Textile Tradition – Banarasi Sari



Figure 1 -Banarasi Sari (n.d)

The sari is worn by females to represent cultures of the Indian subcontinent. “The sari is the quintessential Indian female garment”. (Lynton, 1995) Saris are worn by women in all different countries but especially in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. (Lynton, 1995)

There are a lot of different types of Saris that come in different shapes, sizes and patterns but the specific Sari I will be focusing on in this blog post is the Banarasi Sari. The Banarasi Sari originates from Varanasi, a city which is also called Benares or Banaras which is located on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh, North India. The Sari was named after the different names of the city; Varanasi and Banaras.(Lynton, 1995) The Banarasi sari is known for its gold and silver brocade or zari and for its “heavy working of gold, small detailed figures, metal visual effects and compact weaving as well”. (Lynton,  1995) These decorative techniques are still popular amongst women to this day. “Indian embroidery has had a long and rich tradition, it demonstrates the highest skills and allows for diverse creative expression.” The standard of the work produced in India has clearly been remarkable and maximum standards have been produced in both professional workshops and in a home environment. (King, 2005) The saris are made from finely woven silk and due to these intricate decorative techniques they tend to be very heavy.(Lynton,  1995)


Figure 2 –Example of gold brocades on a Banarasi Sari (2015)

The Banarasi Sari varies tremendously as weavers create different designs of the saris in order to suit different regional markets and changing fashions. (Lynton, 1995) Although, the Banarasi Sari can still be identified by its characteristics such as the “heavy working of gold, small detailed figures.” These details on the sari are one of the factors as to why the saris take a while to produce. It is said that it can take up to 15 days to 6 months depending on the detail and size, as they can range from 4 to 8 metres by about 120 centimetres (13 to 26 feet by about 4 feet). (Lynton, 1995)

The Banarasi Sari usually has strong Mughal design influences, such as floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel. (Lynton, 1995) Babur, who was the first Mughal emperor of India (reigned 1526-30), was a lover of plants and organised the building of many pretty gardens. His love of flowers was shared by later generations of Mughal emperors, particularly Jahangir (reigned 1605-27) who asked his artist Mansur to paint over 100 spring flowers. These paintings evolved into a widely used decorative motif. (Anonymous,2016)

Below is an image of a Mughal Empire Scabbard mount which was produced within the Mughal empire in the 18th century. “It is the piece that covers the end of the scabbard to protect the tip of the blade and also to protect the wearer from accidental injury. It has been fashioned from a single piece of nephrite jade.” (Anonymous, 2016) This is the type of Mughal art that would inspire the design and pattern on a Banarasi Sari. Read more about the Scabbard mount here.

It is said that the earliest mention of the brocade and zari textiles of Banaras is found in the 19th century.(Lynton, 1995) Traditionally the saris were made from finely woven silk on hand silk looms.(Roy, 2007) Due to economic and technological factors, the textile tradition has changed over the years. The early twentieth century witnessed what appears to be a technological ferment in the artisan industries. The threat of machinery to much of the skilled handloom weaving in the early  twentieth century was a remote one. It was in the context of growing intra-artisan competition that changed production methods, such as the introduction of a whole variety of new hand-driven looms, assumed particular significance. (Roy, 2007) The result of European achievements in the shape of new organisations of labour and the development of technologies also had an impact on the hand-loom trade.(Riello & Tirthankar, 2009) The demand for hand-loomed textiles declined. It is said that tens of thousands of weavers left the trade to obtain a new profession such as rickshaw-drivers, vegetable vendors and carpenters. This crisis has brought large changes to the industry. In order to compete, weavers and traders in Banaras have resorted to unethical strategies such as depressing wages, compromising on quality of designs and dyes, and most significantly for our purposes, passing- off synthetic fibres for silk and power loom fabric as handloom.(Basole, 2015)

Word Count: 740


ANONYMOUS (2016) Introduction to Indian Textiles  [Online] Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/indian-textiles-introduction/

ANONYMOUS (2016) Scabbard mount [Online] Available from: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O452323/scabbard-mount-unknown/   [Accessed 27/10/16]

BASOLE, A (2015) Authenticity, Innovation, and the Geographical Indication in an Artisanal Industry: The case of the Banarasi Sari [Online Journal] Available from: http://repec.umb.edu/RePEc/files/2014_09.pdf [Accessed 27/10/16]

KING, B.M. (2005) Silk and Empire. Manchester: Manchester University Press 2005

LYNTON, L. (1995) The Sari: styles, patterns, history, Techniques. London: Thames & Hudson.

ROY, T. (2007) Out of tradition: Master Artisans and Economic Change in Colonial India. [Online Journal] Available from:  http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.dmu.ac.uk/docview/230414106?pq-origsite=summon%5BAccessed 27/10/16]

RIELLO, G & TIRTHANKAR, R (2009). How India Clothed The World – The World Of South Asian Textiles, 1500-1850. Leiden, Boston : Brill Publishers.

Image references:

Figure 1: ANONYMOUS (N.D) [Online] Available from: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/214272894749316883/ [Accessed 27/10/16]

Figure 2: ANONYMOUS (2015) Authenticity, Innovation, and the Geographical Indication in an Artisanal Industry: The case of the Banarasi Sari [Journal]. [Accessed 27/10/16]

Figure 3: LYNTON, L (1995),Banaras brocade patterns and motifs. Available at: The sari: styles, patterns, history, techniques. pp. 36-37 [Accessed 29/10/16]. pp. ??

Figure 4: ANONYMOUS (originates back to the 18th century) Scabbard mount [Online] Available from: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O452323/scabbard-mount-unknown/  [Accessed 27/10/16]

Figure 5:ANONYMOUS (2011) Silk Handlooms in Varanasi Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banarasi_sari#/media/File:Silk_Looms,_Varanasi.jpg


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