Banarasi brocades can be found in a wide variety of colours – white, fuchsia, green and red are particularly striking and are enhanced by zari weaving. The Mughal connection to Banarasi brocade continues to the present day and can be seen in some of the motifs that appear in these luxurious creations. Mughal inspired designs feature animals – particularly peacocks, parrots and geese – floral and vegetal patterns and paisley.
L: Paisley pattern on a Banarasi brocade saree border
R: A Mughal inspired Banarasi brocade peacock motif
Traditionally, complex floral patterns consisted of a beil – a running floral pattern, a buti – a single flower or figure, a buta – a large buti, and their different possible combinations. These were also known as phulwar. In the 19th century, new designs such as bouquets, flower baskets and ribbons were used and reflect the aesthetic influence of the English in India as well as increased export of these luxury items.
Intricate red buti pattern on a Banarasi brocade saree
Based on the design and the four varieties of fabric - pure katan silk, organza with zari and silk kora, georgette, a sheer lightweight crêpe fabric, and shattir, used in modern sarees – Banarasi brocade sarees can be divided into five categories:
a) Jangla sarees make use of the most colour silk threads. Intricate Jangla patterns and motifs of vegetation are spread throughout the fabric, with embellished gold or silver creepers of flowers.
Floral motif with gold zari thread
b) Tanchoi sarees make use of the gold or silver thread, zari, and are commonly worn for wedding ceremonies. Motifs and patterns are created using extra weft.
A bridal Banarasi brocade produced with gold zari thread
c) Cut work sarees are made using warp threads with cotton and regular weft to create extravagant designs. Fauna motifs are common in the form of leaves and flowers jasmine and marigold. Patterns are created by cutting extra loose-hanging weft threads.
Marigold motifs on a whole stretch of a Banarasi brocade saree
d) Tissue sarees make use of the gold or silver zari in weft. Heavy patterns are featured, for instance, golden lotuses floating in a shimmering pond. The panels and borders consist of diamond shaped patterns enclosed within a running border which is generally of the Paisley motif. Tissue sarees are favoured as wedding sarees by the affluent.
e) Butidar sarees make use of gold, silver and silk threads in the creation of patterns. It is common to find the end panel consisting of a row of arches with a burst of silver.
Banarasi brocade with intertwined Paisley, floral and geometric motifs produced with silver and silk threads
More contemporary designs draw inspiration from the past and fuse it with modern influences such as geometric patterns. Brocades can be used in western style clothing like jackets or dresses. Another form of contemporary brocade is the net brocade. Though net brocades do not necessarily incorporate the use of gold or silver thread they are produced in the same way as traditional Banarasi brocade with beautiful lavish motifs and colours.
Modern designers have been known to employ traditional brocade weaving and patterns in the creation of renowned pieces or collections. Salvatore Ferragamo created Banarasi brocade shoes for Project Renaissance that was held in DLF Emporio Delhi in 2013. Internationally acclaimed Indian designers Abraham & Thakore collaborated with the Ministry of Textiles to put out a contemporary bridal line using Banarasi brocade at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in New Delhi.
L: Brocade shoes from Project Renaissance, Salvatore Ferragamo for Banarasi brocade
R: Some pieces from Abraham & Thakore's brocade bridal collection
Anita Dongre and Siddartha Tytler have also revived the textile craft of Banarasi brocade weaving in various designs that is available on Strand of Silk.
Images: Two White Birds, Exotic India Art, Saree India, Big Fat Indian Wedding, Vogue India