Arani is a small town located in the district of Thiruvannamalai in the state of Tamil Nadu. It is approximately 132 km from Chennai and is one of the most important silk centers of Tamil Nadu. Along with many other silks that are manufactured in Tamil Nadu, the Arani silk saris are the carriers of the historic Saurashtrian legacy.
The displaced artisans after moving from one location to another due to changing monarchies finally settled in the southern region. They lent their expertise in weaving to the local markets and began creating masterpieces, quickly establishing themselves as master weavers. While they preserved their roots, their integration with the Tamil community is also deep and the confluence of both distinct styles is richly displayed in Arani saris.
The handlooms of Arani are famous for their softness and durability. The fabric is soft and comfortable to wear and is suitable for all Indian climates. The looms used here are mostly frame looms that are fixed in a frame with the pedal at floor level. The weaver sits on a low stool and uses both hands and legs to weave.
The very first step is the processing of the yarn that is washed and dipped in the required color. This is done in a boiler with the worker constantly turning the yarn so that the color gets evenly mixed. Here the most important part is the mixing of the dyes that will give a unique and durable shade to the fabric. After drying and washing these yarns are starched which further seals in the color and gives the yarn a polished and finished look. This yarn is bought by master weavers and then converted into thread using a charkha and this thread is used as the weft.
The prepared yarn is then loaded onto looms. The length of the yarn loaded as a warp is called Pavyu. A weaver can make four saris from one Pavyu and it will take approximately one week to weave one pavyu of four saris.
The count used in weaving saris gives us the softness or hardness of the fabric. That is the number of threads woven lengthwise and breadth wise, also known as warp and weft. For e.g. if the count in a sari is 2400, that means there will be 2400 threads in weft and warp.
In order to create a unique design now a days, first a soft copy of the same is made in a computer which prints it out on thick cards that are then loaded into the Jacard, a box like structure at the top of the loom that has needles that will follow the holes in the card and duplicate the design in the sari while weaving it simultaneously. Due to rising popular demand dress materials are also being created along with saris.
The most unique and distinguishing aspect of Arani saris is that it is made with two different bodices on either side and even two different pallus. This allows the wearer to use it as two different saris. The saris are very shrewdly constructed with an interlocking border – the korvai. On one side, half the length of the sari will be in one color and the other half in another color and at the two ends of the sari you will have pallus of different colors, and the entire length on the other side will be of a completely different color with a different pallu. This sari can be worn as three different saris! Garments don’t get any more versatile than this.
Traditionally Arani silk saris were bright, colorful and rich. They still maintain their addiction to bright colors, gold zari and typical motifs. The silks are embellished with checked patterns called “kottadis” along with stripes. The weavers in this profession are all torch bearers of the ancient trade. They proudly proclaim that none of them is formally trained in this art but have gathered their unique skills from their ancestors through the methods of vision and practice.
The beautiful weave has also been granted GI status from the Govt of India. There is a legend that says that the first flag hoisted on Independence Day at the Red Fort was a silk flag woven at Arani.