History Of Banarasi Saree

ambadi-banarasi-sareesBanaras (now Varanasi) has long been famous for its Brocades and Sarees. The exquisite fabric was produced by wearing with warp & weft threads of different colours and often of different material. It appears from ancient texts that in the early days, gold and silver threads used to be made to such a fine quality that they could be woven into fabric of pure gold or silver. We find evidence of several kinds of textures of cloth since Rig Vedic times and, one can easily figure out the cloth of gold (Hiranya Vastra) as a distinguished type belonging to the above mentioned metallic fabric. The use of Silkora mixture of silk and cotton, in the wearing of the brocade seems to have been a fairly recent innovation. Though it is difficult to say, when the art of brocading started in India, especially in Varanasi, we find mention of the use of this kind of fabric, right from the Vedic period upto the Buddhist period. It is said that when Lord Buddha attained Nirvana, his mortal remains were wrapped in a Banarasi material i.e. brocade which radiated dazzling lights of yellow, red and blue.

Banaras Is the Athens of India. – – Francois Bernier Banaras figures as an outstanding centre of textile manufacture in the very. early stage of Indian Culture. In the neighbourhood there were great cotton growing regions and probably this spurred the textile industry in the city, which during the early period was the capital of an important province. Geographically commanding a situation on a national highway and situated on the Ganga, connecting all important Indian state capitals of the time in the Gangetic Valley, Banaras in the first millennium BC, rose to the status of an important centre of art, culture and education. Banaras cotton was famous for its fine and soft texture. A tradition goes that the Buddha’s dead body was wrapped in a Banaras manufactured textile. Banaras was similarly reputed for its silk and wool. We also hear that textiles formed one of the important cargo to west- bound ships of the time, an unbroken tradition which survived down to the late-.Mughal period. Banaras must have contributed to this famous export-trade, as is supported by the Jataka stories about Banaras merchants crossing deserts and seas. We also come across the traditional Vedic term hiranya (brocade) surviving in this period; however, due to absence of any definite evidence we can only presume that Banaras, with its several types of silk manufacture, specialized in this branch as well. Testimony of Kautilya’s – Arthashastra is cited for other varieties of silk manufacture in the Maurya period, including the Kausheya (also known from Panini’s Ashtadhyai Sutra. Valmiki’s Ramayana). The Ramayana also offers an important reference to brocade as Ravana, the Lankan king, is described donning a golden fabric (i.e., brocade). Chinese silk also seems to have been popular in the period. Banaras is known in the Pali literature as a reputed centre of textile manufacture, famous for its Kasikuttama and Kasiya. The Majjhimanikaya refers to Varanaseyyaka, known for its fine texture. The Kasika Suchivastra was probably some kind of embroidery. Kashi continued to flourish as a regional capital under the Nandas, the Mauryas and the Shungs and we can safely ascribe to it its non-broken tradition of textile industry during those glorious epochs.Patanjali (second century B.C.) leaves no doubt about the Kashika textile in the Shung period; it was more expensive and probably of better quality than the similar material of Mathura manufacture.During the Gupta period (ca. 3.50 to 500 AD) Banaras seems to have once more risen to the status of a provincial capital under Kumaramatya Janardana, whose personal and official seals have been discovered in abundance from remains of ancient Banaras. As known from other seals from the same site, Banaras was a centre of trade, with its elaborate guild-systems of traders in the Gupta period, but no seals relating to its textile-manufacture or textile trade has come to light so far. However, its old glory in the realm of textile manufacture is re-affirmed by the Dilyalvadana, a Buddhist Sanskrit text of the same period, which makes references to such fabrics known as Kashikavastra, Kashi Kashikamsu and so on. Banaras fabrics gained India-wide fame, particularly in the quality of dhotis and dupatta, which were so exquisite that a pair could cost one hundred thousand karshapanas. However, it is curious to note that not a single reference to silk manufacture in Banaras is known from the text. The Bhaishajyaguru Sutra (one of the famous Giligit texts) informs us about the Kashika textiles as of superfine quality. The Lalita Vistara, another Buddhist text, also refers to garments made of Kashika fabrics. A number of decorative motifs appearing on the Dhamekh-Stupa at Sarnath (Banaras) presupposes the transference of the textile designs on stone or a copy of some textile which originally wrapped such stupas (such textiles were called the Devadushyas). If this theory is admitted, we have an interesting archaeological evidence to show some of the designs which Banaras weavers used in the Gupta period.The fabrics were calendered (Hindi, kundi) according to the Divyavadana. The process was used for the garments belonging to the people of high ranks and princes; ahata is Sanskrit term for the process. This process appears in the Amarakosha, the famous Sanskrit lexicon of the Gupta period which distinguishes it from the term anahata (i.e., the uncalendered ) cloth. It is curious to note that the same process continues to be used in the manufacture of Banaras brocades down to the present day; a locality in Banaras is known as (KundigaraTola ) a centre of such artisans, who earn their bread through this trade.

