Kerala ethnic wear:

The Keralite’s preference for simple living is reflected in the attire Kerala ethnic wear of the region .The people from `God`s own country`, both men and women, are mostly seen dressed in off-white and white attires. The principal dress which the people of Kerala ethnic wear is largely traditional in nature. The traditional form of dress worn by the Keralites is Mundu and Neriyathu (a piece of white cloth having borders of golden zari symbolising royalty) for both men and women. The women also wear `sari` (a five to six meter long cloth which is embroidered with golden border) and jacket. Clothing worn by Malayalees varies slightly from region to region. Members of the various religious groups may also dress in a slightly differently manner.


Kerala ethnic wear: How to wear

The Kerala ethnic wear worn by the women of Kerala is the `mundum neriyathum.` The conventional piece is the `mundu` which is the lower garment and it consists of two cloth pieces. The `mundu` is worn around the hips and beneath the navel. This hand-woven cloth made of cotton, is very comfortable to wear in the summer season. The cloth is creamy or white in colour and possesses a coloured strip called border or `kara`. The women of Kerala wear mundu in this way except for the women of Christian origin. For them, the `mundu` is folded up in multiple folds and this part is hung at the back. Over the `mundu`, women take on a special type of blouse, covering the navel.

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The `neriyathu` is the name of the upper garment which is put over the blouse having one of its ends inserted in the mundu and the other long end worn over the front torso. Kerala ethnic wear is worn in a diagonal way, from the right hips to the left shoulder looking like a sari. Both the `neriyathu` and `mundu` is stiffened and then worn with a blouse matching the border or Kara`s colour. This costume is worn every day and in the festive seasons people wear the same but with an ornamental `kara` or a border which is either copper coated, golden or artificial colored with temple or peacock design. The colour of the blouse is decided by the marital status and age of the women. Unmarried young Keralite girls take on green blouse whereas the married ones wear red blouse. At the time of the celebration of the famous festival of Onam, women belonging to different age groups wear it and participate in the folk dance known as `Kaikotti Kali

Kerala ethnic wear: Contemporary style

The `mundum neriyathum` was the traditional costume of the people of Kerala. But today, it has become an old fashion and is mostly worn by the old women of the state. Nowadays, it is being taken over by the `set-sari` which has become the dress of the Keralite women as a quasi `mundum neriyathum` and today as the `Kerala sari`. Nowadays, they are mostly seen attired in sari and blouse.

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The Ilkal saree is woven in the town Ilkal in Karnataka. Kasuti embroidery is done on these sarees, which is a special form of embroidery done in Karnataka. This type of embroidery is highly intricate. The typical embroidery patterns used in Ilkal sarees are chariots, lotuses, elephants, lamps, conch shells, palanquins, etc. This type of embroidery is done without knots so that both the sides of the fabric look the same. Ilkal sarees measure 9 yards in length. Ilkal sarees are woven using cotton warp on the body and art silk warp for border and art silk warp for pallav portion of the saree. In some cases instead of art silk, pure silk is also used. The end regions of the pallu are cut in different shapes. The colors that are traditionally used in these sarees are pomegranate red, parrot green and peacock blue. Bridal wear Ilkal sarees are made in a special color which is called ‘Giri Kumkum’ in that region. The red-colored pallu is a distinguishing feature of Ilkal sarees.


Ilkal was an ancient weaving centre where the weaving seems to have started in the 8th century AD. The growth of these sarees is attributed to the patronage provided by the local chieftains in and around the town of Bellary. The availability of local raw materials helped in the growth of this saree. About 20000 people in the town of Ilkal are engaged in saree-weaving.


• The uniqueness of saree is joining of the body warp with pallav warp with a series of loops locally called as TOPE TENI technique.

• The weaver will gait only 6 yards, 8 yards, 9 yards warp due to above TOPE TENI technique. KONDI Technique is used for weft through inserting 3 shuttles.

• Pallau portion-Design: “TOPE TENE SERAGU” Normally in tope teni seragu 3 solid portions would be in red colour, and in between 2 portions in white colour.

• Tope Teni seragu has been regarded as a state symbol and was greatly respected during festival occasions.

• Traditional Borders: (i) Chikki, (ii) Gomi, and (iii) Gadidadi, and modern Gaythri are unique ones in Ilkal sarees – width ranging from 2.5” to 4”.

• Border Colour Uniqueness: Red usually or Maroon dominates.


The peculiar characteristic of the saree is joining the body warp with the pallav warp which is locally called as TOPE TENI. This technique is only used exclusively at Ilkal. If anyone requires Ilkal saree one must prepare a warp for every saree. Warp threads for body is prepared separately. Similarly pallav warp is prepared separately either with art silk or pure silk depending upon the quality required. Thirdly border portion of warp is prepared as like the pallav warp either art silk or pure silk and the colour used for pallav and on border will be one and the same. In general, the length of the pallav will range 16” to 27”. The pallav threads and body threads are joined in loop technique, a typical method which is locally called as TOPE TENI.


