three basic operations which are Shedding, Picking and Beat-up. These three operations are made in continuous cycle in handloom either pit loom or frame loom. The shedding operation is the deciding operation where the nature of interlacing is decided. The technique of making the saree consists of attaching additional warp threads at certain fixed points along the length and breadth of the warp using two or three shuttles. In ordinary weaving the shuttle carries weft yarns along the whole width of the warp but in special technique for highly decorative sarees, three shuttles are used for double borders and they ply separately across the two borders and one across the width of the center of the warp. The two shuttles are operated by two weavers and the third shuttle is handled by lesser- skilled labor who works as an assistant.  Generally in a single warp which is approximately 19 and a half yards long, three sarees are woven. The zari borders are later stitched very strongly and neatly to the saree with the god zari pallu in vibrant color combination.

Cost of Kancheepuram silk saree

Kancheepuram (kanjivaram) sarees are expensive owing to its pure silk and gold content and unmatched labor skills gone into its preparation. The price range into which these sarees fall may be within Rs. 2500 to Rs. 1,00,000. The deciding factor of the price is the amount of zari interlocked with the silk, the more the zari work is, more is the price of the saree.

Recent developments in Technology used in Kancheepuram sarees

Kancheepuram silk sarees were gradually shrinking in demand owing to its heavy weight and higher prices. To keep up with the modern demands there have been many technological changes in the making of these sarees and the materials used, following are some of those:

The design used in the sarees were slowly were going obsolete due to their repetitiveness. The use of information and communications technology (ICT) has introduced computerised Jacquard borders which has not only helped in creating new and complex designs but has also reduced the time involved in the process.

The weavers have started blending silk with cotton and reduce the content of gold to substitute with to provide a low cost option to those who prefer these. Also the introduction of cotton has greatly reduced the weight of the saree.

Whatever be the occasion Kancheepuram silk sarees is the still the darling of Indian women, so own it and flaunt it today!   

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