The garb of the gods

, Fashion

The traditional Kanjeevaram saree was in the limelight recently as Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone’s wedding attire. Designer K Radharaman, from whose store Padukone’s mother bought the sarees, talks to Ishita Goel about the evolution of the weave

Brides from the southern part of the country have been wearing resplendent Kanjeevaram sarees at their wedding for decades. And this tradition got a celebrity boost recently, when Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone chose to wear two Kanjeevaram sarees during her much-publicised wedding to actor Ranveer Singh. The first, an orange and red-gold saree was the actor’s choice for her Konkani wedding ceremony and the other, a subtle allgold one, for her Bengaluru reception. Both the sarees had been bought from Angadi Galleria, a heritage store in Bengaluru that has, for nearly 600 years, invested in the practice of weaving. The two sarees were from the store’s in-house label Advaya, designed by its founder K Radharaman. He speaks about the legacy of this weave.

The history

Kanjeevaram sarees had a humble beginning during the Pallava reign (275 CE to 897 CE). Born in the temple town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, the idea of Kanjeevaram was conceived to dress the town’s resident god, Lord Shiva, during festivals. A cotton veshti (a traditional men’s garment worn in South India), woven by expert weavers from the finest cotton grown in the region, became a sacred offering to the God. As thrones changed hands over time, so did the gods in the temples of the town. Under the rule of the Chola kings (11th century), more temples were built in Kanchipuram and were dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The cotton veshti was enhanced with the attachment of a brightly-coloured silk border that was embellished with gold threads. This addition was done by expert Saurashtrian weavers, who are believed to have migrated to Tamil Nadu from Saurashtra (present-day Gujarat). They created the famous korvai technique of weaving to interlace the border to the body of the fabric. Gradually, cotton was replaced with silk, a purer and more luxurious fabric, and thus more suitable for worship of Lord Vishnu. A Madras census report of 1891 states that Kanjeevaram silk fabrics became famous when “Gujarati weavers travelled to and settled in the region, after they were invited by Chola King Raj Raja I (985-1014 AD).”

The rise

Kanchipuram’s golden era came in the 13th century when the Vijayangar kings, considered to be great patrons of art and culture, succeeded the Cholas. King Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529), of the Vijayanagar empire, promoted weaving and had special sarees made for royal women during festivals and weddings. A local legend says that the silk weavers of Kanchipuram are descendants of Sage Markanda, who was considered to be the master weaver for the gods. This story may also have been inspired by the patterns on the sarees woven here, which were drawn from scriptures and figures of gods and goddess from nearby temples.

Kanjeevaram for brides

One of the hallmarks of a Kanjeevaram saree is the use of real gold zari threads. The lustre and luxurious drape, which make the Kanjeevaram saree a premium choice, is achieved by the use of superior-quality silk. Most of these sarees are woven with heavy-plied Mulberry silk yarn, to increase their weight and ensure durability. This also adds to the saree’s shine and life, making it a family heirloom in most South Indian homes. The heavy silk also makes sure the saree drapes better and makes the wearer look graceful. Sometimes, the yarn is dipped in rice starch and sun-dried to increase the fabric’s thickness.

Kanjeevaram sarees are also supposed to be auspicious and are believed to bring good luck to the bride. They are mostly woven in bridal colours like vermilion red and turmeric yellow. The muthu kattam check pattern of these sarees symbolise the harmonious relationship between the bride and groom. They also feature a halfdiamond wall lamp niche design, called arai maadam, representing equality between husband and wife.

Even the purchase of a Kanjeevaram is a part of the wedding ritual, and the knowledge of buying the right saree for the trousseau is passed on from generation to generation.

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