Introduction & Heritage Value
The elegant Sournachuri Silk saree of West Bengal is more often referred to as the ‘illustrious’ sister of the Baluchari Silk saree. The Swarnachari Silk saree has gold thread incorporated in the weave which gives its characteristic rich sheen, whereas the Baluchari Silk saree only has silk threads incorporated in the weave. Despite this difference, both are similar in weaving, design and conception. The Swarnachari silk saree is famous worldwide because of the intricate patterns and figurines that are created on the saree that relate an entire mythological story altogether. Apart from being woven in bright colors, the classic ‘swarnachari’ colours in sarees are off white, deep red with a strong hint of gold. Despite the intricate craftsmanship of the weavers to create these masterpieces, these sarees are now fast becoming a legacy on the very of extinction, owing to the limited weavers of Bishnupur who are continuing their craft.
Origin & History
The Swarnachari silk saree was a new creation from the original Baluchari silk saree, which has always been associated with the Bengali nobility. Historically, the Swarnachari dates back to two centuries ago during the reign of Nawab Mushidquali Khan who was the Nawab of Bengal in the 18th century and a great support of art and craftsmanship. However, during the time of British occupation in India, the British felt threatened from the unique handicrafts of Bengal and hence, they forced the artisans to give up and switch their craft, due to which the handloom weavers suffered a lot of losses with the craft being risked to getting ruined. However, the craft of Sournachuri/Baluchari weaving was revived by Subho Thakur who inspired master weaver Akshay Kumar Das to master the craft and bring it back to life.
It is also said that the Swarnachari is an ancient weaving craft that has been around since the time of the Mallas who made Bishnupur their capital. The Mallas were great patrons of handicraft, art and culture and therefore this gave birth to the Baluchari and Sournachuri which are two distinctive varieties of sarees from this Bengali region. Sournachuri Sarees are synonymous to aristocracy and high status in Bengal.
Sources of Inspiration
The designs and patterns on the sarees are normally inspired by mythological stories like the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, and some of these sarees can depict an entire episode out of the Bhagavad Gita. Bright colours are normally used in these elegant sarees that also show vignettes of festivals, rural life and marriages with the classic Bengali motifs of animals, flowers, circles and fish. The borders of the Swarnachari sarees are very ornamental with Kalka motifs adorning them. Various other motifs are inspired by architecture, pleasure boat, women on horseback with a rose in the hand, court scenes from the Muslim era and women smoking the hookah apart from many others.
Faces behind the Fabric
A single saree takes nearly 112 hours to be woven by master weavers, and hence immense efforts go into designing and producing a single Sournachuri saree, which is a specimen of high quality craft wherein gold zaree is infused in silk. Before weaving, the silk strands are separately dyed and then put in a loom. The intricate and exquisite designs on the sarees are created with the help of punch cards.
Present day Scenario
Despite the trauma faced by the Bengali artisans due to partition, the precious heritage of Swarnachari saree weaving has been kept alive over the generations and has survived to be known as one of the richest, artistic heritage of Bengal.
Bengal is widely known for its textiles and weaving craftsmanship, particularly from its rural areas. The Swarnachari saree has created its own distinct identity around the globe due to its unique designs and intricate thread work. These sarees are also very popular today primarily due to the fact that these sarees are a work of art in their own right.
The Swarnachari Sarees are adored globally for different designs and patterns which are actually like a picture book that show case some of the most revered mythological stories of India. Adorning the borders and pallus, these vivid illustrations are extremely unique particularly on a garment like a saree. Some sarees also depict instances out of ancient times or even Vedic themes.
These sarees are usually worn for special occasions like marriages and religious celebrations, owing to their special designs that have a religious element attached to it.
Since the Sournachuri is made out of silk and golden thread, they have to be kept in a muslin cloth bag to prevent any damage to the cloth or the golden thread. These sarees also need to be dry cleaned.
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