The Banarasi brocade weavers of Varanasi are called karigars, artists, and the workshop is referred to as karkhana. Well organised, skilled and experienced weavers work collectively to perfectly produce the Banarasi brocade. A single loom weaver is known as a bunker, and usually a group of ten to fifteen are managed by a karigar. Giristas or grihosts, which are the Sanskrit words for ‘householder’ or ‘head of the family,’ are the most experienced weavers, and may manage more than twenty karigars. Usually giristas are also exceptional designers, and for this reason they are sometimes referred to as nakshabands.
A female Banarasi brocade artisan working with gold zari thread
L: A Banarasi brocade craftsman at work
R: Threads, including zari threads, used in the creation of Banarasi brocade
As in earlier times, saree making takes place at home for the roughly 1,200,000 people associated with the handloom silk industry of the region around Varanasi. Brocade weaving in the region is cluster based and scattered around Varanasi and adjacent districts. Today, the main centres of the brocade weaving are at Varanasi, Azamgarh, Mirzapur, Bhadohi, Chandoli, Chunar and Chakia.
Banarasi brocade is named after the city of Banaras, now known as Varanasi
Weavers come predominantly from the Muslim Ansaree community, whose name is Arabic for ‘helper.’ Their skills are passed on from generation to generation. These craftsmen work under the management of the Banaras Handloom Cluster, whose main output is the saree. Sarees account for 90%- 95% of total value of goods produced. In India, the handloom sector is the second largest employer. Over the last few decades, this industry has survived and grown following its receptiveness to innovation, immense possibilities of fabric design and flexibility in quantity production.
The Integrated Handloom Cluster Development Scheme, the cluster of the development program for Varanasi, was initiated in the 2006 in response to rising competition from mechanised weaving and low cost silks from China which rely on computer generated designs. The development scheme ensures the survival of the age-old art that reflects the tradition and heritage of weaving communities.
A completed Banarasi brocade created with the jacquard loom
Images: Peter Caton, Wikipedia, Design Boom, Gaatha