Stavaraka, in the Harshacharita, seems to be a clear reference to the brocade as pointed out by Dr. V.S. Agrawal- In the Harshacharita, it figures as woven with gold thread and beaded with pearls. As suggested by Dr. V.S. Agrawala, stavarakais a Sanskritised form of a Pahlvi and Persian term. It is also used in the Holy Koran in its Arabic form, as an expensive textile, used by the heavenly beings. Actually Surya images, also one terracotta from Ahichchhatra show similar textile-stuff, i.e., the stavaraka, beaded with pearls. They are sometimes exquisitely embroidered. Elsewhere in the Harshacharita, the princes appear donning the varabanas (coats) made of the stavarakamaterial. In the same work the stavaraka appears as the top of a canopy. It may be remarked here that the kimkhab had been widely used in the seventeenth, eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries for making such canopies as evidenced by late Mughal painting. Dr. V.S. Agrawal on the etymological grounds, remarks that the stavaraka was an imported textile. However, it is possible that even though the term was taken from the Pahlvi in the ancient times, the fabric was later on being manufactured indigenously; for example, even in the present days the termkimkhab is obviously a Persian name for an indigenous textile and there are other instances, e.g., the gulbadan, the abrawan and so on. The pingaseems to be another variety of the brocade but it is difficult to contend whether gold thread was at all used in it. However, Banadoes not make mention of Banaras as a centre of brocade or zari manufacture. Similarly, during the same period yuan-Chwang, the famous Buddhist traveller visited Banaras. He unequivocally mentions Banaras as a big trade-centre. However, he is also silent about its textile industry.Damodara Gupta (eighth-ninth century A.D) in his kuttanimalam,describes Banaras in its full glory. A wealthy person is portrayed donning a lower garment, shot with gold thread (kanakagalrbhita).This may suggest Banaras as one of the centres of zari manufacture in that period and the degree of popularity, which such fabrics enjoyed in the upper classes in Banaras.The Jain Sutras form a store-house of information about Indian textiles. Dr. Moti Chand has rendered a spectacular service to the history of Indian textiles by extracting the information from the floating mass of Jain Sutra-literature. The AcharangaSutra informs us about a scarf, woven with gold thread (i.e., brocade) showing the traditional geese motif, which enjoyed great popularity at least in the late Gupta period, if not since earlier times.During the early ninth century AD, Banaras became arena of a tripartite war among the Palas, Rashtrakutas and the Pratiharas, the three rival imperial powers aiming at the capture of Kannauj. Dr. A.S. Altekar opined that Dharmapala mobilised his force towards Banaras, which became his military outpost in his campaign against his rivals which must have ruined the Banaras-trade temporarily. Further in 1034 A.D., Banaras under Karnadeva Kalachuri, was sacked by the Muslim invader, Ahmad Niyal-tigin, Baihaki in his Tawarikh-i- Subuktgin records that among the war prizes the yield from Banaras textile- market was the most substantial, which leaves no doubt about the prosperity of the Banaras textile traders in the eleventh century. The Gahadvala period revived the ancient glory of Banaras which became the capital of that vast and powerful empire. Jaya Chandra Gahadvala was a great sovereign and his patronage towards education, culture and fine arts has become a legend in medieval Indian history. An important text, the .Ukti- Vyaktiprakana, compiled during his times throws light on the Indian society under the Gahadvalas. The Ukti- Vyaktiprakarana clearly states that the Banaras merchants were rich and prosperous and made ample money through tradeAgain, the Ukti- Vyaktiprakaranaspecifically mentions the thriving textile industry of Banaras. But it is disappointing that all such references are to cotton fabrics, its manufacture and trade and no specific mention is found of the zaris and the brocades. There are reasons to believe that Banaras town was on the decline after the fall of the Gahadvalas, i.e., under the early Sultanates. However, in the late fourteenth century a new Sultanate established itself in this region with Jaunpur, a neighbouring town, as its capital. .Jaunpur soon became a great seat of learning and culture. Its textile activities are known down to the Jahangir period, as recorded by a Jain trader of the seventeenth century in his autobiography, the Ardhakathanaka. Banaras remained a centre of weavers; the famous saint