Having lived in India for the past several years, I feel myself to be deeply connected to its roots. There are so many, almost uncountable aspects of my beloved nation that make my chest swell with pride; and if you’ve been to India you’ll know why. This vast, magnificent land has numerous achievements and accolades in its bag – Yoga, Ayurveda, Chess, board games, and even buttons! However, in this boundless land of splendor, there remains one such factor of India which makes it stand out the most – it’s attire. We all know that Indian wardrobe differs from the Westerners in a few too many ways. And most of this difference lies in the way in which our fabric was made and worn.
The Handloom was responsible for weaving Indian wear for the longest time until the Britishers brought along their subsequent end. It is said that the Indian handlooms have their roots in the ancient Indus Valley civilization and that the textiles produced there were exported to the distant lands of China, Rome, and Europe. That being said, it was well established that the grandeur and reputation of our handloom products were off the hook. Each village in India had its weaver who, along with others, produced textiles of the finest quality. Taking into consideration how exuberant the handlooms were, it is sad to admit that Indian handlooms were significantly reduced and saw a steep decline during the colonial age.
However, the present-day scenario is improving as we speak. Handloom businesses are actively encouraged and supported by the Government to grow into their full glory again. Now, let me take you on a journey to reintroduce some of the finest handlooms of India. Shall we?
1. Paithani – Maharashtra
The queen of Maharashtrian sarees, the beauty of Paithani is unparalleled. It derived its name from a town in Aurangabad known as Paithan and was the garment worn by the royal women of the Maratha empire. This beautiful handwoven saree is made of silk and is identified by its distinctive border and the design of a peacock on its pallu. These sarees are also donned by brides on their wedding day and form an integral part of Maharashtra’s cultural heritage.
2. Bandhani – Gujrat
The pride of Gujrat, amongst several other things, is its saree. This splendid saree is dyed by hand and it takes several hours of painstaking labor to produce the alluring and most sought after Bandhani saree. It is mostly produced by the Katri community which constantly strives hard to provide us with the finest quality of sarees. With over 4000 handwoven knots and a colorful blend, the Bandhani saree is designed to make you look stunning!
3. Kunbi – Goa
Kunbi is the traditional saree of the Goan people. It was present from even before the arrival of the Portuguese and was exclusively worn by the indigenous people of Goa. This handwoven saree has a bright red color as its base which is improved by a checkered pattern on it. The weaving is sturdy because the saree is worn by women doing hard agricultural work and chores. The Kunbi saree is the epitome of simplicity and grace at its best!
4. Muga Silk – Assam
There isn’t a soul in India who isn’t familiar with the picturesque valleys and plantations of Assam. Muga Silk is a gorgeous fabric made and worn in Assam. The saree, much like the Kunbi, is highly durable and was donned by the womenfolk of the royal Ahom dynasty. The Muga saree is one of the most expensive sarees in the world due to its glossy finish. It takes 10 or more long days to produce the saree. Assamese women drape the Muga saree on several special occasions and weddings as well.
5. Kullu Shawls – Himachal Pradesh
The popularity of Kullu Shawls has drastically increased over the last couple of years. One of the best things in Himachal Pradesh, Kullu shawls have a huge fan following amongst tourists across the world. This gorgeous fabric has elegant geometrical figures all over it and can be worn by both men and women. Apart from having an attractive appeal, these shawls also provide insulation against the low temperatures of Himachal Pradesh.
6. Mysore Silk – Karnataka
Who hasn’t heard of the famous Mysore Silk of Karnataka! Apart from its exquisite cuisine and monuments, the Mysore silk is what makes Karnataka so special. The silk is extremely soft and is made from zari and pure silk. Encouraged and initiated by the ferocious Tipu Sultan, Mysore Silk has now attained popularity all across the globe.
7. Kalamkari – Andhra Pradesh
Kalamkari sarees are one of a kind, and I doubt if you would want to miss out on them. Made by hand printing various designs, motifs, and tales, these sarees are highly regarded in the textile industry. The word Kalamkari comprises of ‘Kalam’ meaning pen and ‘kari’ meaning craftsmanship. The saree is made by handloom and a tamarind pen is used to draw lovely designs on it. The Kalamkari sarees are considered a symbol of elegance and style. Several ladies drape this saree to a fancy party or to a traditional function to elevate their style. An impressive addition to your wardrobe, indeed!
8. Chanderi – Madhya Pradesh
A saree that looks so fine, it’s sure to make heads turn! Chanderi is a lightweight, luxurious saree that gained its name from a small town in Madhya Pradesh with the same name. The saree is woven together and has golden zari and silk in the mix. Chanderi sarees are predominantly worn during the summers because of their lightweight property. If legends are to be believed, the Chanderi fabric was discovered in ancient times by Lord Krishna’s brother, Shishupaal. If that doesn’t make this fabric royal, I don’t know what does.
Suggested Read – National Handloom Day – Importance of Handlooms & Weavers
There are several more handloom fabrics in India whose numbers run up to hundreds. Even if the era of handloom has passed and been replaced by power looms, one cannot question the quality and reliability of handlooms. Handlooms have an important association with the Indian freedom struggle as well – this is because Gandhi Ji would actively encourage and use handlooms himself to produce Khadi, thus empowering Indian weavers who were enslaved by the British. With so much at stake, no wonder handlooms had to be revived in the 21st century.