Varanasi or Benares is one of the most ancient cities recorded in history as a silk and cotton handloom weaving center, patronized by many rulers. In the 16th century Ralph Fitch, an English merchant, described Benares as a thriving sector of the cotton textile industry.
The traditional Banarasi sari craft is an intense and skillful labor. Sari-making is a cottage industry of about 1.2 million people associated directly or indirectly with the handloom weaving in the region around Varanasi, encompassing Gorakhpur, Chandauli, Bhadohi, Jaunpur and Azamgarh districts.
There is a Banarasi innovation called “Jamdani”, which involves laying designs by hand, without using any mechanism. The Jamdani technique works with cotton thread and is still often executed on traditional pit looms. It is a magical technique and involves hand-weaving each motif separately.
A Banarasi sari typically features a main field with floral butis (motifs) or all-over jali (lattice) design along with borders on the sides. One end has a wide ornamental border called the pallu (edge). Some popular motifs include asharfi (coin-shape), genda (marigold flower), makhi (fly pattern), chand-tara (moon and star), paan (betel leaf), lateefa (floral bouquet), among others.