Kabir belonged to this class. However, it seems to be quite probable that the zari and brocades revived in the Sharki period as no earlier evidence refers to such textile manufacture in Banaras. The Jaunpur Kalpasutra Ms. of 1465 AD has a special bearing on the history. Of Banaras textiles of the pre-Mughal period, as culturally, Jaunpur belongs to the Banaras region. The information derived from the Jaunpur Ms. is more so interesting because it actually furnishes some regional motifs.From the Akbar period onwards, we begin to get an uninterrupted account of the zariwork and brocades through the Mughal and Rajasthani painting. It is significant to note that in the sixteenth century the old designs abruptly came to an end; we find from the contemporary paintings that wholesale Persianised motifs were introduced although modified to Indian taste. More emphasis on floral designs is evident. For example, the ancient animal and bird motifs were given up for good. We have a definite evidence to support the influx of Persian motifs; the unequivocally informs us about the importation of Persian masters, Ghias Nakshaband being the greatest among them, to the royal atelier of Akbar.It is strange to note that the A ‘indoes not make any reference to Banaras, as a centre of brocade and zari manufacture. The plausible explanation for this decline in Banaras zariand brocade industry seems to be the devastation of Banaras which preceded the Akbar period at the hands of several invaders. However, very soon the old glory of Banaras seems to have been retrieved, as is evident from the accounts of several European travellers of the sixteenth- seventeenth century.The foreign accounts were confined mostly to Western India or sometimes to the Eastern coast; as the Western world knew the Indian textiles through the exporting ports situated on the eastern or western coasts. We can, however, surmise that similar products were manufactured in other towns like Banaras. In the middle ages, principal textile exporters to Egypt, as also to the Far East were Indians, says Ts’iuan- tcheon, Chinese Inspector of Commerce. Aden itself received fifteen to twenty boat- loads of textiles from India.European travellers, for example, Marco Polo (1271 -95 AD), Tavernier (ca. 1665 AD) and Thevenot again furnish details of textile industry in India, but unfortunately they do not add to our knowledge about the zari work or brocades of their times. We can only surmise that centres like Surat and Ahmedabad were thriving and probably produced zaris or brocades during those centuries.A few interesting pieces of information appear from the pre- Mughal period. It was a prevalent Durbar custom to award robe of honour (the Khil ‘at) made of brocade including a waist- band; the brocade-Khil’at. was supposed to be the highest honour bestowed. Actually a brocade coat and the turban made the official dress of the court. It appears that the brocade industry was at a great height during this period and was actively followed in several Indian cities. Even the palace tapestries were made of brocade material. We know from Humayun’s biography by his sister, Gulbadan Begam that the house of a nobleman at Koli (Aligarh), visited by him was decorated by curtains fringed with gold thread. Similarly, Amir Khusru in his I’zak-i-Khusaravi (vol. V) refers to brocade curtains in a noble’s house and the same tradition in the sixteenth century survives in Ghazi Khan’s house visited by Babur.Some of the European visitors to India in the Mughal period visited Banaras. Ralph Fitch (1583-91) informs us that Banaras was a thriving centre of cotton textile industry. However, he adds that Banaras manufactured turbans in great numbers for the Mughals. We know from the contemporary paintings that usually the Mughals used zari material for their turbans. Peter Mundy, another traveller to Banaras (1632 AD) records that in the Vishvanatha temple he found a silk canopy hanging over the Shiva-lingam.This might have been a work of Banaras zari or brocade. Tavernier visited Banaras in 1665 AD He saw in Banaras the loftiest houses in India, which shows the height of prosperity Banaras witnessed during the seventeenth century. He noticed a caravan sarai in Banaras where the weaver directly sold their manufactures to the customers and there was no middleman in the trade, He mentions both cotton and silk textiles in the trade, which bore quality grading and marking in the form of imperial seals failing which the merchants were flogged. 1t is generally believed from the above account that Tavernier saw Banarasi zari and brocades .in the Sarais. However, describing the Bindumadhava temple of Banaras, Tavernier informs that over the holy platform, he noticed brocades and other silks. Presumably they were of Banaras manufacture. Manucci in his famous travel-book Storia Do Mogor (second half of the seventeenth century) records that Banaras exported to all over the world, its gold or silver zaritextiles, which were “of the best quality.” TheKhulasat-ut- Tawarikh, a work compiled in 1720 AD describes two other types of Banarasi fabrics: “The Jhuna and the Mihrgula among others were of principal character.” However, the author does
