Bride in a Banarasi

I was part of the North Indian wedding procession which was being led by the groom on a ghodi (horse) while the rest of the marriage retinue followed him on foot. The face of the groom was not visible being totally covered with strings of flowers hanging from his turban to his chin. I followed the party to the marriage mandap to be be received by the bride's side with mangal arthi. The bride stood with the jay mala in her hand resplendent in a Banarasi saree waiting to garland the groom. I quite missed the rest of the ceremony as I gazed at the bride. My gaze turned from her bedecked face to her bridal attire. In shimmering red, the Banarasi saree she was wearing was extremely beautiful and without a doubt - exquisite.

Among Indians, Banarasi sarees are synonymous with weddings or celebrations. These sarees are considered auspicious and sacred. For centuries they have been an inevitable part of an Indian bride’s trousseau.

As the city of Varanasi which is also known as Benaras, is noted for the production of these sarees, these sarees take the name from its origins. Historically Banarasi sarees have been present in India since the Mughal era. A lot of Mughal influence is visible in the motifs used on the sarees. Weaving of brocades with intricate designs using gold and silver threads is the speciality of Banarasi sarees.

Traditional Banarasi silk brocade sarees are subtle and pale in colour, while later ones produced were bright and radiant. For occasions such as weddings and important events, the bright varieties are usually the preferred choice among women. Woven with a contrasting border with intricate embroidery in gold and silver, these sarees provide a metallic visual effect.

There are a variety of Banarasi saris available like zari brocades, tanchoi brocades, tissue brocades, jamavar, etc. Among the invitees there were many women in traditional Banarasi sarees in stunning hues. Each saree has its own special design in gold or silver, be it tanchoi brocade or a jamawar.

Wedding ceremony over, I left the mandap, filled with images of the bride in her bridal finery and of course her lovely saree. Surely, Banarasi sarees are one among the Indian sarees that have retained their charm for centuries.


Dancing to the tune of Bharatanatyam

My 8 yr old niece had her arangetram recently. I was amazed at the dexterity of the artiste and wondered at the meticulous details and planning that had gone into the child’s performance.

Arangetram or Rangapravesham is a dancer’s debut performance. It is here that the student blossoms into an artist and receives the first appreciation for all the painstaking efforts taken to become a full fledged dancer.

Arangetram can be performed only after the artist has completed the entire course of dance or Margam. Margam is a complete course of Bharatanatyam dances that are performed in a concert. The entire course is to be perfected by the artist to the satisfaction of the guru, before the actual performance on stage.

In between the performance, my niece’s guru explained the various Margam’s of the course which was very informative. Most of us enjoyed the recital but did not understand the concept behind it.

The performance began with a Pushpanjali, which means offering respect to the lord of dance with flowers and subsequently offering respect to the teacher and bowing to the audience.

How lovely it would be if she wore the costumes according to each song, I thought! A beautiful ‘Pitambara’ whenever she represented Krishna, a lovely ‘flower motif-filled’ saree for the Pushpanjali…

Coming back to reality, the actual performance begins with Alaripu where the artist displays his or her skill in footwork, head and eye movement that are a traditional part of the dance form. The Alaripu is followed by Jathiswaram with particular emphasis on intricate foot work.

Shabdam is the next stage of performance where the artist introduces Abhinaya or expression into the dance.
Shabdam is followed by Varnam. This particular recital involves performing to a theme which is elaborated with Abhinaya depending upon the Varnam chosen.

Padams are the next stage of performance after Varnam. They are performance based on songs by various composers. Yet again the artist uses a lot of facial expression and Abhinaya to express the meaning of the song. This is the time that the girl also changed her costume - to let us at the audience experience a variety of colour on stage. With the changing colour, the mood of the entire evening became much more vibrant.

The culminating piece among the events of performance is the Tillana which is a little complex. The concluding performance is the Mangalam which ends the performance, followed by Namaskaram which concludes the recital.

About the costumes

Bharatanatyam also places special importance on the jewellery and costumes of the dancers. Dancers wear costumes made of silk sarees with gold zari in colours that are bright and striking. The pleats in these costumes spread out like a Japanese fan when the dancer performs particular poses. The costume, the traditional jewellery and the hairstyle with the adornment of flowers all help in enhancing the performer’s apperance and expressions required for the dance.

No matter how many pieces of jewellery a dancer owns or how many costumes she has, the Arangetram ones are most remembered and treasured for the feeling they bring back to the dancer forever…


Charming Chikankari

Chikankari embroidery is a very delicate and intricate work from the city of Lucknow. Historically this form of embroidery came to India from Persia. The art particularly flourished during the Mughal rule and continues to be popular even today, due to its timeless grace and delicate appeal.

Chikankari embroidery is done with untwisted white cotton thread on fabric like muslin. Today of course the art is applied on all kinds of material even silk with the use of coloured threads of various types.

Chikankari is famed for around 40 types of stitches. The motifs commonly used are that of creepers, fruits and flowers. The mango motif is particularly popular. The design is etched on the fabric with design blocks dipped in indigo. Once the embroidery is completed, the fabric is washed to remove the indigo.

Some of the common stitches are:

  • Bakhiya is a herringbone stitch worked on the wrong side of the cloth and this provides a shadow effect enabling the design to be viewed on the right side.
  • Phanda and Murri are basically French knots stitches used to embroider the centre of the flowers in chikan work motifs.
  • Rahet is a stem stitch worked on the wrong side to make thick lines. This provides a raised effect.
  • Hool is a fine eyelet stitch like a button-hole stitch.
  • Zanzeera is a chain stitch which is applied to outline leaves or shapes of the petals.
  • Taipchi is a simple running stitch and often serves as a basis for further enhancement of the design.
  • Jali work or the mesh effect is created by cutting or drawing the thread.
  • Khatawa is an appliqué work similar to bakhia, which produces a flat appearance.
  • Turpai stitch produces a thin thread like stitch used to embellish specific designs.
  • Gitti is a combination of buttonhole and long satin stitch, used to make motifs which have a tiny hole in the center.

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