The design woven in the length wise borders are mainly three types:-

• Gomi (more popularly known as Ilkal dadi)

• Paraspet (Sub-divided into chikki paras and dodd paras)

• Gaadi


• Stripes

• Rectangles

• Squares


Weaving of Ilkal sarees is mostly an indoor activity. It is essentially a household enterprise involving active participation of female members. To weave one saree with the help of the handloom, it takes about 7 days. We can weave it with the help of the powerloom also. lkal traditional sarees are produced mainly on pit looms with the combination of three types of different yarns namely Silk x Silk, Silk x Cotton, Art silk x Cotton. Along with the above said yarn combination totally four different traditional designs are produced – they are Chikki Paras, Gomi, Jari and recently modified traditional design Gayathri.

These sarees are produced in different lengths 6.00 yards, 8.00 yards, and 9.00 yards with solid as well as contrast borders.

The main distinction in these sarees is its attached temple type Pallav (locally called as TOPE TENI) by inter locking body warp and pallav warp using loop system and inserting weft by three shuttles using two different colours yarn by Kondi technique. A weaver requires apart from himself two others for preparatory work.




The Bomkai saree, one of the traditional sarees of east India are created by the adept artisans who excellently define the tradition and culture of India by the simple work of needle. The traditional figured saree from the southern Orissan coastal plains is the Bomkai saree. This saree is named after the vilaage where it was discovered in early 1980s.

Sonepur is located in the western part of Orissa. Sonepur hand loom woven sarees and dress material are known for their unique “Bomkai” designs locally known as “Bandha” design. This Bomkai design on the fabric (especially on Sarees) is developed by using Jala technique on handloom.


The art of weaving has been existing in this part of Orissa since 600 B.C. The scriptures in the caves of Khandagiri reveal this. By late 1980s, this hand loom cluster had begun specializing in silk weaving especially the Bomkai design (locally known as Bandha Design) without using any extra shedding mechanism like Jacquard and Dobby.

The artisan of the locality used to create Bomkai sarees since the commencement period of the fabric. It was originally made for the local maharaja, aristocracy and Bhramins of the chikiti tahsilm of the ganjam district.


The Bomkai design both the warp and weft is dyed according to the requirement. For border design, warp alone is processed, while for Palavas and anchal of sarees, weft is processed and overall saree designs, both the warp and weft are processed.

Orissa still uses the traditional jaalas for weaving Bomkai. Wooden jaalas are used and are tied the traditional way by jaala bandhaks (weavers). The technique is in itself a furthering of the tie and dye technique. In case of Bomkai, the yarn is tie dyed but the focus is not on patterns which emerge out of tying and dyeing. It is used to get the contrast colours in the saree. So, a pallav or border may have a solid dyed block or can be double shaded. The ornamentation is worked using the extra weft technique or jaala system which gives the tapestry that kind of look. The borders are woven using what most weavers refer to as phool bandhaks which flow on the designs on the border. The double shades of the saree, the border and the pallavs are worked on the basis of colour combinations. Once the dyed yarn is fitted in the pattern is worked using extra weft technique. This gives saree an almost woven, carpet like effect.

Recent innovations include the introduction of zari threads in weaving. While earlier the entire design was done in thread work with cotton or silk yarn as the fabric base. Nowadays, the saris are woven in both cotton and silk with brilliantly created angular discontinuous supplementary-weft patterns woven in the end-piece in contrasring colours.


The Bomkai cotton saris have been influenced by tribal art, and are embroidered with temple spire patterns on the border.


Bomkai sarees feature threadwork ornament borders. The supplementary bands are not woven in progressive order from large to small or vice versa, but are woven according to the choice of the weaver. Yet despite all the work in the endpiece, it is the supplementary – wrap patterns of the border that give these sarees their name. Some of border motifs are:

• MITKTA PANJI A broad band of supplementary-wrap patterning called the “ mitkta panji”, forming a latticework of small diamond shapes is the most popular border.

• TEMPLE A row of temple spires which pretty much look like triangles is also a signature border of bomkai sarees.

• KUMBHA A row of kumbha spires is favourite border motifs.

• RUDRAKSHA The motifs in the borders include ubiquitous rudraksha or bead motifs.

• FLORAL The florals and even plain bootis are also found.


Bomkai patterns are hand woven from gold or silver colored silk threads. They embellish pallu of a saree. The sarees are brilliantly created with angular discountinous supplementary-weft patterns adhere to the traditional tribal motif of orissa, which includes geometric designs, birds, elephant and flowers. Other patters have such names as rukha (pestle, stick), dombaru (small hourglass-shaped drum), kanthi phoola (small flower) and karela (bitter gourd), shankha, peacock and fish.


The motifs used are kanthiphula, Atasi flower, lotus and flies, birds, peacock, fish, elephants, ducks etc. in geometrical forms.

