Kanchipuram Silk Sarees


Kanchipuram silk sarees are hand-woven in the narrow lanes of the quaint town by the same name. In hot dusty Southern India, is an old town called Kanchipuram. It has magnificent temples of unique architectural beauty bearing eloquent testimony to its glorious Dravidian heritage. It’s called the temple city, and is also known as the city of thousand temples. Kanchipuram was under rule of the Pallava Kings from 6th to 7th century AD and later under Cholas, Vijayanagar Kings, the Muslim and the British. It was the historical capital of the Pallavas during when they built some of the best temples in the city.

Kanchipuram silk sarees

History has it that Kanchipuram rose to eminence during Krishna-Deva Raya's reign 400yrs back, when two weaving communities - the Devangas and the Saligars transmigrated to Kanchipuram from the neighboring state Andhra Pradesh. Primarily because within this seemingly minuscule town there were more than 129 finely crafted temples, and silk was always considered the ceremonial wear at religious rituals and weddings. The Devanga and Saligar weavers were reputed for their silk weaving silks, even today the main profession of the people living in and around Kanchipuram is weaving silk sarees.

Silk sarees are a luxury and hence special. They are an integral part of South Indian weddings and celebrations. The heavy silk saris with rich weave and gold borders are very popular, especially in South India. Be it the simple contrast border sarees or those with gold zari dots and patterns, the sarees are authentic and elegant with their rare and superior color combinations.

A close view...

The first time I wore a Kanchipuram  saree was for my high school farewell party. A plain henna green saree with a thin zari border, it was my mother’s, gifted to her by her mother.  I got my first set of Kanchipuram  sarees for my wedding, some as gifts by my in-laws and some as part of my bridal trousseau by my parents. They make great gifts on festivals and occasions…A single Kanchipuram  Sari can cost anywhere between Indian Rupees 2,500 (US $50) to Indian Rupees 100,000 (US $2ooo) or more depending upon the intricacy of work, colors, pattern, material used like zari, gold thread etc.

Weaving method


Kanchipuram sarees are hand woven from pure mulberry silk. The industry here is only made up of Handloom weavers and merchants and does not manufacture silk or any other raw material that goes into the silk saree. 

Dyed Silk yarn...

The main raw materials are mulberry silk thread, metallic thread (Zari) and dye. Dipping the silk thread into liquid gold and silver makes the Zari. This enhances the beauty and the value of the silk saree. The mulberry silk thread comes from the neighboring state of Karnataka, the metallic thread which is interwoven with the silk to give the metallic look comes from the state of Gujarat, and the dyes too are not manufactured in Kanchipuram. But all these materials are brought here, and the skilled artisans weave them on handlooms, creating a unique hand-made work of art in each saree.

Getting the yarn ready for the loom....

The saree usually have three parts to it called the body, border and palu (the hanging end of the saree). To weave a saree three shuttles meaning three single threads of silk yarn along with zari are used. This accounts for its durability and luster. While the weaver works on the right side, his aide works on the left side shuttle. The border color and design are usually quite different from the body. If the pallu has to be woven in a different shade, it is first separately woven and then delicately joined to the saree. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the saree tears, the border would not detach. Since the maximum length on a traditional loom is 18-yard warp, it ensures that not more than 3 silk saris can look alike.

The loom...

Themes and motifs

Earlier, designs were restricted to conservative stripes or gold dots. However, overtime motifs like Sun, moon, chariots, peacocks, parrots, swans, lions, coins, mangoes, leaves are woven into the saree in patterns.

Color contrast....

 Other common motifs are jasmine bud within a square or a round frame, locally known as mallimaggu, or Thandavalam where parallel lines run across the body of the Sari. While Today, it keeps pace with modern prints the rich and magnificent grandeur continues to lend a festive touch to any occasion. You can even find wedding sarees with rich woven pallu depicting paintings of Raja Ravi Varma or scenes from the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Raja Ravi Verma's painting weaved to make this beautiful pallu....

But the industry is facing a serious labor crunch due to industrialization. Factories set up by companies like Ford and Saint Gobain have become a big draw for the next generation. Also, the rising prices of raw materials like gold, silver and raw silk is affecting the wavers. For example, one kg of raw silk used to cost  Indian Rupees 1,400 in 2005, which has almost doubled to  Rupees 2,700 per kg now. One kg of raw silk can be used to make three sarees. These problems have led to the lowering of shutters for many manufacturers. Around 20 years ago there were 50,000 looms in Kanchipuram, but now, there are less than 20,000 looms.

(Kanchipuram Sarees are also known as Kancheepuram, Kancheevaram or sometimes Kanchivaram Sarees!)


PS….I had to share this, I belong to this ethnic Devanga community, my forefathers were weavers and merchants, they did not migrate to Kanchipuram but lived about 90 kms away…

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