It could be said that one of the common threads that runs through India’s history is the saree. From warrior-queens to freedom fighters, it has been the favoured choice of women who continue to inspire us.
The earliest mention of the saree comes from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization and the Vedic period. It evolved over the centuries with unique weaves developing in and eventually defining different parts of the country. Many of these weaves have stood the test of time and continue to be popular even today.
This Navratri, we turn the spotlight on nine weaves from across the country: the Sambalpuri, Maheshwari, Pochampally, Tant, Ilkal, Bomkai, Jamdani, Chanderi and the Mangalagiri.
It is believed that the downfall of the Chauhan empire, defeated by the Mughals, caused the Bhulia community of weavers to migrate to Western Odisha in 1192 AD. The weavers took their art with them, creating the Sambalpuri saree, which features motifs like the conch shell and spinning wheel created with the complex Ikat technique.
Originating in the town of Maheshwar, the Maheshwari saree owes its origin to Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar, queen of the Maratha Malwa kingdom. In the 18th century, the queen, worried about the livelihood of her people, brought in skilled weavers to teach their art to the men and women of Maheshwar.
Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar
She drew inspiration from the Narmada river for the patterns on the saree, creating the distinct Maheshwari style.
The weaving process of the Pochampally saree was brought to Bhoodan Pochampally in the state of Telangana from the weaving centre of Chirala, where the art was originally called Chitku.
‘Girl standing in a veranda wearing a Pochampalli saree’ by Hermann Linde
Tracing its history back to the 15th century in Shantipur, West Bengal, the Tant saree flourished during Mughal rule in the 16th to 18th centuries. The weaving process received royal patronage, with weaves made from fine muslin favoured by the ruling class.
Deriving its name from Ilkal, an ancient weaving centre, the weave is believed to have originated in the 8th century AD. With the patronage of local chieftains in the town of Bellary, the Ilkal saree grew in popularity featuring distinct checks: chikki-paras, gomi-dadi borders and tope teni pallu
While the art of weaving has been part of Odisha's history since 600 BC, it is not known when the Bomkai style originated. In its modern form it is said to have been developed in the 1980s. The style was favoured by the aristocratic families and rulers in the Ganjam district in Odisha.
Ganjam Fort, Odisha
The earliest mention of Jamdani is seen in the work Arthashastra by Kautilya in 300 AD. Also called muslin, the Jamdani received royal patronage from the Mughals and flourished during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir.
In a mythological sense, the town of Chanderi is said to have been founded by Shishupal, cousin of Lord Krishna. Historically, the Chanderi weaving tradition began in the 13th century. It has been patronized by the Mughals and the royal family of Scindia.
Believed to be over 500 years old, the Mangalagiri saree derives its name from the town of Mangalagiri in Andhra Pradesh. According to tradition, pilgrims to the Panakala Narasimha Swamy Temple pay their respects and buy a saree from the weavers of Mangalagiri, thereby supporting their livelihood.
Panakala Narasimha Swamy Temple