PEACOCK – It represents a symbol of rebirth in the mythology of Hinduism, Buddhism and islam. In Hinduism, the image of the god of thunder, rains and war – Indra- is depicted in form of peacock. In India, it is also a symbol of love.

FISH – It symbolizes prosperity and good health


The speciality of bomkai is the contrast border and heavy designs on the pallavs, while the blouses are again in contrast colours. Since, oriya sarees have close relation with jagannath culture, the four basic colours which commonly found on jagannath – black, white, red and yellow – is extensively used in oriya sarees and Bomkai is no exception.

It is the design and colour palette that makes Bomkai stand out. The vibrancy of colour combination especially contrst colours are rarely seen elsewhere. Double shaded borders vie with single solid colour borders and this is the signature of Bomkai sarees.

The contrast colours are beautiful such as yellow interspersed with black and a green border or peacock blue competing with golden border.the borders and pallav can be doubl shaded. It is the sheer contrast and eye catching colours which stand out such as grey teamed with a brilliant red, black with glazing golden border and pallav.



Paithani is a variety of sari, manufactured in the Paithan region of Maharashtra. Paithani saris are handmade, from the finest quality of silk, and are considered to be one of the richest saris in the state.

The Paithani saree is known the world over for its uniqueness. It is one of the most beautiful sarees in the world. Beautifully crafted, with an exquisite zari border, this saree is truly a poem in silk. The Paithani saree is chosen by brides to wear on their special day, especially in Gujarati and Maharashtrian families.



The art of weaving Paithani flourished in 200B.C., during Satvahana era. It is mentioned in the fourteenth Edict of Asoka and was the capital of eminent Andhra King in the first century A.D. During the first two decades the last century the weavers worked with threads of pure gold and silver, drawing their inspiration for color and design solely from the frescoes of Ajanta practiced exclusively by a certain section of the people of paithan for the past 600 years.

Also, the Rig Veda mentions a golden woven fabric and the Greek records talk of gorgeous Paithani fabrics from the great ancient trading and industrial centres, Pratishan or Paithan in Maharashtra. In old times, the zari used in making Paithanis was drawn from pure gold. But today silver is substituted for gold thus making the Paithanis more affordable to many people.

Even the Peshwas in the 18th century had a special love for paithani textiles and it is believed that Madhavrao Peshwa even asked for the supply of asavali dupattas in red, green, saffron, pomegranate and pink colours.

Described in early literature as Maharashtra, “the great fabric, a cloth is being woven since thousands of years from a very ancient and popular city known as Supratishthapuram, a silken cloth brocaded with golden threads, is what we call today the Paithani. The city is today known as paithan, giving fabric its modern name.

The fabric woven in traditional ways even after many centuries, is renowned as “the great fabric” not only for Maharashtra but also from India. Even in today’s advanced world the methods of weaving Paithani have not changed at all, the reason why its not lessened by a whisker. Woven with extremely dedicate silk threaded sticks, the Paithani is one fabric, which cannot be matched by any other cloth today that is why it is enchanting legacy from Maharashtra and fabric of beautifully women.


Since the Patithan region is quite close to the Ajanta caves, one can find the influence of the Buddhist paintings in the motifs used on the Paithani sarees. For the body of the sari, some very common motifs are Kamal or lotus flower, Hans, Ashraffi, Asawalli (flowering vines), Bangadi Mor (peacock), Tota-Maina (male & female parrot), Humarparinda (peasant bird), Amar Vell and Narali. One can also see motifs like Circles, Stars, Kuyri, Kalas Pakhhli, Chandrakor, Leaves Cluster, etc.

For the pallu, the common motifs are Muniya (a kind of parrot), Panja (geometrical flower-like motif), Barwa (12 strands of a ladder), Laher, Muthada (geometrical design), Asawali (flower pot) and Mor. The colors usually used for making a Pathani saree are yellow, red, lavender, purple, sky blue, magenta, peach pink, purple, pearl pink, peacock blue/green, yellowish green, violet red, black and white, black and red, red and green, etc.


There are different types of Paithani saris, classified on the basis of three criteria – motif, weaving and color.

Classification by Motif

• Bangadi Mor (Peacock in a bangle or in a bangle shape, woven in pallu)

• Munia brocade (Parrots woven on the pallu as well as in border)

• Lotus brocade (Lotus motifs used in pallu and maybe border)

Classification by Weaving

• Kadiyal border sari (Warp and weft of the border are of the same color, body has different colors for warp and weft)

• Kad/Ekdhoti (Single shuttle used for weaving of weft and colors of warp yarn different from that of weft yarn)

Classification by Color

• Kalichandrakala (Black sari with red border)

• Raghu (Parrot green sari)

• Shirodak (Pure white sari)


The Paithani sarees, are made of silk in rich, vivid colours with gold embroidery. In the modern Paithani sarees, silver threads coated with gold are used instead of pure gold threads.


