Suns, moons, and chariots dance across wonderfully woven fabric, while peacocks, parrots, and swans cavort on others. The Mallinaggu, a jasmine bud within a square or round frame, sits delicately on one, while another captures the intricate Thandavalam; parallel lines that run across the body of the Sari.
Legend has it that the silk weavers of Kanchipuram are the descendants of the great Sage Markanda, the Master Weaver, who clothed Lord Narayana, the Preserver, in exquisite silks drawn from the celestial lotus. These weavers were patronised during the Pallava dynasty by kings and priests. Families of artisans from Tamil Nadu, Saurashtra and Karnataka, worked with the pattu-nool (thread) from Karnataka, and zari from Surat, as several hands were needed to wind the thread in the beam. They drew from the art and architecture around them, skilfully weaving stories depicting the great epics, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, and scenes from the Bhagvad Gita.
Heritage, history, and handloom converge in Kanchipuram, a little temple town in Tamil Nadu, and the wellspring of Korvai, the traditional weaving technique that produces the Kanjivaram sari. The tradition runs true, as mulberry silks harvested only from interior Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are twisted, dyed and dried in the sun. Three shuttles are employed to create the border, body and pallu separately, then delicately interlocked. Bold, bright, contrasting colours dominate these creations, which can sometimes take months to realise, depending on the intricacy of the decorative motifs. The heavier saris contain zari interwoven with the silk; the zari borders and the pallu are woven in gold-dipped metal thread.
There is space for the traditional and the contemporary. In design, motif and colour, Mambazham (mango) and Arakku (brown), share yardage with chicken-yellow and salmon-pink. The Rudhraksham and the kodi (creeper) are equally popular. Thicker than most other silks, the Kanjivaram sari is crafted to last many lifetimes, an heirloom traditionally bequeathed from mother to daughter over several generations. No South Indian wedding is complete without the Kanjivaram. It bodes well for a bride to enter her new home draped in one. In South India, custom demands that you wear a Kanjivaram for pujas, temple visits, and other auspicious gatherings.