Chanderi is a small town in the newly formed Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh. It is around 230 kilometers from Bhopal, the capital of the state. Chanderi is a town of looms. Chanderi is famous for its hand-woven Chanderi sarees. It is a renowned centre for traditional weavers of saree. The Chanderi sarees have sophistication hard to match. Chanderi sarees are very light and ideal for Indian summers. Its beauty lies in its simplicity, airy feel, narrow borders and decently designed anchals with buttis.
Ancient texts speak of Madhya Pradesh as a famous center for weaving between the 7th century and the 2nd century BC. You can find its reference in the Epic Mahabharata. Famous Persian scholar Albaruni referred this town while making a reference to a period around 1030AD in his book “Albaruni’s India”. Mughals, Rajputs and Maratha dynasties ruled this region from time to time. Kings and Kingdoms, Badshahs and Sultans, battles won and lost, Queens who performed Johar, Palaces, Forts, Doors and what not, which gave name and fame to Chanderi, now remain only part of stories and fables; but what survived throughout, from 12th and 13th centuries AD till today, is the magic of the weave of Chanderi which is known to rich and middle classes of India as ‘Chanderi Saris’. Proven record of tradition of cloth weaving is available from 13th century. In the beginning, weavers were mostly Muslims. In 1350, Koshti weavers from Jhansi migrated to Chanderi and settled down here. During Mughal period cloth business of Chanderi reached to its peak. The cloth length of Chandri was sent to Mughal Badshah Akbar folded and packed in a hollow of a bamboo, when it was taken out, a whole Elephant could have been covered by its length. This was the delicacy and sophistication of weaving of those days.
During the reign of Jahangir, this art of weaving still used to mesmerize people. But this is also true that this excellence of weaving which peaked during Mughal period, also deteriorated during this very period. Jain community has been living in Chanderi for a very long time. There are many Jain temples and pilgrimages in Chanderi. It is said that in Gajrath Samaharos, held between1436 to 1468, turbans made only from Chanderi cloth were worn.

Chroniclers of history of Chanderi have mentioned the uniqueness of Chanderi fabrics. Tieffenthaler, a Jesuit priest who stayed in nearby Marwar from 1740 to 1761, mentioned in his description De L’Inde in 1776 that “very fine cloth is woven here and exported abroad.” One by-product of this was the growth of new weaving centers; Chanderi rose to prominence as a cloth producer on the back of the raw cotton boom. Weavers produced very fine quality turbans for export to Maratha rulers among whom the cocked ‘turban’ was becoming a distinguishing mark of high nobility.

Much earlier one finds mention of Chanderi in Maasir-i-Alamgir (1658-1707) wherein it is stated that Aurangzeb ordered that “in the Khilat Khana embroider cloth should be used instead of stuff with gold and silver worked on it.” The material was very expensive, a pair of sari costing eight hundred to one thousand rupees and sometimes even more. “The beauty of fabric consists in its fineness, softness and transparency, but the ends were often worked and fringed heavily with gold thread.”
A British R.C. Sterndal described Chanderi cloth as, “Chanderi is a place where thin Malmal cloth is woven. The cloth woven in Chanderi is the favorable choice of Queens in India. This cloth is very expensive, which have works of Golden thread on its borders. The cloth of Chanderi can be identified by its thin, soft and transparent texture, which can only be experienced.”
Chanderi produced a range of saris appropriate to the tastes of its clients, the royalty and nobility of Gwalior, Baroda, Nagpur and beyond. Rarely could a trader get past the discerning eye of an elder in these select households. The Maharani of Baroda would immediately put aside the 200s count cotton by just a ‘rub on the cheek’ and could decipher the finer nuances of the motif work and pay accordingly. Gwalior state patronized Chanderi weavers from time to time.
Traditionally, Chanderi cloth was woven using hand spun cotton thread. Threads were always brought here from outside. Due to its proximity to trade routes, supply of threads was never interrupted; but in 19th century local weavers started using mill spun thread. Then Silk thread was preferred because the mill spun cotton thread could not produce the required shine which was the specialty of Chanderi cloth. This was the time when ‘woven air’, which was the name to describe exclusiveness of Chanderi cloth had started losing its meaning.
• Narrow border:These are the plain sarees having a very narrow border of complementary-warp zari and an endpiece containing a few narrow zari bands, or one single, wider band.
• Broader border:These are the sarees with broader borders woven in supplementary warp zari with coloured supplementary-warp silk embellishments, woven into small repeat floral or geometrical designs. The endpiece consisted of the border elements repeated twice as two parallel bands, often with narrow woven lines and many buti woven between them.
• Wide border:The third type called do-chashmee (two streams) is no longer made but had wide borders with brightly coloured supplementary- warp silk in a satin weave upon which were supplementary bands of white geometric patterns. In some sarees the borders were reversible.
Chanderi fabrics are known for their sheer texture, light weight and a glossy transparency that sets them apart from textiles produced en masse in factories. Traditionally, the fabric was woven using very fine hand spun yarn, which accounted for its delicate texture.
