Chanderi, a little town in the state of Madhya Pradesh has a years long of history to talk about its weavers and their work. For centuries weavers have been entwined with the town & its history and if epics were to be believed then Chanderi fabric is said to be founded by Shishupal- Lord Krishan’s cousin. Though no strong facts states the beginning of this weaving era but some evidences on the historical timeline of Chanderi iterate its existence since 14th century. This was the time when Hazrat Wajihuddin Yusuf, a great Sufi saint was ordered by Hazrat Nizamuddin to settle in and serve the people of Chanderi. Mentions in the book Siyar-ul-Aulia by Meer Khurd shows how popular Wajihuddin was not only amongst the tribe of Chanderi but in the hearts of people coming from as far as Lakhnauti region close to Dhaka. Since, even in those days weaving was a major practice in Dhaka, it is believed that the settlements that arrived in Chanderi as devotees of Wajihuddin were the ones who laid the foundation of what we today call Chanderi Saree or say Chander ki Saree.
On a three-day trip to this historical and weavers town, one eve has to be set aside to peek into what every lady wants to drape herself with. Throw a stone and it will land in the house of a Bunkar, said our guide Kalle Bhai. Its understood that this exceptional lustrous fabric was made only for the royals in the past. What piques my mind today is, what is it that even today an unadulterated piece of saree costs a fortune and is still not everyone’s piece of cloth (I know but aren’t we talking about sarees).
With this thought in mind began my quest to know why Chanderi Saree is not just a saree. We already saw in the beginning how the seeds of weaving were laid in the grounds of Chanderi. Now the question was of material procurement. What sort of thread were being used? Where do the weavers get the threads from? What machinery was used? What all developments the weaving industry of Chanderi has gone through? And the questions won’t stop popping up.
Knowing the fabric used for Chanderi Saree
Chanderi is a fabric made by weaving silk with cotton yarn and adding delicacy to it in the form of zari. Zari is a thread available in three colours namely gold, silver & copper and is used to embrace the saree with majestic designs by blending it with silk and mercerized cotton (a special polymer coated cotton making it more lusty). What makes it even more special are its handwoven striking motifs/buttis and this is what makes Chanderi Saree so gracious. Another characteristic that differentiates it from other textiles produced all over India is its sheer transparency that comes due to the use of single Flature Yarn.
Me asking: Where do you get the threads from?
We don’t. We just weave it as per the orders brought to us by the bridging agencies. Said Raghuvir, a weaver who works along with his younger brother. Adding to this he told that Bangalore and Banaras are the hubs from where the agencies get the thread from.
On my quest while I was roaming on the streets of the Bunkar village, I knocked a door enquiring them to buy some stuff. Continuing with his work came a voice ‘Yahan nahi milti, wo samne waale makaan mein chale jao’. He said he is just a weaver and doesn’t sell but also directed me to a house that would solve my purpose. I was stumbled as to which house he asked me to go in and then came another voice. It was of a lady, wife of the weaver who directed us. She made sure that we knock on the right door.
With a knock on the bright purple door came out a boy who smiling welcomed us in his house. A small narrow bay lead us in to the central courtyard where the women’s were busy in their routine chores. And then came Raghuvir who took us into his bedroom cum storage area where a cute little child looked up from his book and gave us a smiling look with gleamy eyes. Hardly two minutes had passed when came the lady of the house serving us water. We were never just a customer to them but now neither were they merely a seller to us. We spent a good amount of time there chit chatting over a cup of tea that was very warmly served to us.
The evolution of Chanderi Saree
The earlier used Throw-shuttle pit was a very time taking process and utilised time and efforts of two weaver sitting side by side for operation. With time the weavers have now shifted to Fly-shuttle looms that can be operated single handily. Even with such advancement it takes 15-20 days to finish a saree, imagine what the scenario would have been in old days. With time what has also changed is the method of dyeing the yarn.
Till about 1920, what used to go under production was just white or off white cloth with a little detailing done using zari or golden thread on the border. But what followed was colourful yarns that were dyed using natural colours extracted from fruits, vegetables, flowers, birds etc and this is what their names were derived from. Like Totai is parot green, Gajari is carrot and so on….But, today natural dyes have chemicals as their competitor.
No matter how much the advancements in technology has affected the weavers, the real grace of Chanderi saree comes only from the human touch. The weavers of Chanderi are still using man powered looms and giving shape to their masterpieces. Though the government of Madhya Pradesh has set up a loom park with electrical looms for the upliftment of their age-old fame that comes with Chanderi saree, majority of weavers in town continue to keep their traditional manpower looms up & alive and still produce a product of finesse. That human hand is what makes me say it again that It’s not just a saree. More about developments in weaving machines can be read here.
Seeing our excitement to know about the saree Raghuvir offered to show us around the weaving process which was in action in the adjacent room. He told us about how much days and nights of efforts go into making of just one saree.
Working on the loom under an luminescent light was a young-looking face. He gave us a look for a while and continued with his work because for them time actually is money. Raghuvir explained all the technicalities involved in the loom which have faded away from my mind (I seriously have to something to get a sharp memory).
Saurav my co-traveller questioned Raghuvir: How low can we go on the price if we wish to buy one? ‘Aane ko to 1000-1500 rupay mein bhi aajati hai pr wo aapko pasand nahi aayengi. Aapke liye 2000 rupay ke aaspas achi sari miljayengi.’ says Raghuvir taking us back to the room we were sitting earlier.
Unfurling some of his creations and then shows a gossamer-fine black saree embraced with golden motifs saying “ye dekho Kareena Sari!” He meant look at the design that was first made and draped by the film star Kareena.
In the meanwhile out of no expectations came Aunty Ji with a cup of tea to make the ongoing discussion cum shopping session more sizzling and asked shall I get you some biscuits.
As the sun was approaching the horizon and there were a lots of exciting activities planned to takeover the night we tried to quickly get over with this shopping cum relationship building that went for about two hours. Even while bidding good-bye to them aunty ji came out of kitchen and insisted us to stay for dinner. Here words touched me and I was in a situation when my heart was saying yes while my tongue was bounded for a no. Bidding adieu to them and that cute little kid that came running to the gate just to say a final goodbye because he was unaware that I will comeback again and his father will be my single point of contact for any future purchases in Chanderi.
With a hope that its needs any further justification to say why Chanderi Saree Is not just a Saree . Just to conclude it I would say It’s not just a saree, it’s about the years old style that they are still following to weave, it’s about the days of effort that goes into one saree, it’s about that little child who probably one day has to get into this and the training for which has already started, it’s about those women’s who are both directly and indirectly part of this and at last it’s about our responsibility to preserve this heritage. If you still feel we are doing enough for them, then read this.
Please buy local and help those who actually deserve it and not those who have made it a business to sell it at exorbitant prices just in the name of brand. Here is the contact of Raghuvir Ji (9827675257) you can directly connect with and make purchases at a very reasonable price.
References used to curate the above piece-