Making a saree is a long process; it takes a long time completing a piece. And it also needs lots of hard work and expertise to make this fine fabric. A heavily brocaded Paithani sari will take anywhere from six months to one and a half years to get fully ready. Infact, even a plain and simple sari takes atleast one month for being completed. Before weaving the sari the raw silk is cleaned with caustic soda. Then it is dyed into the different colours as required. Sik threads are then separated by the women and then they are ready to be woven.

The whole process of making Paithani sarees involve following steps:


• The kali/vakhar is brought from Bangalore which is a bundle of silk threads ultimately known as one thok.

• The raw material is dipped in hot water and diluted in khar (salt), for about 15 mins.

• The material is then squeezed by putting a rod in between the kali to remove the excess of impurities and again dipped in cold water for about 2-3 times.

• The dye bath is prepared in which the proportion varies according to the hues and shapes

• The kali is dipped in the dye bath, removed, and dried completely. This is repeated 2 to 3 times.

• It is then washed in cold water to make it much smoother and lustrous.

• After the dyeing process is completed, the silk threads are wounded upon the Asari with a very smooth touch which is done by the women. A Rahat was also used for wounding but since it was very much time consuming. They started using the machines made up of the cycle wheel which is less time consuming.

• From the asari, the silk threads are transferred on a kandi.

• The silk threads are finally set onto the loom. <.li>


It took approximately 1 day to set the silk threads on the loom. “Tansal” is used to put the “wagi”. The “pavda” works like the paddle to speed up the weaving. The “jhatka” is used to push the “kandi” from one side to the other. “Pushthe” is used in designing the border of Paithani in which it is punched according to design application. “Pagey” are tied to the loom. The threads are then passed through “fani”.

There are two types of motion:

Primary motions:

• Shedding -dividing the warp sheet or shed into two layers, one above the other for the passage of shuttle with the weft threads.

• Picking -passing a pick of weft from one selvedge of a cloth through the warp threads.

• Beating -dividing the last pick through the fell of cloth with the help of slay fixed on the reel.

Secondary motions:

• Take up motion -taking up the cloth when being woven and winding it on the roller.

• Let off motion -letting the warp wound on a warp beam, when the cloth is taken up on the cloth roller beam. Taking up and letting off the warp are done simultaneously.


Paithani saris are silks in which there is no extra weft forming figures. The figuring weave was obtained by a plain tapestry technique. There are three techniques of weaving;

• Split tapestry weave -The simplest weave where two weft threads are woven up to adjacent warp threads and then reversed. The warp threads are then cut and retied to a different colour.

• Interlocking method -two wefts are interlocked with each other where the colour change is required. The figuring weft is made of a number of coloured threads, weaving plain with warp threads and interlocked on either side with the grounds weft threads are invariably gold threads which interlock with the figure weft threads, thus forming the figure. This system of interlocking weaves, known as kadiyal, is done so that there are no extra floats on the back of the motif thus making the design nearly reversible.

• Dobe-tailing method -two threads go around the same warp, one above the other, creating a dobe-tailing or tooth-comb effect.

Weaving could take between 18 to 24 months, depending upon the complexity of the design. Today there are many weavers who are working for the revival of this treasured weave.


The speciality of the paithani is its border and pallav. Earlier just 2-3 colours were popular which were integrated in the sari in the dhup chaon pattern which, when translated, means light and shade. The paithani sari is an entirely handwoven item. Depending on the intricacy of the design, it takes anything from one month to a year to weave. The traditional paithani used to be a plain sari with a heavy zari border and ornamental pallav. “But today paithanis with motifs are in vogue: stars, circles, peacocks, flowers and paisleys. The paithani borders and pallavs are heavily adorned with these motifs and the sari is given the name after the design on it. Tota-maina (parrot), bangdi-mor (peacock with round design), asavali (flower and vine), narli (coconut), are all descriptive.




Mangalagiri in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh is famous for its special variety of saree, called Mangalagiri Saree. This saree, featuring tribal designs, is very much in demand in the fashion market. Mangalagiri sarees, woven from cotton, feature borders with closely-knit patterns embroidered with ‘zari’ (gold-colored thread). Usually these patterns are minute checks or small simple frames. The ‘pallu’ (falling edge of saree) is embellished with stripes, a typical tribal style, created with gold-colored embroidery. These sarees come in a variety of rich colors.


Mangalagiri was always known as a pilgrim centre. There is a famed and elegant temple on a hillock in the heart of Manglagiri town dedicated to Lord Panakala Narasimha Swamy. Here, jaggery water has been offered to the lord by the devotees for several centuries. It is said in the scriptures that, the lord is being worshipped since Satya Yuga (The first of the four yugas). Below at ground level there is another temple dedicated to Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy. It is said that, Yudhishtira (Dharmaraju, the eldest of the Pandavas) installed the main deity in this temple. The temple has a very tall tower with beautiful sculpture which has 11 stairs. It was constructed by Raja Vasireddi Venkatadri Naidu, during the years 1807-09.

