The Origin and Journey of Kanchipuram Sarees

Sarees have always been an integral part of Indian tradition. When hearing the word “saree”, the first name that comes to our mind is lustre, sheen and richness of a Kanchipuram saree. “Kanchipuram saree” is used as a synonym for good quality silk saree.  If it is Benarasi silk in the North, it is Kanchipuram silk in the South.

Kanchipuram is a popular city in the entire South India because of two reasons. First, it is revered as the “City of thousand temples” with magnificent architecture and breath-taking construction. Second, the city is equally famous for its Queen of silk sarees – the “Kanchivaram silk”.

It is in the bylanes of this ancient city that the silk of the best quality is handwoven painstakingly to create the Kanchipuram silk saree.  The main raw materials used are pure mulberry silk threads, zari (gold and silver threads) and dye. The price range starts from Rs. 2000 and goes upto lakhs. Kanchipuram sarees are an integral part of marriages irrespective of cast, creed or religion in the whole south India. Worn across all ages for all kinds of functions and ceremonies, they form a much desired part of an Indian Bride’s trousseau and are often passed down generations.

The History

The history of Kanchipuram silk starts from way back around 400 years ago.The famous king of Chola dynasty “Krishnadevaraya” has taken good effort for the silk trade. The then-famous two weaving groups called “Saligars” and “Devangas” settled in the district of Kanchipuram and exhibited their expertise in silk weaving here. Though this splendid art suffered a temporary setback during the French invasion in the 17-th century, later on it gained momentum.

Know your saree

The Kanchipuram saree has three main parts, the body, “pallu” and the border. The border itself has infinite variants in colour and pattern. Most common patterns seen in the border are designs of mangoes, peacocks, swan, elephants, chakras etc. The three parts of the sari usually come in contrasting colours. Most of the designs in the “pallu” are from the scriptures and art of the temples. Sometimes, it even depicts important themes from the “puranas” and other Hindu epics. A few examples are “Yashoda and Krishnan”, “Kaliyamardanam”, etc.

Kanchipuram sarees are much sought after by people across the country. They are so exquisite that people travel all the way from many regions of the country to purchase the original hand woven stuff. The “zari” is a blend of gold and silver threads.

This silk gains so much significance because of the probable reason that it is considered to be the favourite fabric of Gods Shiva and Vishnu.

 

Considering the importance of preserving this wonderful art and occupation, the State and Central Governments have taken various measures to protect this profession. In 2005, the Government of India officially recognized Kanchipuram sarees as a Geographical icon of Tamil Nadu.

The making of a Kanchipuram saree – to follow in our next post……

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