The Regal Fabric: Genesis and Journey of Chanderi
While India is home to some of the finest woven textile, one remarkable fabric that has stood the test of time is Chanderi. What makes a fabric truly regal is the richness and the finesse of its spread. While Chanderi saris, marked by their subtle exuberance, gossamer-like texture and exquisite feel, are among the most coveted possessions of every sari-lover in the country, what many of us don’t know is that Chanderi comes from a small town of the same name in Madhya Pradesh.
The town of Chanderi revels in the pride of having kept an ancient tradition alive among its long lineage of artisans, with more than 12,000 expert pairs of hands preserving the art of weaving out exquisite Chanderis. Folklore has it that this town along the Betwa river, situated amidst Malwa and Bundelkhand regions, was founded by Shishupala, the demonic cousin of Lord Krishna. Weaving seems to have historically developed between the 2nd and the 7th century in this town, flourishing to its peak during the Mughal reign, with a majority of the artisans being Muslims – something that is true even today. While historically, the fabric received royal patronage and was often used for making khilat or robes during Mughal king Aurangzeb’s reign, authentic Chanderi still remains a choice of the elite.
What makes Chanderi such a precious handloom product is its exquisite weaving and royal appeal encompassing a delicate feel, light weight, and all-day comfort. Original Chanderi fabric is hand woven from handspun cotton. This yarn, as fine as 300 counts, is made from the roots of Kolikanda plant giving it a texture fine enough to be compared to Dhakai Muslin. Further, a combination of three kinds of fabric-chanderi cotton, pure silk and silk cotton is used. The use of silk adds strength to this delicate fabric, besides giving it a shimmering luster. A special feature of this type of yarn that imparts a glamorous sheen to it, is that it is not taken through a degumming process to prevent damage during weaving.
Chanderis come with a unique blend of motifs and handicraft work to add to the opulent finish. The prints range from Kalamkari and Ikat to Batik and fine embroidery. The butis are woven using needles with each motif requiring a separate needle. Conventional chanderis come with floral designs, peacock motifs, figurines of celestial beings, lotuses, animals, birds, coins, and geometric patterns made of gold, silver or copper brocade. Some of the other admired motifs include chatai, nalferma, jangla, dandidar, and mehndi wale haath.