One look at Rekha, and the bride-to-be, Anjali, knew what she would be wearing on her wedding. Of course, it wasn’t the first time she saw a Kancheepuram but something just clicked when she looked at the veteran diva oozing poise, allure, and grace without that heavyset feeling that usually accompanies when one wears a traditional behemoth.

Kancheepuram silk sarees drape wonderfully in spite of being quite a heavy woven textile. They have an amazing fall and their fluidity ensures the wearer of a slimming effect. Thus, you have a superbly fashionable look and yet are steeped in absolute traditional elegance.

Anjali is just one among the numerous brides who swear by the shimmering yards to lend that extra auspiciousness and dazzle to their important day. A Kancheepuram is a value addition to a bride’s wedding trousseau and sometimes a cherished inheritance passed down generations.

The History and Origins of Kancheepuram Sarees

Traditionally considered as pure, silk is mostly used in temple rituals and for adorning gods and goddesses. Besides, it also scores in significance as the preferred fabric of both Shiva and Vishnu. Religious ceremonies thereby fuelled the silk weaving industry in and around the temple cities. The temple city of Kancheepuram saw an exemplary initiative in the silk trade from the 11th century onwards leading to the settlement of the legendary weaving communities, Devangas and Saligars in this village of Tamil Nadu.

After a lull during the 17th century French invasion, the silk weaving industry rejuvenated their art form and revamped their style in the 18th century. Soon, Kancheepuram silks found exclusive limelight as the best silk sarees in the world and Kancheepuram today is acknowledged as the silk paradise.

The Legacy Continues

The sarees have evolved in terms of designs, varieties and patterns but it still exudes an old world charm that will always be contemporary. The shimmering six yards of elegance are woven from pure mulberry silk—obtained from the sericulture of the mulberry worm, and intricately embellished with fine Zari. The designs usually carry images from the scriptures, temple art, traditional motifs like chakras, elephants, mangoes, peacocks, swans, etc. and are also found in patterned varieties such as, Thandavalam.

These hand woven gems are extremely sturdy with a double warp and weft, where a single silk thread is made of three strands twisted together. The zari is made by twisting silver wire over a red silk thread which is then dipped in 22k gold to lend the iconic shimmer of Kancheepuram silks. The saree can be dissected into three vital parts of the body, border and the free end or pallu often demarcated by contrasting colours. The process of hand weaving a saree starts from selection of the best silk, to colouring threads, drying them and then tied on to looms whereby completing a single saree can take upto a month’s hard work.

The advent of the computerized Jacquard borders, however, has introduced sweeping changes in the weaving scenario in terms of increasing the number of designs, to lessening the time required to complete a design and a saree, and also in terms of market acceptability. Evidently, an original hand woven specimen can run up to a lakh depending on the intricacies involved. But, the desire to cater to the easy priced, mass market has also seen the majestic Kancheepuram to be produced in versions of Chinese and Korean silks.

How to Identify a Kancheepuram Saree

To help Anjali and other discerning buyers of the famed Kancheepuram here’s a few tricks of identifying the original silk:

  • Take a few threads from the warp and the weft and carefully burn them. If its pure silk, it will burn down to ash which will crumble to fine powder upon touch and smell like burnt hair or leather. Anything synthetic will turn into a hard lump.
  • To test the purity of the zari border, take a few strands of the zari and scrub off the layer of gold. Irrespective of the colour of the sari, the thread will reveal itself as red silk in colour.
  • Before buying, ensure that your precious choice has the Silk Mark Label from the Silk Board of India.

The most defining characteristic of a Kancheepuram silk that sets it apart from the other silk varieties is the stark but attractive contrast of colours between the body of the saree and its border. Owning a piece of this exquisite craftsmanship is to own a piece of tradition, of culture and of our glorious history. A Kancheepuram silk saree in the wardrobe is nothing less than the showstopper.