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Chanderi.org

About Chanderi

The fortunes of Chanderi have always been entwined with the fortunes of its weaves. Hence, the history of the town will remain incomplete without a look at this artistic tradition.

There is no written record as to when and how weaving began in Chanderi. But considering particular events in history it is possible to suggest that the inception of weaving began soon after the great Sufi reverend, Hazrat Wajihuddin, migrated to Chanderi. Hazrat Wajihuddin Yusuf was a khalifa of the great sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. In the reign of Allauddin Khilji, he was ordered by Hazrat Nizamuddin to go and settle in Chanderi and work for the people here. He reached Chanderi in 1305, established his khanqah and soon gained thousands of followers. These devotees came not only from Chanderi and the surrounding areas but places as far flung as Bengal. Meer Khurd in his book Siyar-ul-Aulia mentions that many devotees especially from Lakhnauti, which is near Dhaka, not only visited Hazrat Wajihuddin but even decided to settle down in Chanderi. It was most probably this group of people that began the practice of weaving in Chanderi as Dhaka was a major weaving centre even in those times.

The mention of the fine silken fabric of Chanderi began appearing in books within fifty years of this probable commencement. The Ain-e-Akbari, written by Abul Fazl during the Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign, talks about the fine weaves of Chanderi. The writer of Ma’asir-e-Alamgiri, written during Aurangzeb’s reign, informs us of the existence of an imperial workshop in Chanderi which produced an extremely fine cloth, with gold and silver worked into it. The 1907 Gazetteer of the Princely state of Gwalior confirms the continuation of the old tradition of weaving in Chanderi. It also states that during the reign of the Bundelas, the cloth was marked with their seal which consisted of a crown flanked by two prancing lions. Thus it is clear that the antiquity of the handloom industry in Chanderi goes at least as far back as the 14th century and in the beginning this exceptional fabric could only be afforded by the royalty and the very rich.

Development and Technique

The cloth is composed of the tana, which is the warp or the length-wise, stretched out set of threads through which the bana or the weft is woven back and forth. Since the inception of weaving in Chanderi, till about 1920s, only white and off-white cloth was woven with its ends fringed with zari or golden thread. Only hand-spun cotton thread was utilized, even in the tana, even though it was barely strong enough to be held under tension. The then weavers were highly skilled workers as they had to be extremely careful while handling the delicate cotton yarn, producing an assortment of garments including safas, pagdis, dupattas, lugadas and saris. The courts of the Princely states of Gwalior and Baroda were major buyers of the fabric. In Baroda, a 120 feet long pagdi, was part of the royal ceremonial dress for the princes and maharajas.

Today, raw silk, which is 20-22 deniers thick, is used in the tana in almost every sari. Silk does not only impart a lustrous finish to the fabric but is also stronger and hence much easier to work with.  Sometimes zari is used with silk in the warp to make a full tissue sari but these are not woven very often.  The thread count in the tana can vary from 4000 to 17000, depending upon the quality required. In the bana, cotton, mercerized cotton, raw silk or kataan is used.   In the borders and bootis, mercerized cotton, silk and zari threads are utilized. The zari, which is sourced from Surat, can either be real or tested. It comes in three separate shades: copper, silver and golden.

Earlier the looms known as the Throw-shuttle pit loom were in use. Weaving on this was a very time consuming process and it required two weavers to sit side by side on the same loom. The Nal Pherma saris were woven on this loom which had one colour in one border, another in the other border and a different one in the body of the sari. Nowadays, however, only the Fly-shuttle looms are in use and these are operated by a single weaver.

One of the earliest innovations in sari design were the Do Chashmi saris which had one colour on one side and another colour on the other i.e. the saris were reversible. These were exceedingly difficult to make. Two months were needed just to set the loom and it took as many as 45 days to complete one sari.

The 1970s saw a revolution of sorts in the designs of Chanderi saris. Innovative borders such as the Ganga Jamani, Mehndi Range Haath, Sada Saubhagyawati Bhava became extremely popular and began to be demanded by women from all across the country.

The borders popular today include the Adda border which consists of a highly intricate design, the Nakshi is similar except for the outline of the border pattern which is done with a different coloured thread and the plain zari Patela border. Piping border has one colour interspersed with thin strips of another colour.

The yarn for weaving was earlier coloured with only natural dyes, but today both natural and chemical dyes are in use. Many of the names of the colours used are derived from natural things like fruits, vegetables, flowers, birds etc. Totai is parrot green while Mor Gardani is the blue-green of a peacock’s neck. Tamatari refers to a bright tomato red, Pyazi to onion pink, Neembo Turanji to lemon yellow and Gajari to carrot red. Angoori or grape-like is pale green while Naarangi is a shade of orange. Kesari is saffron, Badami is almond-coloured, Chutney is sap green and Surmayi, a shade of grey.

A trip to Chanderi will remain incomplete without a purchase of the town’s enchanting weaves.

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