Fabric Lores: Chanderi
Often, the greatest stories dwell, waiting to be told and heard in the smallest of regions. In one such town, geographically tiny but historically of great importance lives a story that has been alive for centuries – that of the birth of Chanderi. From mentions in Rig Veda and Mahabharata to continued love for it throughout the Mughal era, later with the Scindias, and now in almost every other sari lover’s collection, Chanderi’s old soul continues to thrive in virtuoso hearts and the legend lives on in weaver villages. Home to historic monuments like the Bada Mahal Gate, the majestic Chanderi Fort, the Khooni Darwaza, nevertheless Chanderi town’s real claim to fame lies in its namesake fabric that puts it on the global map.
Several legends and tales of the birth of the royal fabric have captured public imagination. Legend has it that Lord Krishna’s cousin Shishupala, a member of the Chedi kingdom, which fell in the Bundelkhand division of Madhya Pradesh, was the first one to introduce the fabric. Some ancient records hold proof that the heartland of the country (Madhya Pradesh) was a weaving centre between 7th and 2nd century BC. By 11th century, it had risen to the status of a prominent trading centre due to its proximity to major ancient arterial routes. The 12th and 13th centuries had the royalty having the regal fabric being handwoven for them by mostly Muslim weavers. As the Mughals expanded their hold over the Indian sub continent, the love for the fabric reached peaks too. The mention of Chanderi fabric can also be traced in Maasir-i-Alamgiri written by Saqi Mustad Khan, a history of Emperor Aurangzeb that claims that the emperor ordered an expensive, soft & transparent cloth embroidered with gold and silver for making a robe. Pagdis and dhotis for the royal men were often made with Chanderi, the fabric of the royals. Further, records have solidified the fact that because of its sheerness, the fabric was a favourite among royal women and men in the 18th century and was even exported overseas.
Whatever be its origins, the tradition and craft of Chanderi hand weaving is up and alive. The demand and love for it is ever growing as more and more Indian designers go sustainable and rediscover traditional Indian crafts. The charm of the lustrous surface melting into gold and silver, the diaphanous quality, the subtle shine and soft grainy texture are just some of the reasons for its popularity. Besides, the fabric continues to receive royal patronage. Rajmata Shubhangini Raje Gaekwad often elegantly poses in a Chanderi saree for pictures, her daughter in law, Radhika Raje Gaekwad echoes her style in equally stunning Chanderis and poses with poise. In fact on the occasion of World Saree Day, Radhika could not resist from posting her picture in a zari, tissue Chanderi saree, one of the exquisite pieces from the collection of their own label Shubhanginiraje.
The women of the Gaekwad dynasty (of Baroda) have since long celebrated the spirit of Chanderi. Rajmata has played her own significant role in preserving the essence of the royal fabric. Since 2003, she has been hosting Chanderi sari exhibitions in Mumbai along with her daughter in law who calls herself a ‘textile revivalist’, to resurrect the regal heritage. The gloss and translucence wrapped around the royals has extensively been captured by Raja Ravi Varma in his depictions when he was invited by Maharaja Sayaji Rao II to paint portraits of the Gaekwad men and women. Like the Gaekwads, the modern royals, the Scindias too are better known for their role in Chanderi preservation and revivalism since early 20th century with Scindia women donning Chanderi saris.
But what lies behind perfecting this craft of royal wear is generations of skills preserved and passed down. Pure silk, chanderi cotton and silk cotton are its three main types that have been since ages adorned with simple motifs of coins, peacocks, fruits, flowers, and other forms of flora and fauna and more recently with abstract designs. At Buna, our Chanderi travels from the heartland of India, from its very source, Chander town, crafted by the Chanderi weavers that put their decades aged expertise into the creation of each masterpiece. We believe in contemporizing traditional crafts by creating postmodern designs and a minimal vibe. The techniques remain old but the results are new and fresh. For embellishing the royal fabric, nature dons its inspiration on our minds, and takes form as motifs like the booti inspired by a drop of rain.
In earlier times, the fabric was luxuriously woven with a very fine handspun yarn to preserve its grace and airy quality. Common weave patterns included dandidar border, ashrafi booti, chatai or ganga jamuni. The shimmer in its texture is born as silk and zari is woven together in a cotton yarn, while the bootis and motifs are the results of hand weaving with different needles depending on the motifs. The creation that comes out after the intricate craftsmanship is a sight to behold and speaks volumes about the rich Indian heritage. If MP is the heartland of India, Chanderi - its heartbeat. In an era that demands voice for what is one’s own, it is time to pay homage to India, the land of indigo, khadi, Chanderi and the richest textiles stories from around the world.