Local legends speak of a millennium old tradition in this region. It is said that pilgrims were expected to offer their respects to Lord Panakala Narashimha on the hill top, and then buy a saree from a local weaver before leaving the place. This clearly emphasized the patronage and impetus given to the weaving industry even as part of the tradition.

Besides, as per incormation available in South Indian Inscriptions Volume IV (published by Archaelogical Survey of India) in pages 231 to 233, t here is a clear r e ference to a Pillar inscription in the Main Bazaar street of Mangalagiri Township called the shasana Sthambam. This pillar inscription is numbered as No.711 and 711-A.

According to the inscriptions on this pillar, the muslim rulers belong to the Kutub Shahi dynasty are said to have raised the taxes on Handloom textiles during the year 1593. As t he weavers were not in a position to meet such huge taxes they left this village and migrated to other Handloom centres of the State. Thus the weaving activity in this area suffered a severe blow. Subsequently the rulers of this region pursued a more sympathetic approach towards the weavers and thus reduced the Taxes. This pillar was supposed to represent the positive attitude towards the weavers after their period of sorrow. This historical information substantiates the claim that Mangalagiri indeed had a strong weaving tradition for over 500 years.

The main occupation in the town of Mangalagiri is Hand-loom weaving. Nearly 50% of the population dependent on this cottage industry only. Because of the Hand-loom dress material produced in the town, Mangalagiri is placed in the world map.


Mangalagiri cotton is characterized by:

  • pure durable cotton material
  • No weave designs on body of the fabric
  • Nizam border, which is peculiar only to Mangalagiri region
  • Material woven only on pit-loom
  • Only produced in Mangalagiri region
  • No gaps on the weave in the edge of the material which is again peculiar to this kind of fabric



The cotton yarn which is brought from t he mills are in Hank form is creaming in colour and contain several impurities like oils, wax, cotton seeds, etc. This makes the yarn unsuitable for dyeing as the dye would not percolate into the fibres due to the wax content. So the yarn is boiled in hot water with caustic soda and soap for about 3 to 4 hours to ensure that the stickiness on the fibres slowly gives way.

After boiling, the yarn is left to soak in the same liquid overnight. The next morning, the yarn is thoroughly rinsed and the excess water is squeezed out. Once excess water is wrung out, the yarn is ready for dyeing as the yarn now has the capacity to absorb the dyes.


This is a very important step in Mangalagiri textile production. For white sarees, the yarn is bleached using either (a).bleaching powder or (b). bleaching solution.

The chemical name of the bleach used is Calcium Hypochlorite. A minimum of 7 gms of Chlorine to a litre of water is a minimum requirement. The yarn is soaked in this solution for about 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature and then washed, wrung out and suspended on bamboo sticks for drying.

In the case of colours, the yarn is soaked in dyes.Handloom industries generally use two kinds of dyes-Vat and Naphthol dyes. Both of these are chemical dyes. In both cases various colours are mixed to get different hues and shades of colours. Of these 90% of Mangalagiri textiles use Vat dyes.


The yarn that is dyed or bleached is then soaked in water in boiling temperature with soap solution and soda ash for about 15 minutes to ensure that all molecules of excess dye lying on the surface of the yarn come out. Since a mere wash does not ensure the removal of excess dye, the soda ash and soap are added.


The yarn thus dyed, is then dried out in the open on stands created for the purpose. Certain light sensitive colours are dried in the shade. It is also a practice for dyeing specialists to dye yarns of particular colours , in which case, only certain colours are mixed on certain days. This was uniformity could be maintained in shades. Weighing scales are used to measure the dye powder which is used to mix in water.


Winding of hank yarn into warp and weft

The hank is then transferred through a “charka” and shift bamboo into a bobbin and is now called the warp. The weft is made by winding the hank yarn into a Pirn. The weft is then inserted into a shuttle.

Next, the warp from the bobbin is rolled out into a warp machine which is a big circular contraption, with bamboo sticks. By a rotating process, the yarn is rolled out of several bobbins into the warp machine. Now the hank yarn is in the form of a warp.

Street sizing-

Next the warp is mounted on bamboo sticks and is extended to its full length. Then it is sprayed with rice conjee to reinforce the fibres and make it amenable for weaving. This is done for about 45 minutes, and depending upon the time of the day and weather conditions, the fibres are left to dry.

Weaving process

After street sizing, the warp is ready for weaving. It is mounted on a beam, and the weft which is in the Pirn is placed inside a shuttle and placed perpendicular to the warp beam. For every pull of the lever, the weft moves across the warp once thus adding to a weave.

This was the traditional method of weaving the warp and weft. However nowadays, the jacquard is used and cards with punched holes are inserted and placed appropriately to affect the required designs on the cloth.

