The Ananthpura district of Andhra Pradesh houses an ancient town by the name of Dharmavaram that was destined to become a principle part of the Indian Silk glory. Due to the abundance of mulberry trees in the area, silk production was an obvious choice for many, which naturally progressed to silk weaving. By the 19th century the silks woven from Dharmavaram found nationwide recognition due to the sheer brilliance and beauty of the weave. Today, the opulent Dharmavaram sarees are also known as ‘wedding sarees’ and are amongst the top three contenders, with Banarasi and Kaanjivaram sarees, for the most grandiose drapes.
Conventionally Dharmavaram sarees are woven by the interlocked weft method but jacquard weaving is also extremely popular. Typically woven by hand with mulberry silk and zari, it takes 4 to 8 days, for two weavers working simultaneously, using both their hands and legs, to weave a complete saree. A number of processes are undergone before it reaches this stage. After the cocoons are harvested they are boiled to obtain the yarn. Degumming to remove the natural gums and resins present, the yarn is plied to create a balanced texture. After this the yarn is dyed in the desired shades, dried and used later to create the famous weaves.
Power looms are also employed in weaving of these sarees. The designs are loaded on the computer, punched into a card and then loaded on to the jacquard loom. Among the 26 different designs available in the sarees, 11 are handloom and 15 are from power looms. The Dharmavaram sarees made for weddings are also known as Rajwadi sarees for their ultra exclusive and rich look.
Dharmavaram sarees are very famous for their gold plated borders and artwork. The fabric also includes gold brocade patterns and motifs similar to those seen adorning temple walls. Most popular amongst the temple style motifs were elephant, peacock, and lotus - all symbols that were universally and culturally accepted.
Initially the weavers stuck to the traditional ‘auspicious’ colours for Hindu traditions – red and yellow while weaving. But in the more recent years they have evolved to adapt to the changing market trend and included a wider palette. One of the unique features of the Dharmavaram sarees was that they were woven in two colours giving the effect of muted double shades and this was accentuated by the solid coloured border and the gold pallu. Apart from south silk, weavers have also experimented with Assam silk, tusser, cotton and cotton silk in the making of the Dharmavaram sarees. The new age versions of these sarees are embellished with decorative stones, kundans and sequins. Besides sarees, this art form can also be seen on salwar kameez, kurtis, scarves and stoles. Even handloom items like carpets, bed sheets, curtains bags and cushion covers are embellished with this artwork. While they were originally woven only by hand, the process has been partially mechanized to fit the demands of an increasing global market.
Dharmavaram sarees received GI recognition from the state of Andhra Pradesh. Today owing to their extreme popularity, there are over 1500 silk manufacturing units and over one lakh looms in active production. The annual turnover of the industry is around 500 crores; these very encouraging numbers contribute significantly to rural development.
Depending on the material and the work done on it, a Dharmavaram saree can cost between Rs.2000 to Rs.150000 with daily use sarees priced nominally. Irrespective of how high the cost goes, a designer Dharmavaram is a definite presence in an Indian bridal trousseau.
Dharmavaram silk heralded the world of fashion not only to enhance ethnic trend but it also came from a very solid and dependable past. Many families based their livelihoods on the silk trade and amongst. The silk weaving industry has managed to spread their market globally and Dharmavaram silk has captured international soils, including, Germany and France. It is rightly predicted that Dharmavaram silk will soon capture the heart of connoisseurs all over the world.
How to identify a Dharmavaram saree
The double shading of the saree’s body, created with two colours in the weaving process, is a distinct feature of Dharmavaram sarees.
Dharmavaram sarees also feature a solid colour, a contrasting border and a broad pallu with gold zari detailing at its edges.
Most Dharmavaram silks are made from genuine south silk. You can test the genuineness of the silk by burning one strand of thread. If it burns like hair without leaving a residue, it is genuine silk.