Bewitched by Benarasi

If it’s a Benarasi, it’s got to be from Benaras (Varanasi).

Or any of the other five districts of Mirzapur, Chandauli, Bhadohi, Jaunpur and Azamgarh.

This is called Geographical Indication –an intellectual property right obtained by the weaver associations of Uttar Pradesh, that ‘Benarasi Sarees and Brocades’ manufactured and acquired outside of these designated districts do not have the legal right to call themselves authentic Benarasi products.

This was news to me, not to mention a big relief, even though the GI tag acquisition happened only in 2009.

Authentic products crafted in the traditional form is always the best kind of products to consume. Hand-made, hand-loomed products must have that premium.

If it’s a Benarasi, it’s got to be hand-woven

Weaving techniques have come a long way over the centuries. Man has innovated weaving a great deal and many handlooming techniques can now be done on machines, and prices to the customer are significantly lower. However, there are some techniques which are still possible only on handloom. Thank God for that.

Kadhua Banarasi is one of them – Kadhua means ‘kadha hua’ wherein each motif in individually engraved woven yielding a work of art. Similar to Jamdani, this form necessitates micro-level precision, wherein you will not see yarn on the reverse side of the fabric. The artist, weaving this needs to have extremely good eye sight and cannot work more than 3-4 hours a day, owing to the strain to the eyes.

The second form is called Kadiyal, which allows for contrasting coloured borders on either side interlocking the body of the saree.

Both techniques of hand-weave are intricate and its artistry on the saree escalates its price. One cannot make multiple pieces of the same design. This is a creative process after all and each piece is one-of- a-kind, which premiumises the product further. And rightly so. Only when the customers agree to the premium is when they are woven.

A genuine Benarasi cannot be factory-made. It has got to be hand-woven. Benarasi saree is not a commodity – it is a piece of art. So, when you find your rare Benarasi, make sure you grab it right away.

If it’s Benarasi, it’s got to be Pure Silk

Imitation silk or artificial silk use polyester yarns, which look exactly the same, and one cannot tell the difference. To the wearer, imitation silk is no fun. They have poor drape-ability (sorry for such harsh words), not mention that they don’t look exquisite at all. Manufacturers make multiple pieces of one saree and let’s just say, you might find many others wearing the same saree.

However, good quality polyester yarns and a modern production techniques do enable you to get a Benarasi (or a version of Benarasi) at a reasonable price – and you might choose to purchase it. Although, you got to be informed about it, so that you are not short-changed in the transaction process. After all, you would be spending a significant amount of your wallet in getting this piece, you owe yourself the knowledge of how it got there.

I have always procured my treasured Benarasi sarees from large showrooms. Urban shoppers do not have the luxury or resource to get their products from its place of origin. And we end up relying on the word of and reputation of these aggregators, who go to great lengths to provide that assurance.

So, when it comes to Kala Niketan, a place I trust and look forward to going everytime there is a wedding in the family, I know I am in for a visual treat. Kala Niketan, at Queens Road Mumbai, has been our family’s go to saree destination whenever it comes to weddings. My sisters shopped their bridal trousseau from Kala Niketan, and so did I. So, needless to say, it shares the widest range of sarees and achievable at a price that suits the pocket.

I know, that Kala Niketan would not shortchange me, for want of a quick buck. Also, whenever you buy from Kala Niketan, ensure you entrust them with the fall and picot edging. Kala Niketan will do this for you free of charge.

Benarasi Sarees are opulent, that you can’t NOT do justice to it. You’ve got to pair it with real gold jewellery, good make up and a simple hair-do. I usually like the saree to take centre stage, so I keep the paraphernalia to a minimum…but then that’s me.  

But to sum it all, yes, I am bewitched by Benarasi Sarees – I like to call it the Queen of Sarees.