Soft pastel shades characterize most Chanderi saris. Unlike the more flamboyant Kanjivaram saris of South India, or the Paithani saris of the West, most Chanderi saris display a remarkably subtle balance between the colours used on the body, and those on the borders. However, timeless combinations of bright colour borders on an off white base, or red on black, also exist. Interestingly, colour was introduced to Chanderi saris only fifty years ago. Until then, all Chanderi saris were woven in the natural white of cotton, and were then washed in saffron to give them their characteristic golden hue and fragrance. Some weavers also used natural dyes made from flowers, but usually on the woven product, not yarn. Today, Chanderi weavers prefer fast-acting chemical dyes.
Traditionally, the quality of the gold thread used distinguished Chanderi saris from cheaper imitations. Most Chanderis have a rich gold border and two lines of gold on the pallu. Some have gold checks or little motifs (known as Butis) all over.
Two unique methods are used to embellish Chanderi weaves – Minakari (inlay in the motifs) and Addedar Patela (jeweled cutwork).
Unlike the geometrical motifs of Maheshwari weaves, Chanderi motifs are usually drawn from the earth and sky. Swans (hamsa), gold coins (asharfi), trees, fruits, flowers and heavenly bodies, all found their way into the idiom of motifs in Chanderi.
The process of Chanderi weaving has the following steps:
Two types of designing are done in the case of Chanderi weaving. One is the main design for the sari itself that contains various aspects like the border, the kind of motifs to be used, color combinations, etc. This is usually provided by the ordering party. This procedure is informal in the case of the local dealer but in the case of the big trading houses, a laminated paper with the design, the threads to be used and the location of motifs, etc., are provided to the weaver as a sample. The other is the more exquisite motif or booty designing which is done by the master weaver on a graph paper. This is provided to the weaver depending on the terms of the order.
Dyeing is an important part of the whole process, as both cotton and silk require dyeing before they can be used on the loom. The process of dyeing is normally carried out by specialized technicians who work for the dealer and are paid by him. There are different kinds of dyes for coloring silk and cotton. For cotton, a readymade fast color dye is used while for silk special dyes called Sando Silk are used which are also readymade dyes.
The process of dyeing starts with dissolving the readymade fast color dye in warm water. The threads are dipped into this solution and left for a while before being taken out. Depending on the quality of the dye, they are dipped into the solution again for some time. After this they are washed in with plain water and then soaked in a solution of warm water, detergent and soda. Finally, the threads are washed once more and hung on bamboo poles to dry. Once they are dry, they are sent back to the weavers for further processing.
Yarn Opening for Weft
After dyeing the yarn is normally received by the weavers in the form of bundles. Both in the case of the weft and the warp, the thread needs to be disentangled andstretched in order to make it tighter. It is taken through a process of reeling by using a charkha and thus the bundles of thread are converted into small rolls called bobbins.
Chanderi artisans use the older system of preparing the warp roll. Upon receiving the roll of silk thread from the agent, they open and stretch it. Three to four people are normally required for this process. The threads are adjusted on two iron hooks plugged into the ground. Since silk threads are very delicate and there are always chances of them getting entangled with each other in this process, therefore, they are made to pass through two parallel, thin bamboo sticks which are almost as long as the warp roll itself. The ends of the threads are tied to the warp roll at the desired interval that the weaver wants to keep between the two threads of the warp. This is normally three to four inches. Thus the threads are distributed evenly on the taana roll log. After this, the bundle is stretched to about 15 to 20 feet and after every six to seven feet the threads are tied to the bamboo sticks through which they are passing, so that they don’t get entangled. Using a rod passing through the taana roll log, the log is rolled to wind the threads on it. The threads are wound on the roll till they reach the bamboo sticks. After this, they are untied from the bamboo sticks and the bamboo sticks are again tied at a distance of six to seven feet from the taana log. The whole process is repeated till the log is finished.
The process of weaving starts by placing the warp roll at the extreme end of the loom from the position of the weaver. The threads are then attached to the threads coming out from the rucch (left over from the previous weaving work). The length of the warp is 50 meters and the width of the weft is 48 inches. After this, the weaver gets involved in three different actions simultaneously. With her right hand she operates the string that provides motion to the shuttle carrying the bobbin of the weft across the threads of the warp. With her left hand, she provides an up and down motion to the heavy wooden frame of the loom that falls on the threads of the warp and weft to provide them with their respective places in the cloth. With both her legs she provides the motion to the rucch which helps the threads of the warp to interlock, taking the weft threads with them. Thus, the process of weaving proceeds with the threads of the warp being interlocked with the weft threads that are being carried across the warp threads through a flying shuttle that is controlled with the movement of the strings in the right hand. The process of weaving is difficult and time‐consuming in the case of heavily designed saris which, as a result, are expensive.
After the weaving is completed, the fabric is taken off the loom and sent for cutting. The normal length of a sari is about 5‐5.5 yards. It is then folded properly and packed and ready to be marketed. At this stage no ironing or further printing is required.