not specify them. Were they two important types of zarior brocades. Due to political upheaval Banaras received a set back in the middle of the eighteenth century when Ahmad Shah Bangash dispatched his troops towards Banaras and threatened to reduce it and a fat ransom was paid to him (1750 AD)to save the town. Maratha records, in 1751, inform us that Banaras was almost deserted in that period and its many banking houses turned insolvent. People at large felt themselves unsafe and unprotected from the cruel hands of the invading Rohillas. Further the Nawabs of Oudh tried to destroy the local chief Balavant Singh, Banaras continued to face a menace to danger and insecurity at least for another fifteen or twenty years. In November 1764 AD” the East India Company’s forces entered Banaras and soon Banaras transferred its allegiance to the Company. It was due to some rich settlers in Banaras, particularly due to the Maratha interest in this city, in its learning and arts that in the middle of the eighteenth century Banaras retrieved back its old glory to some extent. Other exiled members of the ruling families and dignitaries seeking asylum in the East. India Company’s enclave or retired pious Hindus of higher classes as well as Mughal princes, scions of the Nawab of Oudh and people belonging to the house of the Peshwa residing in Banaras contributed substantially to its cultural and economic life. This spurred Banaras zariand brocade manufacture and its trade and this explains for the rise of Banaras textile industry to the present altitude. With reference to the textile industry in Banaras, zari and brocades were for almost the first time well- recorded by several British travellers to Banaras. George Viscount Valentia, in his travel-account furnishes some interesting information about Banaras textiles in early nineteenth century. Valentia held a Durbar in Banaras some textile-traders also attended the Durbar and displayed some very good examples of zari and brocades. Valentia remarks that the brocades showed close patterns and were quite expensive, so that they were worn only on important occasions. Valentia right observed that the prosperity of the Banaras people mainly rested on its brocades and zari manufacture and trade, and that these textiles were popular Items of export to Europe. Soon after, in his census report, Mr. Deane, the then Collector of Banaras, recorded several types of artisans in Banaras. Among these figure out the Muslim weavers (carpet weavers) and the Rajput (Muslim) weavers who produced several types of zari and brocades. The zari and brocade weavers seem to have been considerable in number as the number of their houses was about 580 at that time, which although a symbolic figure, may show their abundance. To study the various processes of their manufacture, the dozens of the “Company Style” illustrations are most helpful, a number of which are now in the possession of the India Office Library, London. These illustrations, sometimes, show the textile pieces under manufacture and they confirm in details to the information recorded by the English travellers in the East India Company period.Bishop Heber, travelling in this region in the early nineteenth century observed that Banaras was a great centre of textile-trade as well as a market for Kashmir shawls. Dacca muslin and its own manufacture: “it has a very considerable silk, cotton and woollen manufacture of its own.” These included some expensive type of probably zari and brocades. Mrs. Colin Mackenzie, a traveller to Banaras in1847 AD, records some, interesting information about the zari and brocade textiles. An Indian prince who visited their party wore “wide trousers of cloth of gold”, or brocade. This seems to be very popular among the gentry of Banaras, which is corroborated by her later account and also b)’ the surviving examples of that period. Mrs. Mackenzie also furnishes a very interesting account of the shops which dealt in the zaribrocade. “This was the house of one of the richest manufacturers at Banaras. Half of the room was raised one step. Here we sat while bales of the most magnificent