All That Glitters is Not Gold!
The brocade weaving industry has been flourishing as a textile center when it was a capital of Kasi Kingdom, since the Vedic period. “Hiranya” was one such cloth of gold which has been witnessed since Rig Vedic times (When Gautama Buddha of Kashi had a reign.), it was one of the most precious cloth of that era, almost equivalent to Kimkhab of present times. Kasi Kingdom was told to be one of the most important center for pure silk and cotton fabrics. Cotton cloths were exquisitely woven, soft, smooth, with very fine fibers and were bleached completely white. In 5th and 6th century, exquisitely woven cotton fabrics of Kashi became the most sought after commodity all over the world. When Buddha died, his remains purified were wrapped with pure cotton cloth of Kashi.
Apart from silk and cotton, brocade and zari was in it’s peak in Mogul period during the reign of Akbar. These works were generally inspired from Mughal and Rajasthani Paintings. Contemporary paintings, floral designs, Persian motifs (due to presence of Persian Masters in the courts) became the trending designs. Birds and animal motifs were no longer entertained. Best quality of Gold and silver zari textiles started exporting all over the world. Banaras continued to be famous for the production of turbans ( for Mughals made up of silk zari) , women garments (odhinis, sarees, dupatta)
Several renowned Britishers personality have tried and explained the importance of Kashi Silk industry in their own unqiue ways, always specifying it as pride of places.
Valentia “ the brocades showed close patterns and we’re quite expensive, so that they were worn only on important occasions.”
Bishop Heber “it had a very considerable silk cotton and woolen manufacture of it’s own.”
Mrs. Colin Mackenzie “an Indian prince who visited their party wore wide trousers of cloth of gold or brocade.”
The greatest Indian Sufi, Kabir “The wondrous weaver wore the cloth, with the thread of Karma as a wrap, memory and attachment as weft”. The traditions of weaving in India was celebrated by him as he belonged to weavers commit ‘Julahos’ (low cast worker group)
Initially, floral patterns, animal and bird depictions gained popularity which was soon replaced by ‘Butidar’ designs. During Mughal Period (16th century), floral, ‘Jali’ or ‘Jaal’ were in demand. During 19th century, Silk weavers from Gujarat migrated to Kashi giving new innovations, Indian designs showed resemblance to Victorian style wallpapers and geometrical patterns (a carry forward to Mughal Lattice work).
Such a beautiful history, isn’t it? But sadly, something in it’s purest form is not very much appreciated in the market. As on date, the same industry of hand woven fabrics is at its lowest level. Since 1990’s, the demand is on a continuous downfall due to the cheaper alternatives available in the market. Introduction to power loom or machine manufacturing units came as a storm for poor weavers destroying the culture, purity and pride of weaving. Comparatively, it made it difficult for the weavers to complete the saris in a short time (as it is handwoven), affecting their earnings. Lower quality silk replacements, increasing quantities of lookalike banarasi sarees are flooding the market taking the importance over the ethnic class handwoven pure banarasi fabrics. It has also affected the cost in a massive scale, making it anytime more preferable for Art Silk to grab the market!
After this outbreak, I as a pure handloom fabric designer, can only expect that atleast now people will understand the value of purity, the importance of handweaving , the time taken to weave any one particular fabric. Hopefully, you will now understand the sufferings of weavers, artisans and support them by encouraging small scale/ local business. Money invested well in any one right product is anyway worth than the same money invested in hundreds of wrong/duplicate/art products.