One warp can make about 4 sarees

1warp = 12 hanks

1 weft = 10 hanks

Zari is wound in small bobbins and is used only for the border. Since Mangalagiri sarees do not have any woven designs on the body, the Zari is used only for the border. It is very significant to note that Mangalagiri cotton textiles are woven only on Pitlooms.

A pit is dug on the ground, and the weaver sits with his feet planted in a pit below the ground level. The loom is placed on the ground so that much force could be applied with balance while the weaving process takes place. Many other kinds of weaving involve pedal loom, or stand loom wherein, the loom is mounted above. In this case the weaver is able to force himself a little more to be able to weave the characteristic Nizam border into the weave. Admittedly, this border which is created without a gap in the edge of the textile requires much skill and manual capacity. These elements characterize Mangalagiri textile weaving, as being different from other kinds of weaves.

Cutting & folding:

The woven yarn cloth is then cut according to the requirement of the goods which is to be made into. Then the cloth is folded and sent for inspection to the master weavers.



The Jamdani style of cotton weaving belongs exclusively to Bengal. The elaborate and intricate designs of Bengal’s Jamdani have caught the attention of fashion lovers around the country and world. Once produced for the royal and noble family members, the Jamdani style of Bengal is basically cotton garments embroidered with gold and silver thread. The fabric is apparently lace like with subtle dreamy designs.


Word ‘Jamdani’ – derived from a “PERSION” word ‘JAM’ meaning a ‘cup’ and ‘DANI’ denotes the ‘container’. The origin of the word Jamdani is uncertain. According to a popular version, it came from the Persian words jama (cloth) and dana (diapering). In other words Jamdani basically denotes diapered cloth. Another version holds that in Persian the word jam meaning flower and dani a vase or container.

The earliest mention of Jamdani and its development as an industry is to be found in Kautilya’s Arthashashtra (book of economics) wherein it is stated that this fine cloth used to be made in Bengal and Pundra (parts of modern Bangladesh). Jamdani is also mentioned in the book of Periplus of the Eritrean Sea and in the accounts of Arab, Chinese and Italian travelers and traders.

The “Mughals” recognized this excellence, acknowledged its rarity. During the region of Emperor Jahangir and Aurangjeb, the manufacturer of finer Jamdani was a rare product and a royal monopoly. Trading accounts reveal how the Jamdani travelled to the courts of the Mughals in the 15th – 16th century period. For the Mughals it was fashioned into elaborate angarkhas (upper garment/shirt) worn by both men and women; it also travelled from Dhaka through Agra, to Bukhara, Samarkand and other parts of West Asia. After the “Mughals” Jamdanis were continued to develop under the patronage of ‘Nawabs’ Wajid Ali Shah of Tanda and Nawabs of Dacca (presently under Bangladesh).

The base fabric for Jamdani is unbleached cotton yarn and the design is woven using bleached cotton yarns so that a light-and-dark effect is created. Alexander the Great in 327 B.C mentions “beautiful printed cottons” in India. It is believed that the erstwhile Roman emperors paid fabulous sums for the prized Indian cotton.


The Jamdani is basically an inlay technique on lightweight cotton fabrics. Different types of Jamdani include: –

  • Daccai Jamdani –originally a Bangladeshi style of cotton weaving is now practiced in West Bengal also.The Daccai Jamdani sarees displays floral motifs and linear multicolored designs spread over the entire body of the saree.
  • Shantipur Jamdani –belongs to the Shantipur region of Nadia District in West Bengal, the Shantipur Jamdani sarees have excellent fine-grained texture. The softness of the fabrics is highly appreciated.
  • Tangail Jamdani –originated in the Tangail region, the Tangail Jamdani sarees have traditional borders with lamp or Pradeep, lotus or Padma and fish scales or Aansh paar patterns. The warm colored sarees give emphasis on the Anchals or the part of the saree, which goes over the shoulder.
  • Dhonekhali Jamdani –this exceptional style has its origin in Dhonekhali in West Bengal. The whitish opaque surface of the Dhonekhali Jamdani saree is adorned with borders of contrasting colors in black, purple, red or any other dark colors. The Dhonekhali Jamdani sarees are hardier and have a longer life than the other variations.


The method of weaving resembles tapestry work in which small shuttles of coloured, gold or silver threads, are passed through the weft. The jamdani dexterously combines intricate surface designs with delicate floral sprays. When the surface is covered with superb diagonally striped floral sprays, the sari is called terchha. The anchal (the portion that goes over and beyond the shoulder) is often decorated with dangling, tassel like corner motifs, known as jhalar.

The most coveted design is known as the panna hazaar (literally: a thousand emeralds) in which the floral pattern is highlighted with flowers interlaced like jewels by means of gold and silver thread. The kalka (paisley), whose origin may be traced to the painted manuscripts of the Mughal period, has emerged as a highly popular pattern. Yet another popular pattern in jamdani is the phulwar, usually worked on pure black, blue black, grey or off-white background colours.


