The tales of Chanderi fabric dates back to the times of Lord Krishna when his cousin Shishupal cited the use of Chanderi in the ancient literature. Also, one can find its mention in the old books like Maasir-i-Alamgir where Aurangzeb ordered the use of cloth embroidered with gold, silver and zari for making the khilat (a ceremonial robe or other gift given to someone by a superior). Some scriptures are abundant in evidences which show that craftsmen and artisans wove chanderi fabric for the royals during the 12th and the 13th centuries. Some other historians believe that during 1740 and 1761, Chanderi fabric enjoyed royal patronage and was also exported overseas. A British visitor, RC Sterndal noted that Chanderi was the favoured fabric of Indian royal women because of its soft, light texture and transparency.
The village of Chanderi
The grace and beauty of this fabric is enhanced by the fringes embellished with gold and silver threads. Transparency and softness of this fabric favored royal patronage and was also exported overseas. The rich upper-class women of the highbrow society favored the exotic handloom of chanderi silk to reflect the essence of Indian traditional wear.
The chanderi fabric is a type of loom that is produced in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It well known among the handloom cluster of India and occupies a special place. While these historical accounts might make it a little difficult to put an exact date to the evolution of the Chanderi fabric, its clear that the fabric was a favourite among the ruling class of the Bundelkhand and its neighbouring regions.
Types and Weaving Technique
The art of making chanderi requires the use of handspun cotton which is as fine as 300 count, which is similar to the glamourous Muslins of Dhaka. The fine count cotton of Chanderi is extracted from the roots of Kolikanda which is mostly light and soft, it exudes a glossy finish that further gives a shining sparkling appearance to the Chanderi textile. This is quite a famous form of handloom amongst the princely communities of Mughals and Rajputs. The fabric involves the weaving of warp, set out threads, which passes through the weaves of weft in a regular motion. This practice of weaving Chanderi continued on the white or an off-white cloth which was later embellished gold and zari weave. This tradition was only till the 1920’s. The thread cotton in a warp consists of 4000 to 17000 while in the weft, mercerized cotton raw silk or katan is also used.
Today, raw silk, which is 20-22 deniers thick, is used in the warp in most of the sarees. Silk not only imparts a lustrous effect but also makes it stronger. Silk is mixed with zari in the warp to make a tissue saree. Weaving a chanderi silk is quite a tedious process that allows the weavers to sit side by side on the loom. However, with the introduction of the power loom the fabric is now easily woven. Earlier, the yarn of weaving employed natural dyes for coloring. Nowadays, chemical dyes are used for the coloring of the fabric.
Chanderi fabric is of three major types — pure cotton chanderi, silk chanderi and silk-cotton chanderi. Most of these fabrics have unique motif on them — such as floral patterns, animals and geometric designs. Some of the various beautifully striking motifs include ‘Nalferma, ‘Dandidar, ‘Chatai’, ‘Jangla’, Mehndi wale haath’ etc. Earlier pure gold and silver threads were used to weave chanderi sarees made from the fabric. However, with the gradual extinction of the royal age, the use of pure gold and silver thread gave way to copper ones polished with golden colours. Despite that, what sets apart these chanderi fabric sarees are the fact that the motifs are still woven in hand thus lending it a completely different level of sophistication to the sarees.
Chanderi weaving is referred to as woven air weaving which imparts transparency and sheer texture to the fabric. This contributes to the high-quality and fine yarns of the cloth embroidered with gold and silver threads. The yarn used to weave Chanderi doesn’t go through the degumming process that helps in preventing breakage of the thread during weaving, this gives a soft sheer glossy finish to the textile and the fabric further owes transparency due to this.
Chanderi silk sarees are generally found in pastel colors like blush pink, ice blue, mint or even lavender hues. However, with the modern times kicking in, vibrant combinations of violet, fuschia, red, black, turquoise is also used. The motifs on the Chanderi silk sarees take their inspiration from the benarsi silk Ashrafi, paan, eent, akhrot, sooraj buti, meena buti etc. When these butis expand in size, they are referred to as he butas. This delicate handwoven Chanderi fabric gives them an upper-class feel while they are also an absolute favorite of the elite too.
Chanderi Fabric and Geographical Indication
Chanderi fabric and chanderi sarees are protected under the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, and they cannot be copied because of their exclusive design and the special silk yarn that goes into their making. There are nearly 3500 active looms that are practising Chanderi weaving constantly. Thousands of artisans and craftsmen are still dependant on this art for their livelihood. The Government of India has also petitioned to the World Trade Organization for the recognition of this textile on an international level.
Modern Day Usage of Chanderi Fabric
Owing to its finesse, the chanderi fabric has become quite popular among fashion designers and even Bollywood divas. Fashion designers like Rohit Bal and Anju Modi have often resorted to this fabric to weave beautiful dresses. On one occasion Kareena Kapoor was spotted wearing a black chanderi saree, which was brought directly from the weavers at Chanderi.
Price Range and Maintenance
While it comes to the pricing of a chanderi fabric saree, it can start from anywhere between INR 3000 to INR 5000. While on the other hand, original hand-spun cotton chanderi fabric sarees can go up to INR 12000 as well.
It requires a some effort to maintain a saree made from chanderi fabric. It is advisable that a good quality mild detergent is used to wash it and that too in cold water. Do not expose chanderi to the sun; always dry in shade. Also avoid spraying perfume directly on the fabric.
Be it the royal propaganda of this fabric from the ancient times or be it its exclusive comforting rich texture, chanderi fabric one way or the other is royalty personified and has maintained its charm till date. In fact, it is almost enthralling to witness how the Indian textile industry has come a long way from relegating the utilization of this fabric for only making traditional sarees and salwar kameez. The Indian fashion cosmos has redefined the value of this fabric by using the chanderi into making fusion attires like indo western chanderi dresses, skirts, etc, maintaining the ethnic authenticity of the fabric.