Soulful Kanjeevarams

If you are a first-time saree wearer, Kanjeevarams are your tried and true choice.  

They are luxurious, but not ostentatious. They are soulful and thoughtful.

I wore my first saree in Class ten and it was a Kanjeevaram. It was during Durga Puja – the festivals Bengalis love, and plan their whole lives around. And Durga Puja means wearing a saree on Ashthami – the highlight of Pujo.

For the longest time, I thought that all sarees were Kanjeevarams. To me, sarees equated to Kanjeevarams. At that age, I never paid attention to weaves, fabrics and styles.

And my interest in sarees progressively started increasing from that occasion onwards…to the point that I have now chosen to make it a vocation through this blog.

Mom had this ochre yellow and fuschia pink broad- bordered zariless Kanjeevaram. Wore it with my mother’s blouse – ill-fitted as it was, Mom did a quick sewing job to tighten it.  

My entire objective was to carry the saree like my sister does. She had this super graceful way of carrying sarees the way she does, and I wanted to emulate her. The way the aanchal would casually be folded and flung over the shoulder and it would neatly rest upon the first aanchal layer by a nonchalant sleight of hand– this whole act used to mesmerize me. The outcome used to be so graceful.

But when I wore this Kanjeevaram, my mother forced to have the entire aanchal pleated and pinned up. Naturally, she didn’t want to embarrass me or herself with wardrobe malfunction, and that’s not how I had envisaged myself in a saree.

That entire afternoon, we went pandal hopping – which means walking a lot in the saree, getting in and out of the car several times, holding the prasad cone. The whole time, I was extremely self-obsessive – fidgety with the aanchal and the pleats and checking myself out constantly.

People who met me at the pandal complimented me for how I looked. Chuffed with the whole endeavor, I realized that wearing a saree is a task, but can be mastered with practice.

Years later, I learnt that my first saree was a Kanjeevaram. And the reason I looked good in it (coz people told me so) was because I could carry it well. The fabric was thick and comfortable, supple and manageable. The colours were bright and it sat on my body well. The consequent feeling was ethereal and graceful.

Fast forward to my pre-wedding days. When my wedding trousseau was being purchased, I was very clear that I wanted to wear a Kanjeevaram – in fact I had an idea of what colours I wanted. Green and Red.

My Traditional Korvai Kanjeevaram

Now, enough said about my first adventure in a Kanjeevaram.

If you are choosing your first Saree, I recommend wearing a Kanjeevaram.

Here are some reasons why…

More Saree, per saree

A standard saree is about 45 inches in width, whereas Kanjeevarams are of 48 inches in width. So, it’s more saree, per saree. More silk, more zari and therefore, more luxury.

The Saree is Heavy.

A genuine and pure Kanjeevaram should weigh from 600 gms to 1 kg. Four to five pure silk threads are twisted and woven in a double warp technique. The thread count is high – above 200 in warp and more than 2000 in weft, depending on the intricacy of the design. Thread count is nothing but the density of threads per square inch. The higher the thread count, the more luxurious and costlier the saree. So, when you buy your first Kanjeevaram, make sure it is heavy. The weight of the saree is what ensures its durability.  

Parts Make a Whole

Genuine Kanjeevarams are made in parts – the main body and the contrasting borders are interlocked through a technique called Korvai. Each border requires one helper each and the interlocking is done painstakingly.

The contrasting aanchal too is made separately and entwined together through a technique called Petni. This process of interlacing the aanchal and the borders together with the main body of the saree, results in a thick stitch.  This interlacing requires skill, precision, not to mention the diligence of an experienced weaver.

Petni technique. pic Courtesy – india1001blog.com

The process is manual, time-consuming and adds significantly to the manufacturing time of the saree. Any other technique applied could impact the tenacity of the fabric and its durability. So, when buying a Kanjeevaram, always ask for Korvai Kanjeevaram.  

Korvai Kanjeevaram

Kanjeevarams are from Kancheepuram – South India’s answer to the Benarasi. You got to make sure you are buying a Kanjeevaram that is from Kancheepuram that’s obtained GI (Geographical Indication) status, much like Benarasis (read my blog Bewitched by Benarasis here).

This means that on a global scale, only sarees from Kancheepuram have the right to be called a Kanjeevaram saree. It is registered and patented which has standardized features of weight, amount of metal (that’s gold and silver threads) and interlacing techniques of Korvai and Petni with traditional design.

It protects the interests of the weaver and ensures that this art form is sustained and does not get commoditized.

Pure Silk Test

Now, I am not sure you can get away with this. But a way to check whether the Kanjeevaram is genuine, you can pull out a single thread from the saree and subject it to fire.

If the thread melts, it’s fake. If it burns to ashes, it is pure silk. Another way is to look for the Silk Mark tag – a standard of purity instituted by the Textile Ministry of India.

I know from experience (and I cannot tell you how), getting a Government certification is not easy. Getting a GI tag and Silk Mark tag is also not easy. In the absence of GI, Silk mark is used as a standard by resellers, who have their own place in promotion of the art.

I personally find Kanjeevarams extremely manageable because of their heaviness. It covers you at places, which you might think are flawed and makes up for it enormously with its grandeur.

So, when buying a Kanjeevaram, make sure you have the above checklist in mind, and you are sorted for this generation and the next.

As a Sustainability Blogger, and one who espouses creating a Personal style and an Intentional Wardrobe, getting a Kanjeevaram definitely ticks the above boxes.

Closing thoughts – I wrote this blog for newbies – those who want to start their saree journey but don’t know where and how. I hope my own experience and information in this blog encourages you in some way to get started.

Leave me your thoughts, issues or comments below.