It is officially autumn, and while it may not be the season for the soft, breezy Chanderis, the sun is still in its glory permitting us some more time to drape the elegant and royal Chanderi. Most of my saree memories are from my mother’s gorgeous collection, but an article on ace painter Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings inspired me to write about this beautiful fabric. Inspiration does come from unexpected quarters, doesn’t it? An excerpt:
“If you look at Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, you can understand the way he has used Chanderi by looking at the textures of the paintings. It is part of our activity for the Maharaja Sayajirao Museum where these paintings are housed. All the proceeds from this exhibition go towards the museum for its restoration and upgradation,” says the Rajmata, Shubhanginiraje Gaekwad dressed in her favourite 50-year-old white Chanderi saree, with a black intricately patterned border.
My first Chanderi was given to me by my mother, an heirloom pale green and grey with silver and gold motifs – something I will always treasure. It’s extremely soft, it is elegant, always stylish and never, ever disappoints! Did you know that Chanderi, a town surrounded by the most exotic hills and lakes has been on the historical map, right from the time of Sultans and the Rajputs and I am talking about 600 years back ! So, has this picturesque town of Chanderi been around that long? Well, I think so or perhaps even longer as according to Hindu mythology, Chanderi was founded by Lord Krishna’s cousin, Shisupal. So, that’s well ancient, then! 🙂
For those of you, who have bought a Chanderi saree for the past so many years and are wondering why it’s always been so popular with the stylish women, then just for your benefit, may I take the liberty of throwing in some facts about this stunning fabric. It is hand-woven, has sort of translucent, subtle shine and a soft feel. Is it any wonder that Chanderi silk has been referred to, as the silk of Indian Royalty. “When compared to other cotton sarees, such as Maheshwari, the fabric of Chanderi is finer. You can create wider and more complex borders, which is not possible with other weaves. It was always associated with auspicious occasions and traditions,” Maharani Radhika Raje was quoted saying. It is believed that the Maratha royal family has patronised this classic fabric for years too.
Like everything else, there are many powerloom versions, often referred to as ‘fake chanderis’ around, There are about twelve thousand weavers who work extremely hard (takes about three whole days to weave a saree) to earn a living whilst the ‘non-real’ version creators are busy selling cheaper versions and eating into the traditional weaver’s livelihood. Powerloom can churn about thirty metres of cloth in a working day while it takes two or three pairs of hands to weave two to three metres of the fabric! However, for me and for lots of others, handloom is the way forward; each piece is unique to your wardrobe and it simultaneously helps the weaver earn a living whilst preserving this hundreds of years old craft of India. I support handloom, do you?
Thankfully, there are people out there who are very passionate about reviving this craft and helping the traditional artisans. There is a NGO, Chanderiyaan, that is helping the weavers sell directly to the buyers over the internet. A few years back, the town’s weavers earned a miserly hundred rupees per saree but it all started to change when the weavers set up self-help groups like the Bunkar Vikas Sanstha, and started to negotiate better prices from the buyers.
Raw Mango has done some fantastic work in helping to revive Chanderi and targets all its products to the high-end audience, whilst always ensuring that the weavers get their fair share. Designer and Founder, Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango has created some very luxurious sarees too. He isn’t just any ordinary fashion designer; hails from a small village in Rajasthan and doesn’t believe in fashion shows; works with traditional weavers to create traditional yet modern, hand-woven textiles but as I said earlier, targets the products only to the high-end audience. We love the beautiful Chanderi stories woven in silk and cotton by Raw Mango. You ought to have one, yes you do!
Then, there is this totally ‘out of the world’ collection from Coloroso. Have a little peep on their website and get an understanding of how beautifully they work with traditional craft to create modern, contemporary sarees. Who wouldn’t want to add one of these to their collection?
All this endorsement by the celebrities has helped to push the weavers’ salaries. I am sure that things will only get better, we simply need to do our bit by supporting traditional and original crafts of India; supporting the weavers by buying their work. Will you?
Now, for a visual tour. Ready?
So, where are you getting your next Chanderi from? Some of our suggestions are:
The production of Chanderi has been protected by Government of India as a Geographic Indication (GI) and now, India has petitioned the World Trade Organization for the recognition of Chanderi as a GI product at the international level as well. Now, we can do our ‘bit’ by supporting the weavers and getting the ‘real’ thing. Come on, have a part of history tucked away for you and your future generations in your wardrobe! Get shopping, whilst giving all the support possible, to the weavers, by just being notjustashopper.