the "Silk Paradise" is world renowned for its hand-woven silk
saris. About 75% of Kanchipuram's population is dependent on the silk sari
industry, either directly or indirectly. Yet, the city does not
manufacture silk or any other raw material that goes into its silk saris.
The silk industry is entirely made up of handloom weavers and merchants.
The exquisite silk saris are woven from pure mulberry silk in contrasting colours and have an enviable reputation for luster, durability and finish. They reflect a weaving and dyeing tradition hundreds of years old, whose riches and technique the west came seeking much before the industrial age began. More than 5,000 families are engaged in this industry today and their creations are marketed by a number of co-operative societies located all over the state.
The Kanchipuram Silk Sari
The Kanchipuram silk sari, woven from the mulberry silkworm, evolved originally from the Kornad Sari, which is India's most well known sari produced in Tamil Nadu.
Research suggests that silk was a new entrant into Kanchipuram, for till a century and a half back, Kanchipuram was primarily a cotton-weaving centre. It was the Thanjavur-Kumbakonam belt and Arni along with Salem that produced the "Pattu Pudavai". But, today the finer, better-woven and more expensive silk saris are from Kanchipuram.
Raw Materials Used
The raw materials used in these silk weaving centers are not indigenous to Tamil Nadu for Zari comes all the way from Surat while neighbouring Karnataka supplies the silk. Indeed Karnataka meets the silk needs of not just Kanchipuram but the whole of India.
Weaving A Kanchipuram Sari
The Kanchipuram silk sari is hand-woven with dyed silk yarn with interleaved designs made with 'Zari' - a silk thread twisted with thin silver wire and then gilded with pure gold. Technically, the silk thread used for weaving Kanchipuram saris is made up of three single threads twisted together. Hence, the Kanchipuram silk sari is usually stronger (and more expensive) than its counterparts from Arni, Dharmavaram, etc. However, the designs on the sari itself are what bring it the fame. Simply, the Kanchipuram sari is a fine piece of art.
The main characteristic of the Kanchipuram sari lies in the time consuming method of interlocking its weft colours as well as its end piece and in the process creating solid borders and a solid "Mundhi". If well done one hardly sees where one colour ends and the other begin. Interlocked Zari borders are common down both sides of the sari and the garment is finished with matching gold Zari Pallu (traditionally draped over the women's shoulder as a feature).
Traditional Motifs And Borders
Many of today's established Kanchipuram silk weavers trained in the cultural centre of "Kalakshetra" during the 1970's produce saris with designs that are heavy in both style and fabric weight, with very wide borders. Traditional motifs such as, mango, elephant, peacock, diamond, lotus, pot, creeper, flower, parrot, hen, and depiction of stories from mythology are very common in Kanchipuram saris (also spelt as sarees).
A Techno Effect
The recent development in the designing field shows the introduction of computerised Jacquard borders in Kanchipuram silk saris. Though the techniques and the materials are changing with the market demand; the motifs are still conventional and traditional in order to hold the custom and tradition of a Kanchipuram sari.
Over the years inputs from weavers, designers and the weaver service centers have led to an increasing variety of designs and colours and created a special market niche for Kanchipuram. Along with silk saris, Kanchipuram also specializes in cotton and silk-polyester blended saris with the demand of the current market. Thanjavur and Kumbakonam create saris similar to Kanchipuram but the "Mundhi" or end pieces are finished differently.
Kanchipuram saris are very heavy and gorgeous saris and are used specially for weddings in South Indian region as their traditional wedding sari.