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Benarasi saris that brought the weaver and his loom back to life in the pandemic

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Textile revivalists Swati Agarwal and Sunaina Jalan overcame the challenges of the pandemic to convey out a set of heirloom Benarasi saris

“Such saris are heirloom pieces to be handed down generations. They are on a par with jewellery and their worth should be known and cherished.” Swati Agarwal is talking about re-branding the Benarasi sari. Along along with her associate Sunaina Jalan, she has introduced a set, which is presently on present at Cult Modern, a excessive trend and life-style retailer in Fort Kochi. “Our 40 looms have restarted and we are almost back to a normal life,” says Swati about overcoming the challenges of the pandemic.

The duo has been recreating misplaced and forgotten weaves and motifs on Benarsi silk since 2015. Their distinctive ensemble is made with 98.5 % pure silver yarn and 24-carat electroplated gold. Each of those single/limited-edition saris comes with a certificates that establishes purity, weave, maker, and Geographical Indication (GI).

At the shop in Kochi, a royal blue Benarasi lights up a window with its floor gildings. A stunning pink sari is draped dramatically over a bronze stand. A rangkaat with pied shades of blue and inexperienced hangs amid the wealthy ensemble, whereas a muted gold with delicate silver work falls majestically on a nook stand. Booti blouses in empire cuts, or with retro lengthy sleeves, transport one to riversides of Varanasi (often known as Banaras) the place the looms, open to the weather, are actually working.

“All these were made while the Coronavirus raged,” says Swati. She remembers how the 40 devoted looms needed to cease work halfway when the lockdown was introduced. The textile looms in Varanasi lie near the banks of the Ganges. Under regular circumstances, this proximity to the water helps the yarn stay supple and contributes to the ultimate drape of the fabric. But with the looms shuttered and three months of heavy rain, there was harm each to the wooden and the material, leading to heavy termite infestation within the wooden and moisture stains on the fabric.

Benarasi saris that brought the weaver and his loom back to life in the pandemic

“We function on pit looms, which are two-and-a-half feet below the ground. The weaver sits at the ground level with his feet hanging to where the foundation of the loom is. In normal circumstances, moisture is a plus point, but this became the largest single adversity for us. In the three months that the looms remained shut, moisture ate into the wooden parts, which had to be reconstructed. We could salvage the steel portions but the saris had been stained and had to be rejected,” explains Swati.

The weaving business in Varanasi additionally faces different challenges like non permanent, order-based work and work on credit score. “As the industry works on credit, some advance is extended and full payment is made only after delivery. This time, the regular retailers cancelled their orders. Money that was due to weavers from the winter sales did not come. To restart, they needed to reconstruct and restructure according to current health rules, and rehab their looms. They were short of cash. So, weavers were facing a double whammy,” says Swati.

Finally, 10 looms started work in July. “The entire industry in Benaras runs due to certain designers who keep the work going non-stop. We don’t stop production, irrespective of demand. That is our responsibility to the weavers,” says Swati, including that one other lot of weavers rely on sellers who come to Varanasi to position orders for a season solely.

The looms that usually work with 20 weavers at a time started operations with simply two. “We had to ensure social distancing and sanitisation. The work was slow but it was there; in case one worker fell ill, the work stopped. But we managed. Things are looking up now, she says, with some demand coming during the festive season.

Creating An Oriental weave

  • In April 2019, Swati and Sunaina presented Between Land & Sky: Woven Gold from the Gyaser Tradition, at Gallery Maskara in Mumbai. Curated by renowned textile scholar and author Dr Monisha Ahmed, the exhibition traced the history of Gyaser, the metallic brocades woven in Benaras for Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

Designer Archana Nandal, founder and design director, Cult Modern, wanted to launch the collection as a symbol of reclaiming life. “We want to shed the COVID-19 baggage and reclaim our lives. Family occasions and ceremonies are the best; we are taking gentle steps towards this,” she says. The saris are priced between ₹2 lakh and ₹4 lakh, and every is packaged in a wood field that carries with it the main points of its provenance and worth.

So, once you put on one, you might be maybe the one one on this planet sporting a Benarasi with a resurrected 18th Century French lace and bow motif; a collector’s delight and undoubtedly a murals.

(Check the gathering at www.shopcultmodern.com, on present until November 3; Instagram:@shopcultmodern)



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