A mere length of fabric, when draped appropriately turns into a personalised outfit that lends grace, charm and spunk to the wearer. This single feature puts the saree in a unique class of its own; with no real comparison to or competition from other women’s attire, whether western or Indian. No wonder then, that the saree, whose origins can be traced back to circa 1800 BCE is still very much in vogue.
One cannot recall any other single piece of women’s clothing that has come to symbolise both feminism and sensuousness. The saree can be worn to look ultra-chic and glamorous or extremely conservative. Some wear it only for special occasions, while for some, this is everyday casual dressing. This attire, now synonymous with India, is at once contemporary and traditional. Not to mention the fact that it makes the wearer feel really special. As such, it is a must have in the wardrobe of today’s woman, caught as we are in our day-to-day compulsions to flow with the contemporary while retaining elements of our tradition.
For those fascinated by sarees and who do not mind having a reasonable collection entirely of sarees, there are options galore. This is mainly due to the fact that the saree, while being a pan Indian dress form, has plenty of regional variations, in terms of the style of draping to the type of fabric used. The methods used to weave the saree differ from one geographical region to another, so do the forms of decorating the saree. Today, the discerning buyer gets to choose from the likes of cotton, chiffon, silks and a host of other fabrics as also from pure gold, silver zari or zardozi or embroidery (hand / machine), etc. A few all time favourites across generations are listed below:
- Kanjeevaram Silk (GI): Woven by weavers of Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu and protected by a Geographical Indication label, these can cost anywhere between Rs.2,500 to Rs.1,00,000, depending on the intricacy of work, colours, patterns and purity of the zari (gold thread) used.
- Benarasi Silk (GI): Also protected by the Geographical Indication label, the Benarasi is to North India what the Kanjeevaram is to the South, i.e., a staple of every bridal trousseau! Comparatively heavier due to the intricate brocade/embroidery/mina work, these sarees can be either of pure silk (katan), organza (kora) with zari and silk, georgette or shattir. According to the design process, they are categorised as jangla, tanchoi, vaskat, cutwork, tissue and butidar.
- Mysore Silk (GI): Made from mulberry silk and adorned with pure gold zari, this delicate, light-weight, simple looking saree belies its cost. This is one of the purest silks and is very durable.
- Paithani (GI): Hand woven in the Paithan town of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, the defining features of this saree are bright colours with zari borders and pallavs. These sarees lend an extremely rich and grand look.
- Ilkal: Named after the Ilkal town in Bagalkot, Karnataka, these are typically woven with cotton warp on the body and silk warp for the border and pallav. These days, pure silk sarees are available as well. The tope teni seragu/pallav ensures easy recognition. The colours traditionally used are pomegranate red, brilliant peacock green and parrot green. The sarees that are made for bridal wear are made of a particular colour called giri kumkum.
The distinctive feature of Ilkal sarees is the use of a traditional form of embroidery called kasuti (with a GI protection label of its own), that dates back to the Chalukyan period.
- Patola: These are handwoven double ikkat sarees from the town of Patan in Gujarat. Patola weaving, supposedly dating back to the 4th century AD, is a time consuming process with a single saree taking nearly one to one-and-a-half years to complete. Known for their flaming bright colours and geometric designs interwoven with folk motifs, every patola saree is one of its kind as it is created entirely with the imagination and skill of the weaver with both sides of the saree looking exactly alike as if woven on both sides with the same design, and can be worn either way. Flowers, animals, birds and human figures form the basic design.
- Garhwal: These sarees with cotton weft and silk warp, are not only affordable but are also highly comfortable being comparatively light weight. What’s more, they come in a variety of eye-catching colours and contemporary and stylish designs. They can easily be adapted into function wear or party wear! They are available with most stockists of Kanjeevarams.
- Kerala: These typically off white sarees with a plain golden border, are unique, creating at one go a simple yet chic image. Nowadays one gets to see more contemporary designs with a bit of colour thrown in.
- Kosa (or Tussar) silk: A variety of shiny, lustrous and soft silk from eastern India, mainly Chhattisgarh, these sarees are popular due to the comfort and elegance they afford. Traditionally available in sober, pastel shades of off white, beige, grey, etc., and hand embroidered with kantha work (Bengali running stitch), these are now dyed in a medley of riotous colours and are block-printed, embroidered or even painted.
- Kashmiri silk: Fine crepe silk sarees that are hand embroidered make for very comfortable wearing.
-Raw silk: Very trendy and modern, these come in a wide range of colours and different types of embellishments.
- Bandhini / Bandhej: These are one of the most famous sarees among the regional ones. Cotton or silk cloth is tied and died mainly in yellow, red, green or black to create motifs in dots, squares, waves and strips. The main varieties are ghar chola and paneter (both bridal wear), khombhi, patori, chandrokhani, etc., These days, other fabrics like crepe and chiffon and bandhini prints are also available.
Teamed with an elegant blouse, a saree is a great help in making a personalised style statement. Be aware that the blouse by itself is capable of making or breaking the saree’s look. A heavily embellished blouse can create a very traditional, ethnic look and a simple, chic one can lend to the modern, contemporary style.