gold and silver stuffs, called “Kinkob” were unrolled before us. I do not suppose any European brocades equal them. They are used by the natives for trousers some of the muslins spotted with gold and muslin shawls and scarves with gold and silver borders for about thirty rupees were beautiful…” The above account not only gives a picture of the trade but also informs us about the price which these stuffs fetched in those times, assuming that the prices offered to Mrs. Mackenzie were meant for fabrics of high quality. She also informs us how brocade was popular in the ladies’ dress as she narrates her visit to the Rajah of Sattara. The dress of the ladies included, “a very short red jacket with short sleeves …a red drapery embroidered or spriggled with gold enveloped the whole person …the jacket was (made of) cloth of gold…a singing woman, with stiff outstanding petticoats of red gold, was introduced.” These stray information leave no doubt about the popularity of the brocades used as material for both male and female costumes. The men also had their coats made of brocade. This seems to be the popular costume-type all over the country in the nineteenth century, specimens of which are preserved inBharat Kala Bhavan and other collections; some of them are being reproduced in this book. Soon after, Dr. J. Forbes Watson published his monumental work, The Textile Manufacturers and the People of India. This seems to be the first authentic and systematic record of the facts relating to the textile industry in the nineteenth-century India. He quotes Captain Meadows Taylor, who observes:”a piece of silver of about the length and thickness of man’s forefinger gilded or of pure gold was beaten and drawn through successive holes in a steel plate an line wire was literally as thin as a hair”. This was the kalabattu. Water adds that the gold or silver thread, badla, was twisted around silk thread and woven. The women who manufactured the gold and silver thread were called batavaiya(those who twisted into the shape of kalabattu).The brocades were meant forcholi sleeves etc. or for the entire piece for the choli. Watson reproduced a sample of the kimkhabfrom Banaras in his Vol.7. It was a silk gauze and gold showing diagonal stripes and flowers in gold on a mauve ground, which was and is a very popular shade for the ground (angan).Unfortunately, the price of the stuff js not quoted; the textile was 13′ 8″ long and 2′ 10″ wide. However, it is strange that Watson did not furnish any account of the zari sarisand scarves which seem to have been very popular in the nineteenth century and are still very popular. The official catalogue of 1 he Crafts Exhibition, Delhi (1902-03) IndianArt at Delhi by Sir George Watt throws immense light on the Banaras kimkhabs,and zaris. The process of manufacture is recorded in the following statement: “The small needle-like spool (simple pencil of bamboo, actually called ‘needle’ by the weavers) is by the hand carried in and out of the exact number of threads of the warp that may be necessary in the production of the pattern”. Thus, loosely it was called ‘loom-embroidery’. Sir George further informs that Banaras has been the chief centre of brocades or kimkhabs. The zari work was known in Banaras as pot-than. He distinguishes the various sub-types, e.g., baftas, amarusand even the gold and silk gauzes or abrawanswhich were brocades in only varying degrees of the use of gold thread; the brocades in pure silk were known as amarus, those with gold wire or thread (kalabattu)in addition to silk were kimkhab,sometimes a speck of golden thread orkalabattu illuminiated a particular feature of the pattern in the amaru. Kimkhab came very near to borderings, braidings and trimmings. The kimkhabs included pure cloth of gold or silver, the brocades with greater portion of the surface in kalabattu” which were too heavy to be worn and therefore, were chiefly used for curtains and trappings. A business family, connected with the trade in Banaras, informed that for trappings and curtains the gold or silver thread (kalabattu) was made of much heavier material known as ekpara, dopara, tinpara, chaupara and even chhapara brocade. These various grades were determined on the basis of the number of kalabattu threads repeated in a given spare; for example, the ekpara represents ten such kalabattu threads in a running inch. Thus, even the chaupara was supposed to be a very heavy material popularly used for trappings of elephants etc. It was only rarely that the chaupara was used. The curtains were also heavy fabrics and they were double-sided weaving ( do-rukha). Similarly, very close weaving was known as khes.The other