The specialty of the Banarasi sari is in its use of zari or rich gold and silver coloured thread work on motifs and brocades. The influence of Mughal designs is evident from the awesome floral and leafy motifs known as ‘kalga’ and ‘bel’ and outer border designs of upright leaves known as ‘Jhallar’.
In addition the heavy gold work on the brocades, the compact weaving of the basic fabric, the small detailing, metallic visual effects, the mesh pattern and the intricate embroidery work are all contributive towards making the Banarasi saree, a rich traditional offering and a national pride.
The Banarasi saree acquires a royal feel from the brocades that share a part of this heirloom fabric. In earlier times the brocade was adorned by precious and semi-precious stones, but today they have been replaced by sequins and beading to give that exquisite look, unless it is a customized order for the super-rich.
The brocade, is woven on a draw loom through a special technique involving the weaving of a supplementary weft that is not part of the main weave of warp and weft. The idea is to make it seem that the pattern which comes from the supplementary weft is actually woven within the main weave and is part of it. This ornamental addition or brocading is through the special arrangement known as ‘jacquard’ which had revolutionized pattern making on fabrics since its introduction.
Taking anywhere from a fortnight to a month the Banarasi saree is completed in all its fineness and opulence that has created a niche market for this fabric and commands a price from a few thousands to a lakh and beyond based on the exquisiteness of designs, the intricacies within the weave and the fine adornments that accompany the sari.
In order to counter the unfair gains made by ‘non-Banarasi’ clusters that took advantage of using the name ‘Banarasi’ for their fabrics and selling at a cheaper price, without adhering to the stringent quality standards that were followed by the ethnic weavers, the traditional groups applied for and received the Geographical Indication label and legal rights in 2009, for the exclusive use of the name Banarasi for their offerings.
This resulted in the weavers of six districts of Gorakhpur, Chandauli, Bhadohi, Jaunpur, Azamgarh and Banaras itself, the rights and protection for sole use of the label ‘Banarasi ’ for their handloom weaves. This stemmed the rot created by the spurious goods trade and drastically improved the situation to cause exports to flourish once again.