Rare Weaves of India

Read on to find out how three exclusive weaves get a new lease of life

There is a compelling magic about the rich and varied textile tradition of India, which can be traced back 5,000 years to Harappa and Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley. The gossamer fine Chanderi from Madhya Pradesh, the rich brocaded Tanchoi from Varanasi and the gorgeous Paithani from Maharashtra are but a few examples of the woven treasure house of Indian textiles. Yet there are many more that have languished...


Korvai is an ancient and complex technique of weaving, practiced in Kanchipuram. The word ‘korvai’ in Tamil means ‘in sync’. Korvai is used to interlace the borders with the body of the sari. The contrasting colours of the borders in the weaving of the weft are interlinked with the body of the weft with each throw of the shuttle. Two weavers are required, one to operate the threads for the central portion and another to operate the border colours. Since borders often appear on both sides of the saris, each Korvai Kanjivaram sari requires three shuttles. The elaborate pallus are also linked to the main body of the sari using a special interlinking weave known as ‘pitni.’ In the hands of the skilled craftsman, this pitni looks like one continuous weave. Korvai is also distinguished by its motifs, often inspired by the beautiful carvings found in the temples of Kanchipuram. The hallmark of the Korvai is its vivid colours and contrasting borders. A pearly-white sari with a bold maroon border or a grass-green sari with a tangerine border are stunning results of the Korvai.  The Korvai-weaving technique is a timeless classic, passed on from one generation of weavers to another. In the wake of the power loom revolution, this technique seemed to be replaced by easier and cheaper substitutes. Today, however, there is a gradual revival of this art and it is considered a treasure among Kanjivaram silks.


The exquisite cotton brocade of Kodali Karuppur dates back to the late 17th century to an eponymous village near Kumbakonam. The technique involves a painstaking combination of Jamdanistyle

of intricate weaving, wax resist painting and block printing. This process is employed not just on saris, but also on dhotis, turbans and angavastrams, which were produced exclusively for the Maratha rulers of Tanjore. The asceticism of the cotton, the subtle richness of the inlaid zari motifs and the earthiness of the block-printed inks created a thing of quiet and singular beauty. The Kodali Karuppur sari was originally created with fi ne cotton, zari, artistic weaving, breathtaking designs and a colourful combination of traditional motifs on the border and pallu. The traditional dyes used in the sari were vegetable dyes and the popular colours were rich reds, black, yellow and the native indigo. This weave was patronised by the Maratha nobility, who also gifted them away as khillat (dresses of honour). In several Maratha states such as Baroda, Kolhapur and Satara, the Kodali Karuppur sari was considered as an essential element of a bride’s trousseau, as was the Karuppur turban for the groom.

These saris were exclusively made for the Maratha queens of Tanjore till the end of the 19th century. This technique slowly, which entailed a laborious procedure, died during the beginning of the 20th century, due to the availability of cheaper saris that used chemical dyes and change in weaving technique. But now, the Commissioner of Handlooms and Textiles, as well as, the Weavers Service Centre in Chennai are making efforts to rejuvenate and revive this beautiful century-old royal weave


Mashru is an old and venerable handwoven textile from Patan, Gujarat. in ancient Persian ‘permitted’ or ‘allowed.’ This fabric was created to conform to the tenets of Islam, which forbade the use of silk generated out of insect cocoons to touch the skin. Crafting a unique solution that enabled people to honour this law, while still dressed in the fi nest clothing, weavers mixed silk and cotton threads to create a textile that has inner layer of simple cotton and outer layers of rich silk. Thus, while the delicacy of cotton caressed the skin, the vibrancy of silk tantalised the viewer. This enabled the ruling Islamic nobility to flaunt garments made of this lustrous fabric and made Mashru a favoured item of export to the Ottoman Empire. In Patan, wealthy Hindu merchants and traders were fascinated by this fabric thus increasing its intrinsic value and the inclusion of certain typical motifs like ashraf (gold coins) woven in gold zari. The uniqueness of this fabric was that it had a silk warp with a cotton weft. Traditionally, the complex tie-and-dye technique used to be employed on the yarn to get patterns and motifs on the weave. Due to the satin weave technique, threads of fl owing silk literally fl oated on the cotton weft. It was used mostly for trousers, for the lining of heavy brocade garments or as furnishing. Mashru was produced in large quantities until the 1900s for the local elite and export markets. With a declining export market, the original Mashru of cotton and silk, with its lush texture, was on the brink of extinction, but now a revival project is taking place in Tankwada ni Pol, Gujarat, where a group of weavers are returning to traditional designs and quality.

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