factor which determined the price of the kimkhabwas the degree of gilding on the kalabattu ‘thread’, which was determined as ekratia, doratia, tinratia, chauratia and so on; i.e., containing one or more ratis (one rati = nearly 7.5 gm.) in the kalabattu thread which had its unit as one thousand or twelve hundred yards etc. (the hazargaja or barahsaugaja). Originally, the manufacture of kalabattuwas an indigenous industry but later on it was imported from France. The “Gold Mohour” brand French gilded wire or thread (i.e., kalabattu) was most popular among the Banaras weavers. Thickness of the textile is mainly. due to the silk threads used in the ‘enamel’ work. The colour pattern in the ‘enamel’ work was technically known asalfi. The very fine kimkhab work was known as ektara. The Banaras weavers recollect that Surat manufactured very fine gold’ thread’ (kalllbattu) which was used for very fine type of work.It is also learnt that formerly the two localities of Banaras, viz. Madanpura and Alaipura monopolised the manufacture of the zari
and brocades respectively. However, in the present times both the centres in Banaras manufacture both the varieties. The third variety of brocades, according to Sir George, known as bartas or pot- thans, had only certain portions of the pattern in gold or silver thread (kalabattu) while the abrawan (a Persian term) meant a silk gauze or muslin with certain portions of the pattern shown in kalabattu. The exhibition displayed some important and beautiful kimkhabs from Banaras and Ahmedabad. The garments represented a riding coat and a long coat jalidar (mesh pattern enclosing rosettes) and lahariyadar (wavy lines) pattern respectively. They were bordered with gold embroidery and pearls; The gudari pattern anga showed uniform patches of several colours and beautiful pale border. Watt observed that due to many factors, the kimkhab industry was on decline in the early twentieth century. The taste changed considerably during the nineteenth century with the advent of the British rule and the manufacturers were forced to change according to the new patron’s taste. The Banaras brocades witnessed a major change due to a special and interesting factor. Watt recorded that a weaver happened to visit London. The state of Banaras weavers, the manufacture of zari textiles and its trade are very well-recorded in the District Gazetteer of 1909. Most of the workers (in weaving and cognate crafts) were Muslims, yet there were high-cast Hindus also, total about 12,000 people.” All the raw material is imported from Bengal, Central Asia and even China (via Bombay). China silk is a yellow colour and fine quality. The Central Asian is known as sangaland this is either wardwani or white or bashiri or yellow (from Samarkand and Bukhara). The Central Asian import is dwindling because the cost is enhanced by the necessity of sorting the threads which are of varying thickness”…. “Of Late Italian silk has been largely imported from Como and elsewhere and is used for the well known ‘Kashi silk’ and similar fabrics”. Many of those were dyed by celebrated artisans, some exported to Lucknow by Nawab Wazirs. But aniline dyes imported from Europe replaced vegetal dyes. Brocades were exported to Europe the patterns are often merely geometrical. The kimkhabs are very heavy in texture and are seldom used for fabrics. A lighter fabric, both in material and ornamentation is the pot-than or bafta work, which in colouring and pattern differs but little from the former. Where the kalabattu work in gold or silver is omitted the brocade is known as amaru and this is much in demand among those who cannot afford the high prices demanded for kimkhab work.Similarly, in every sphere of lndian art and industry cheap and decadent European influence was felt. The colours used in the Banarasi brocades were indigenous and showed a preference to dazzling and variegated tones. The import of European chemical pigment, however, considerably influenced the local taste, still in certain cases it could not substitute some of the very popular colours. But the European customers or the Westernised Indian patrons cared for more sophisticated or sombre colour- schemes. This vitally changed the entire out look of the Banarasi manufacturers, their colour-sense was irretrievably lost and consequently led to the decline in taste. This state of affairs continues in some proportions. Certain weavers, induced by the traders, still produce incredibly bad motifs, most inspired by cheap Edwardian or Georgian prints.banaras-saree-ambadi




Ambadi Group Of Textiles

Perambra, Calicut , Kerala , INDIA


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