Varanasi is known throughout India for its production of very fine silk and Banarasi saris. The sarees are among the finest sarees in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade or zari, and opulent embroidery making them a symbol of grandeur and nobility. The sarees are decorated with intricate design making it popular during traditional functions and weddings in India.
According to artisans, the city’s silk weaving business began roughly in 1300 AD when many skilled Gujarati weavers migrated to Varanasi and further enriched the craft with their skills, techniques and designs which over a period of time got incorporated in the Banarasi silk saree
Banarasi sarees are made in different styles like jaamdani, tanchoi, jangla, brocade, chiffon organza, tissue, and so on each is different from the other based on the type of motif or pattern weaved on to the textile. One can find motifs like asharfi (coin-shape), gainda (marigold flower), chand-tara (moon and star), lateefa (floral bouquet), etc.
Typically weavers may take 10 days to weave a saree working for eight hours a day. If the design is complicated, then the saree may proceed at 2 inches a day and the weaver may even take three months to weave just one saree. The complexity of design in a Banarasi saree is of the highest order.
In 2009 Geographic Indication (GI) status was given to Banarasi brocade meaning that brocade sarees made only in the mentioned districts of Varanasi, Chandauli, Mirzapur, Jaunpur, Bhadohi and Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh can be authentically identified as a Banarasi saree or brocade.
The distinguishing feature of a Banarasi Silk Saree from others is its gold work, compact weaving, figures with small details, metallic visual effects, pallus, jal and mina work.
Banasari Sarees are also classified according to their design elements.
The motifs used in a Butidar saree are flowers, beetel leaves, the Moon and tiny flowers.
The motifs used in a Jamdani saree are Jasmin, emeralds, marigold flowers, beetel leaves, diagonal stripes and mongo brocade.
The Tanchoi Saree has paisley motif all over and the design is inspired by the Jamwar shawls of Kashmir
Jangle Sarees have a vegetation motif of creepers and flowers made in silver and gold and the borders are of brocade
The Tissue Saree usually has a Lotus motif giving the visual effect of a lotus floating in a pond.
It is this culture of design standards followed by weavers over centuries that makes a Banarasi Silk saree so special to the women of India.