As a traveler, I have been to lots of places including Varanasi, Surat and Kanchipuram. However, there is something magical about visiting Bisnupur, the hub for Baluchari Sarees. Bisnupur has been a cultural melting pot from the days of yore, a place where artisans converged and where encouraged to practice and exhibit their art and virtuosity in the art. While years and generations have gone by, there still are remnants of those art forms kept alive by truly passionate descendants. In and around Bisnupur, one would expect to see gorgeous terracotta temples, the famed terracotta horses, dokra art and the most beautiful of all, the Baluchari Sarees.
A few hours drive from Kolkata, you are in the enchanted world of narrow bylanes with colourful strands of silk strayed around and the air is filled with the mellifluous rhythm of the Handloom. Peeking from some of those workshops would be a sepia tinted old framed picture of an Indira Gandhi awarding one of the artisans. There is an old world charm about the Baluchari Sarees and the methods that are deployed in making one piece. If there is one weaving art and saree production method which has truly withstood the test of time and has emerged stronger than ever before, it is the Baluchari sarees.
Baluchari sarees, are handmade in every step of the process. The fabric itself, interlacing warp and wefts over Bangalore silk and locally made silk yarns extracted from cocoons is where the process starts to take shape. Nearby place of Sonamukhi is a huge support system in terms of providing handmade silk not only for Bisnupur but also in Bolpur, where the popular Kantha Stitch Sarees are made. These silk is hand-dyed into a variety of colours and shades. Seasoned eyes of the craftsman are aware of the proportion of dyes to be used to ensure final reproduction of a desired colour. With amazing regularity, they are able to produce 10 different shades of a Pink or Red.
The art of graphically depicting stories is most evident in Baluchari sarees. Stores and lores from Ramayana, Mahabharat, Shakuntalaetc find a gracious depiction through intricate weaving. These stories, manifested through motis and handiwork in Pallu are reproduced on card-boards. These card-boards are tied to an end of the Handloom to ensure reproduction of the graphic into fabric during the process of weaving and stiching of a Baluchari Saree.
Over days and weeks, the handmade silk is woven over a handloom to produce desired patterns over yards of hand-made and hand-dyed silk. Contrasting coloured threads and zari highlight the motif patterns which are interwoven into the fabric to further embellish the handiwork.
The result is a gorgeous piece of Baluchari saree with pure handmade silk in colours which are achieved through hand-dyes, with attractive motifs interspersed through the length of the Saree concluding with a grand graphic story telling in the Palla by a skilled weaver. Only a few wearable products compare with the radiance of a hand-made Baluchari saree. It is the crème de la crème amongst all the weaving art forms from Bengal and truly, can be termed as the Pride of Bengal.
Amongst all Sarees of Bengal, Baluchari sarees stands out as one of the most gorgeous and vibrant Saree, completely made in Handloom. Made through weaving of silk yarn in attractive colours, and interlaced with attractive motifs and a grand display of artwork in Pallu, makes it one of the obvious choices for Special occasions such as Wedding and Receptions.
Here’s a description on various aspects of the Baluchari Saree which provides synopsis of the various aspects of the product to a consumer.
History of Baluchari
Baluchari Sarees originated in a village in Murshidabad by the name of Baluchar a few centuries ago. However, over a period of time, the weavers and the art migrated and prospered in Bisnupur in West Bengal. Bisnupur was the Capital of the Malla Dynasty, which had a profound cultural influence in West Bengal. There was prosperity in Art during the days of the dynasty and Baluchari sarees was one of art forms which enjoyed patronage from the Royal family. The other art forms which have survived through the ages were Terracota and Dokra.
Cultural richness of Malla dynasty is evident in Bisnupur town, which is dotted with beautiful Terracota temples and the patterns depicted in the walls of the temples had an influence on the motifs patterns and pallu designs of Baluchari. Most popular and signature patterns of Baluchari have been of Human motifs depicting tales from Ramayana or Mahabharata.
Brief Description on elements in a Baluchari
Baluchari Sarees are primarily made in Silk. The silk used in a Baluchari Saree has a smooth texture and is available in attractive colours. There have been manifestation of Baluchari which are produced in Cotton and other fabrics. However, the signature fabric for Baluchari Sarees is Silk. Silk forms the appropriate drawing board for attractive motif patterns woven in multi-coloured threads including zaris. There are three major elements in a Baluchari Saree:
Silk – Silk used in Baluchari Sarees should be of a high quality. Generally the silk used in warp is uniform and of high tensile strength. This provides the strength to a Baluchari saree and ensures compactness in weave. Strength in essential to ensure a firm backbone for intricate motifs and pallu work.
Motifs & Border – Attractive set of motifs, which are linearly spaced, through the entire length of the saree. The standard pattern is linear set of motifs equally spaced through the length of the saree.
On draping it looks as follows:
With further intricacies and denser motif patterns, the Baluchari sarees can be designed for specific occasions:
Human motifs have been the signature pattern in Baluchari sarees. There have been stray attempts at representing floral patterns in motifs in an attempt to fuse modernity. However,
narratives around Ramayana and Mahabharata manifested through human motifs has been the constant feature in Baluchari Sarees.
A similar patterned border across length of the Saree enhances the look of the products further.
Pallu – Pallu has a grand weave pattern with depiction of instances from the Ramayana or Mahabharata.
How and where it is produced
Bisnupur in West Bengal province of India, has been the epicentre of activities around Baluchari Sarees. Most weavers and looms over the years have aggregated to this small town in Bankura district which is also a centre for tourism on account of its cultural richness embodied with Terracota temples and birthplace of Ramkrishna Paramhamsa nearby.
