Varanasi is an epitome of love. It is not a just place but a feeling which must be experienced once in a life. The beauty of this city lies in the fact that people may come here as a stranger but the charm of Varanasi accommodates everyone who came in its tiny yet benevolent world. Moreover the people of Varanasi feel rejoiced to be called as BANARASI because of the essence of this city, so much that even the chaotic traffic jams do not bother them. The serendipity added further by the string of ghats attached to the Ganges. It is said that all great cities of the world lie next to a river, but never has a river changed its course to touch the banks of a city, perhaps such is the holiness of Banaras that makes the Ganges northbound which till now flowing eastwards.
It is one of the oldest living cities in the world because of its distinct culture, religious belief, geographies, languages bringing people from all over the world. It is a place where one can see the enigmatic union of life and death, both are celebrated and flourishing together on the ghats, feeding each other. This place is also known for the famous Ganga Aarti and home to various scholars and sadhus since time immemorial yet there is more to it. Every alley in the crumbling city of Banaras is an agglomeration of stories and one such story I will throw light upon is a weaver’s story.
There is breathtaking energy in this city and vibrant spirit among the people of Varanasi which we can see in the weaving of Banarasi sarees. They re-teaches us that life is indeed about simple pleasures because most of the weavers of the world famous Banarasi silk, known for their beauty and fine quality of its weaves and motifs, live in abject poverty. The uniqueness further added by the clang of temple bells, chants, hymns, often infused with the azaans of mosque. We can see that the members of Varanasi’s large weaving community are made of both hindus and muslims working together irrespective of the difference in religious beliefs.
This beautiful caricature of the weaving community of Varanasi inspired me to take a small tour to one among the numerous Bunkar (weaver’s) areas of the city. The masterplan to gather the knowledge of Banarasi saree’s weaving process executed with the help of Abhishek “the man behind the lenses” , Abdul “a young weaver and clearly a guide needed for this tour” and obviously me “the person whose ideas are going to be expressed soon”.
It was a regular sunny day when we met at a pre-decided place to start our tour. As we all know that Varanasi is famous for its narrow streets and someone very well stated that “if you think that street scene in India is crazy, in Varanasi it is wild”. Therefore considering the narrow lanes of the city, to travel along with car is never an accurate option and then we decided to ride over the bike and Abdul is enjoying his bicycle ride.
Abdul started explaining us about the procedure of weaving of banarasi sarees and he said the very basic component of making of any fabric even the sarees is thread or yarn i.e. a long continuous length of interlocked fibres suitable for use in the production of textiles. These yarns are clubbed together in a format to get a fabric. The process of “clubbing in a format” of yarns is known as weaving and this process takes place with the help of a machine called loom.
SELECTION OF YARN
The yarns which are procured for banarasi sarees are majorly the silk yarns which is available in diverse qualities with varied range.
DYEING OF YARN
The yarns come in raw form in the market which is then processed and dyed by the dyer to get the color of choice.
We then went to the dyer’s place and there the scene was so colorful that the soul automatically dyed with the craving of knowing more. Water was being boiled in a big pan and the dyer adds color in the boiling water while waiting for it to attain the desired temperature and meanwhile two of his subordinates were fixing the hangs of the raw yarns in two steel rods. Once the desired temperature reached they dipped the yarn hangs inside with the help of steel rods and took out immediately. And continued the process of dipping and taking out with the rotation of yarns to ensure that every pigment of yarn soak appropriate color.
Finally, when the yarn is perfectly dyed as per their choice, they took out the hangs and twisted the rods in such a way that it drained out the excess water and then stretched yarns to dry in sun.
PROCESS OF REELING
Once the yarn dried, there comes the process of reeling. Then Abdul take us to the place where reeling takes place. The place where these complex hangs are solved into single threads wrapped over small reels. And our first encounter was with a giant rotating hexagonal prism structure i.e. the reeling machine with the help of which the person was converting hangs of yarns to cone or reel of yarns. This giant structure was operated manually where from one end the operator was inserting threads of hangs and from another end single thread was the output which was then wrapped over reels and cones.
These reels are now used for warping and filling shuttle for weft.
PROCESS OF DESIGNING
Banarasi sarees are well known for their designs all over the world. It’s the most important and interesting aspect that how they decide the designs and make them over the saree. Abdul ushered us to a place where designing takes place.
Drawing the design on a sheet of paper
We then parked our vehicles on the streets outside a small house where in a very low light an old man and a group of young people were drawing some beautiful designs over a sheet of paper.
Designs copied on graph paper (LIKHAI)
When we started our conversation with them they explained us that these designs are copied over a graph of paper.
Hand punching of designs on stencils(NAKSHA PATTAS)
The graph papers on which designs are made used to decide the pattern for hole on cardboard i.e. hand punched on the stencils made of cardboard and it is known as jacquard card.
Jacquard cards are used to draw the design on the fabric
Jacquard cards or the naksha pattas were used to draw the designs on the fabric. He further tell us that these cards are very important as they are helpful in carrying out varied designs starting from floral motifs to royal designs and many other.
He then concluded here and we are now completely aware of the steps by which designing on the fabric takes place. There are numerous stencils used in the making of an ordinary banarasi saree. The more twisted the design is so as the increase in the number of stencils used.
PROCESS OF WEAVING
The final process of weaving is the process of “warp and weft” through which the sarees are made and the designs made with the help of jacquard cards attached to the machine.
Abdul then showed us the warp and weft process while explaining that warp is the tana i.e. the longitudinal thread and weft is the bana i.e. the latitudinal threads are set on the loom as well the jacquard cards are fixed to the machine which is followed with the back and forth movement of the shuttle as well as carrying out the desired design, the process of weaving of a banarsi saree completed.
It was indeed a once in a lifetime experience to accomplish my pursuit of seeing the weaving process of Banarasi saree. The whole process made you reassess your idea of luxury- such intricacies and clear form of art.
Coco Chanel aptly remarked that “luxury must be comfortable otherwise it is not luxury”. Though the weaving process seems intricate but the saree always comes out to be a comfortable one.
People may find it expensive sometimes but after getting to know the entire process of weaving which is definitely done with lot of hardwork and skillful work, one may cherish the luxury without having a second thought .
Thank you Abhishek for capturing the moments which made me realise the efforts put behind a silk, organza, tassar, jamdani, tanchoi, rang kaat, silver work, golden work or any other Banarasi saree. Thank you Abdul (the young weaver) for promising me to showcase your efforts in future and to anybody who wants to know about process of weaving. Thank you team Weaver Street for this blissful experience which has been rejoiced by me forever.
( Experience of Ms Srishti Singh an avid connoisseur of Handloom Textiles in her own words. Images credit to Mr Abhishek Singh, a world known famous street photographer, for capturing the experience so well.)