The traditional nilambari, dyed with indigo, or designs such as toradar (literally: a bunch or bouquet) preserved in weaving families over generations are now being reproduced. Other jamdani patterns are known as phulwar, usually worked on pure black, blue black, grey or off-white background colours.


Jamdani weaving is labour intensive, requiring a delicate touch. For traditional jamdani weaving, a very elementary pit loom is used and the work is carried on by the weaver and his apprentice. The latter works under instruction for each pick, weaving his needle made from, buffalo horn or tamarind wood to embroider the floral sequence. With a remarkable deftness, the weft yarn is woven into the warp in the background colour from one weaver to the other.

The butis (motifs) across the warp, the paar (border) and anchal (the portion that goes over and beyond the shoulder) are woven by using separate bobbins of yarn for each colour. The fine bobbins are made from tamarind wood or bamboo. After completion the cloth is washed and starched.


The main pecuiliarity of Jamdani work is the geometric design. The expert weavers do not need to draw the design on paper, but instead work from memory. Jamdanis have different names according to their design (for instance, panna hajar, dubli lala, butidar, tersa, jalar, duria, charkona & many others). Present-day Jamdani saris have on their ground designs of rose, Jasmine, lotus, bunches of bananans, bunches of ginger and sago. A Jamdani with small flowers diapered on the fabric is known as Butidar. If these flowers are arranged in reclined position it is called tersa jamdani. It is not necessary that these designs are made of flowers only. There can be designs with peacocks and leaves of creepers. If such designs cover the entire field of the sari it is called jalar naksha. If the field is covered with rows of flowers it is known as fulwar jamdani. Duria Jamdani has designs of spots all over. Belwari jamdani with colorful golden borders used to be made during the Mughal period, especially for the women of the inner court.




An important political and cultural centre situated in Madhya Pradesh, Maheshwar is famous for a particulartype of saree called Maheshwari saree, which is a speciality of this city. These sarees are famous throughout India for their unique style of harmonious balance between the border and the body of the saree. The grace and elegance of these sarees is hard to match. The Maheshwari sari is made of either pure cotton – ie, cotton wefts on cotton warps, or is mixed – ie fine silk warps and cotton weft. They are characterized by a narrow coloured border embellished with gold (zari) and small checks, narrow stripes, or solid colour in the body. 


The origin of the Maheshwari sarees dates back to the 18th century, when the state of Indore in Madhya Pradesh was ruled by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar.According to legends, Queen Ahilyabai ordered craftsmen from Surat and Malwa to design special 9-yard sarees to be gifted to royal guests and relatives. The sarees that were produced by these craftsmen became popular as Maheshwari sarees. It is believed that Queen Ahilyabai herself created the design of the first saree. These sarees were originally worn by the ladies of royal status, but nowadays, they are available in both national and international markets.


The Maheshwari saree is woven mostly in cotton and silk. The saree woven from pure silk, is famous for its strength, elasticity and a unique luster of the fabric. Nowadays these sarees are made in natural and artificial silk as well.


The typical Maheshwari saree is either chequered, plain or has stripes, combined with complementary colours. These sarees have a trademark border and pallu, setting them apart from the Paithani, Patola, Kancheepuram and the rest. Originally, the pallu is particularly distinctive with 5 strips, 3 coloured and two white alternating, running along its width. The reversible border of the saree known as bugdi which can be worn either side, is a speciality. It has a variety of leaves and flowers on the border, in karnphool pattern, which is quite popular. But now a lot of experimentation with respect to the fabric and motifs has been done in Maheshwari sarees, no doubt to increase its appeal in a market of changing and varied tastes. The use of zari and kinari is also unique to the Maheshwari saree. The golden thread is used to weave exotic motifs and designs on the body, border and pallu of the saree.


The Maheshwari fabric is known for its lightness, elasticity and fine thread count. In sharp contrast to the rich and heavy silken weaves of Kanjivaram, the silk and cotton mix of Maheshwaris is perfect to wear in the summer.Originally, Maheshwari saris were woven in earthy shades like maroon, red, green, purple and black. Weavers used only natural dyes for the yarn. Today, Maheshwari fabrics are woven in many jewel tones which are derived from chemicals rather than from flowers, roots and leaves. Popular colours today include shades of blue, mauve, pink, yellow and orange, mixed with gold or silver thread. Subtle colours and textures are created by using different shades in the warp and weft. Gold thread or zari is also used in Maheshwari saris to weave elegant motifs on the body, border and pallu (the width of the sari that is draped over the shoulder) of the sari.The one trait of Maheshwari fabrics that has stood the test of time is its motifs. Even today, they are mostly geometric. The most common ones include chatai (woven mat pattern), Iinth (brick pattern), hira (diamond pattern) and chameli ki phool (the chameli flower) – all of which may be traced back to the detailing on the walls, niches and cornices of Maheshwar Fort.The borders of Maheshwari saris are reversible, and are embellished with intricate designs. Its pallu is also quite distinctive. It commonly has five stripes, three coloured alternating with two white, in the Maharastrian style. Nowadays, Maheshwari fabrics are available in many other designs as well.