A section of Silk yarns are fine quality standard silk which is procured from Kolkata. These are essential to ensure strength of the Baluchari saree. Weft of the Saree is characterised by Silk which is produced locally in neighbouring districts through boiling silk cocoons and using manual spinning wheels and spindles.
The silk is hand-dyed, washed and dried to ensure uniform colour in product. While dying process ensures Silk is available in a variety of colours. Usage of various colour grades of silk in an intertwined fashion can ensure a plethora of blended colour options in Baluchari sarees.
While Baluchari sarees fabric is produced over the loom by blending warps with wefts, the attractive motifs and Pallu designs are produced by replicating sketch patterns on a cardboard with grids and appropriately spaced holes. The cardboard pattern is fixated in a rotary motion to ensure the designs can be superimposed on the Saree as it is produced. By punching appropriately spaced needles with relevant coloured thread or zari, ensures that the motifs are weaved on the saree.
Every weaving pattern and thread selections is economically expensive for producing a few sarees. Thus, to ensure economies on one design, a loom would typically produce in one design pattern for years (3-5 years). The silk yarn in a variety of colours is used on a loom to produce a Baluchari Sarees in a variety of colours however, the motif and pallu patterns coming out of a designated handloom are a constant for many years on account of the stitchboard life of 3-5 years.
The weavers are involved in a variety of activities from preparation of dyes, colouring of yarn to use of loom for production of a Saree. The weaving process takes 1-3 weeks depending on the intricacy of the design of a Baluchari Saree.
Variations of Baluchari
The Baluchari Sarees are available in a variety of options depending on the intricacy in design.
Baluchari Sarees – In terms of design intricacy, Baluchari sarees are available in patterns in which the motifs and pallu are made with single coloured thread patterns. These products are relatively lower in price.
Baluchari Meenakari Sarees – These range of Baluchari Sarees are the most prolific in production and are widely available in a variety of colours. The motif patterns and pallu are weaved with multiple coloured threads. Use of contrasting colours in threads, ensures a richness in design.
Swarnachari Sarees – Swarnachari Sarees are characterised by usage of Zari in motifs, border and pallu. The patterns in Swarnachari Sarees are similar to a Baluchari Saree. However, judicious use of zari gives it a grand look. Zari threads are intertwined with multiple coloured threads to ensure attractive patterns in a Swarnachari Saree.
Allover Patterned Swarnachari Sarees – Swarnachari Sarees these days are also available in dense motif patterns which garnish a larger portion of the body of a Swarnachari Saree. Flamboyant use of Zari ensures that the product looks as grand as a Benarasi saree. In fact, due to its light weight, and close resemblance to Benarasi Sarees, many brides prefer an all-over Swarnachari over Benarasi Sarees.
Colour Combinations to look for while buying Baluchari Sarees Online
Although Baluchari Sarees and Swarnachari Sarees are premium products, a few things to keep in mind can be very useful in ensuring that you can have your cherished Baluchari Saree embellishing your wardrobe at any corner of the world whatsoever. At one level, not only are you encouraging a handwoven silk and its usage, it also helps in sustainability of traditional and rich art form helping it survive.
A great piece of information we can share being from both sides of the desk (Buyer of Baluchari as well as a Seller) is that the Baluchari Sarees and its vibrant colours are always understated in photographs. In spite of best camera shots, lights combinations, post-processing, photography is never able to replicate truly the visual grandeur of the Baluchari Saree. So, in many ways, it is a safe bet to buy online. You would be pleasantly surprised when you open the delivered packet of Baluchari. Vibrant silk colour complimented by gorgeous Pallu is a feast to any Woman’s eyes. It looks way better in its physical form vis-à-vis online photographs.
A guideline of some of the other colour choices that you may make while choosing one Baluchari Saree online for yourself are as follows:
Mustard Baluchari Sarees – Mustard coloured Baluchari Sarees are a universal option and are a great option for women of all age groups (young and middle aged) and complexion (fair and dusky). Unsure about buying online? Just go for this option. It’s the safest bet. Mustard Baluchari Saree is also a great option for gifting on account of its universality. The mustard colour is beautifully complimented by motifs in Green or Maroon.
Black Swarnachari Sarees – Black Swarnachari Sarees are available in variety of options such as Black Swarnachari Saree with Golden Zari, or Black Swarnachari Saree with Copper Motif. However, we feel that Black Swarnachari Saree with Copper Motif is the signature design. The motifs are made with copper coloured Zari complemented by light coloured threads, this colour combination is signature for Swarnachari in Black.
Amongst the Black Baluchari Sarees, we tend to recommend the option of Black contrasted with Red motifs.
Red Baluchari Sarees and Pink Baluchari Sarees are generally available in widest variety of options. Red and Pink are evergreen colour options for special occasions such as Weddings etc. Choice of appropriate colour and motifs pattern is purely dependent on personal tastes. In most cases, Red and Pink are fairly safe options and are expected to be gorgeous.
Quality Checks –
Few points you may look for while purchasing a Baluchari are as follows:
Quality of Silk – Silk itself would have a shine and would be of good quality since they are uniformly dyed. It should not be very light since they have to withhold heavy motifs for years.
Weight – Baluchari Sarees weight around 500 gm while Swarnachari Sarees weigh a little more than Baluchari Sarees. The weight keeps going up with the intricacy and density of motifs reaching upto 850-900 gm.
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