There is no better sari to turn to in the heat of the Indian summer than the Begumpuri cotton sari. The border of a Begumpuri sari is easily distinguishable with intricate stripes running all over the body and its serrated edge motif in red and black, a timeless classic, which has now diversified into several other colour combinations. Known for its extraordinary drape and elegant translucence, owing to the loose weave, these saris are synonymous with sophistication.
Hailing from Begumpur in Hoogly, West Bengal, a cotton-weaving centre that is well known for its cotton saris and dhotis, these weaves are characterized by their bright colours, contrasting borders and figurative, floral and traditional motifs woven using an extra weft. The borders are unique and feature designs such as the Naksha border, Ganga Jamuna border, Temple border, skirt border, etc. Commonly known as ”Maathapaar” or ”Beluaaripaar" they are woven with a very robust structure.
The entire weaving process from start-to-finish is exhausting and time-consuming. To attain the texture and drape that the saris possess, a lot of effort goes into preparing the raw material itself. The yarns are washed, boiled, bleached, washed again, starched and then dyed before being set up on the loom. They are then woven on a pit loom or frame loom. Each sari takes 1-2 days to complete if it is a simple design, or else it can go up to 5-6 days.
For many years the saris were made as simple and elegant as possible. These are known as Maathapaar pieces and come with the least ornamentation. Only due to the decline in their popularity, the handloom corporation of West Bengal decided to revamp the craft rather than letting it fade. They held workshops for the weavers to help them find inspiration so that they could design their own pieces. They also provided training in the use of dyes so that they could broaden the colour palette.
This craft, that is over 250 years old today, has been passed down through the generations. The weavers are said to work in collaboration with their family and in such unison that it looks like a corporation of sorts. Out of the 5,000 weavers that existed in the last decade, less than half of them have stuck with the craft, because the young generation is gradually moving to bigger towns for fixed-rate jobs. Due to the effect of globalization, studies show that there is a sharp decline not only in the popularity and production of the product but also the weavers’ wages. The government is definitely making an effort with new schemes and development programs, and if the outcome turns out as intended this could definitely be a success story in the Indian handloom craftsmanship.