These sarees usually have a plain body or have stripes or checks of different varieties. Some of these varieties are highly popular and are known by different names. The ‘Chandrakala’ and the ‘Baingani Chandrakala’ are examples of plain Maheshwari sarees, while the ‘Chandratara’, the ‘Beli’ and the ‘Parbi’ are examples of striped and checked ones.


The Maheshwari weaving process has the following steps:


Maheshwari handlooms use a lot of traditional sari designs, many of which have been prevalent in the areas since historical times. Many such designs are being used in their original form and many others with minor modifications in them. Interestingly, for the borders of the saris, the designs engraved on the walls of the Maheshwar fort are used. Based on the design of the border, there are the following types of Maheshwari saris: Maheshwar bugdi kinar, zari patti, rui phool kinar, phool kinar, chatai kinar, Vkinar, kahar kinar, bajuband kinar, etc.4 Sometimes the designs are inspired from saris from other parts of the country. The design may depend on the order placed, which comes with the demand for a specific design.

Raw Material Procurement

Raw materials for the process (cotton, silk and zari) are procured from Bangalore, Coimbatore and Surat. They and are further processed to make suitable to work upon. These processes are discussed in detail in the following sections.


Dyeing is an important part of the whole process. Both cotton and silk require dyeing before they can be used on the loom. The process is normally carried out by the weavers themselves or specialized dyeing technicians who charge for their services depending on the material and the kind of dyeing required. There are different kinds of dyes for coloring silk and cotton. For coloring cotton thread, three types of dyes are used—napthol, wet dye and procion dye. In case of cotton, dyeing is done not with a single dye but with a combination. For coloring silk, special dyes called Sando Silk are used, which are readymade dyes and do not need to be mixed with others. The process of dyeing starts by dipping the raw threads in TR Solution (a combination of Turkish oil and bleaching powder) for at least four hours for bleaching.. This is followed by the actual process of dyeing. First, dyes are mixed in warm water in big metal tubs to obtain the desired colors. The threads are dipped in the tubs for a while and then dipped in the tank containing napthol to provide stability to the color. They are then washed in other tanks containing plain water and then put in tubs containing solutions of detergent and soda in warm water. Thereafter, the threads are washed again and are hung on bamboo poles for drying. Once the threads are dry, they are sent back to the weavers for further processing.

Yarn Opening for Weft and Warp

After dyeing, the yarn is normally received by the weavers in the form of bundles. Both in the case of weft and the warp, the thread needs to be freed from tangles and stretched in order to make them tighter. They are then are taken through a process of reeling by using a charkha, thus converting the bundles into small rolls. In case of warp, a big motorized charkha is used; in case of weft, a small, hand‐driven charkha is used, which makes bobbins.


The master weaver carries out the process of making the warp. Since the silk fiber used is very delicate, the warp machine for the process is radically different from the one used in case of cotton thread. The silk warp machine comprises an octagonal metal cylindrical frame that revolves vertically on the machine axis and a metallic rack on which the thread rolls are kept. The fibers from these rolls pass through hooks fixed on the rack on to a double metallic frame that moves up and down with the motion of the machine, and are wound on the cylinder in a criss‐cross manner that facilitates the detection of breach in the fiber, if one exists any where. This process starts from one end of the cylinder and goes on till the whole of the cylinder is covered with the thread. Using this machine, the master weaver converts the raw silk into single or double fiber warp, depending on the requirement of the loom. Once this has been achieved, the taana threads in the shape of bundles are taken to the loom where they are used as warp.


For weaving, one end of the warp is bound on main beam of the loom. The other end (in the form of a bundle) is taken under another horizontal beam parallel to the main beam and then across the overhead beam. Weights are hung on it on the other end of the beam to keep it tight, giving the warp a Z‐shape. There are up to 4,000 strings in a single warp. The length of warp is 50 meters and the width of weft is 48 inches. As the warp proceeds, the bundle needs to be opened up. The movement of the string that controls the shuttle (in which the roll of weft thread is kept) takes the yarn of the weft across the threads of the warp. With the motion of the pedal, the heavy frame sets the yarn of the weft along the thread of the warp. The weaver uses the zari threads and other colored threads across the warp depending on the desired design. The motion of the loom provides movement to the overhead jaquard‐like punch card mechanism called dobby (although smaller than the jaquard looms, these have a similar function of putting forward paticular hooks that are required for a particular border design) and helps in designing of the border of the sari. The process of weaving is very difficult and tedious in case of saris that have more design work. Therefore, the resulting products are also proportionately expensive.


Once a sari is completed, it is taken off from the loom and sent for cutting. The normal length of such a sari is about 11 feet. It is then folded properly and packed. No ironing or further printing is required. Once packed, they are ready to be marketed.

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