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The Kanjeevaram Tales

It’s the seasons for silks, and for some of us, silks meant simply kanjeevarams when we were growing up. Well, the definition has since changed though it is unchallenged when it comes to ranking in terms of elegance, class and style; a winner always! Recently, I was at a wedding and got speaking to some women on my table about which name sprung to mind when the word ‘kanjeevaram’ was mentioned and I got a lot of varied answers; MS Subbulakshmi, an amazing classical singer, Rekha, a stunner Bollywood name and more recently Vidya Balan were named by most and we agreed that while different kinds of sarees can come and go, kanjeevarams are here to stay. So, let’s talk more about this saree from Kanchipuram.

The many moods of MS Subbulakshmi in Kanjeevarams via 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

The many moods of MS Subbulakshmi in Kanjeevarams via 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

While the weavers from the Chola Dynasty may well have started creating these around the year 985, the master weavers in the town of Kanchipuram, a town near Chennai are still going strong. I love this saree and as it turns out, it’s not just me! Legend has it that it happens to be the favourite fabric of Gods too! There is a lot about the process of weaving and methods of stitching on the ‘pallu’ separately that can be written about but more than all the ‘techie’ stuff, I found these stories about kanjeevarams very interesting. Of course, if you do want to learn all about the weaving process then, do have a read of this article. Anyway, here are the stories that make draping a kanjeevaram even more interesting. Read on…

A story goes that a new colour was introduced into the world of kanjeevarams and that was commonly known as ‘MS Blue‘, obviously named after the very talented Carnatic singer, MS Subbulakshmi. It’s quite an inky kind of a blue with hints of green and black, that was especially woven for her by Muthu Chettiar, who was a sari trader and an ardent admirer of her music. How nice to have a special colour created just for you. Can this be equated to having a very own Scottish tartan for your family? Pretty similar, I think and this to my mind is ‘big’!

A lot of celebrities including quite a few talented singers take pride in draping a kanjeevaram. I believe, singer Aruna Sairam is partial to a ‘trendy’ kanjeevaram, completed with swarovskis while another singer, Sudha Raghunathan is rumoured to never, ever repeat a kanjeevaram! Different tales but the same hand-woven kanjeevaram, of course in different patterns, styles and colours.

Here, another story that comes to mind is that of a majestic creation, as it was in the news not so long ago. Mrs. Nita Ambani had worn a gorgeous Kanjeevaram for a wedding she attended, which had eleven of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings recreated on the saree. This was designed by Sivalingam, who happened to be the director of Chennai Silks. The story goes to say that it took thirty-six extremely skilled weavers a whole year to hand-weave this saree and guess what, this saree has a name too; the ‘Vivaah Patu’ and as I understand, it weighs about 8 kgs and amazingly (not!) has found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records too! Well, I wonder if Mrs. Ambani got a chance to wear it again or has she since auctioned it for charity? Who knows….interesting story nonetheless!

I read about a weaver who created or rather weaved a saree over months for his bride-to-be; a romantic gesture, indeed! How many men would be willing to spin a yarn for the love of their lives? Not many, I would think! So, more power to these wonderful weavers, who create dreams for other women to enjoy and very rarely can afford to buy one for their loved ones! A shame, indeed!

These stories could go on forever. However, I am going to take a break from these and share with you some tips, straight from Swathi Rishi, that  that you need to remember when you set out on a kanjeevaram pilgrimage:

  1. To check for the purity and ‘genuineness’ of a kanjeevaram, it is advised that you take a few threads from the saree (and walk far, far away from the original saree that you took the threads from!) and set them on fire. A pure silk should typically coagulate and leave a black powdery residue as well as emit an unpleasant odour
  2. Kanjivaram sarees are broader in width than regular sarees, so wear them with heels or be prepared to tuck in quite a bit, if you are short and decide to wear it with no heels

For more pointers when going kanjeevaram shopping, just click away on her blog, and be sure to increase your kanjeevaram shopping quotient! Anyway, for now relax and enjoy these stunning kanjeevarams, my absolute favourites!

A bridal kanjeevaram - stunning red with a hint of blue; absolutely stunning via

A bridal kanjeevaram – stunning red with a hint of blue; absolutely stunning via

The elegance of a Kaneevaram, in shades of pastel with a hint of subtle gold via

The elegance of a Kanjeevaram, in shades of pastel with a hint of subtle gold via

World's costliest Kanchipuram saree. This exceptionally stunning saree is woven with 12 precious stones and metals to depict 11 of Raja Ravi Varma's popular paintings via

World’s costliest Kanchipuram saree. This exceptionally stunning saree is woven with 12 precious stones and metals to depict 11 of Raja Ravi Varma’s popular paintings via

Simply Classy; a beautiful kanjeevaram with a pretty blouse - can you carry it off too? via

Simply Classy; a beautiful kanjeevaram with a pretty blouse – can you carry it off too? via

3 elegant ladies and a Kanjeevaram; lady on the left has it elegantly draped via

3 elegant ladies and a Kanjeevaram; lady on the left has it elegantly draped via

Black and a pretty shade of red; always works, especially when weaved on a kanjeevaram via

Black and a pretty shade of red; always works, especially when weaved on a kanjeevaram via

Now, let’s figure out where you could pick up some of  these hand-woven beauties from. Saringi Store would be a good starting point. It has some beautiful hand-woven sarees for you to browse and maybe you will be able to pick your very favourite. Alternatively, Luxurion World is another store, that stocks some beautiful hand-woven pieces or just walk to your closest kanjeevaram stockist, or perhaps maybe a Nalli or a Kumaran; if this isn’t for you then how about planning a trip to Kanchipuram itself?

Let me end this post with a little tip from a veteran salesperson from Chennai’s Nalli, as mentioned in the livemint.  ‘A kanjeevaram saree “should never be under 500g”. The ones with a good fall would in fact be 700-800g in weight. In comparison, the newer ones are considerably lighter, they barely weigh 350-400g, said Krishna’.

Choose wisely, stay elegant in your favourite kanjeevaram!

Shilpa xx

 

Cover Image: via1, via2, via3, via4