India is arguably the world’s oldest producer of cotton, with traces of cotton cultivation having been found among the artifacts of the Indus Valley civilization in parts of India and present-day Pakistan. Although cotton came to be cultivated in Mexico, Egypt and China, the sheer variety and quality of Indian weaves came to be cherished all over the world, and continues to this day.
Indian cotton sarees are most suitable for our tropical weather, and are the best material to beat humidity. Available in a range that suits different pockets, and in techniques as varied as their colours, one has a lot to choose from. The lowest –priced are the Phulia handloom cottons from Phulia in West Bengal, and the Mou or Banaras cottons, which are made in what is called single weave. In the same range, we have the Bandhanis or tie- and -dye cottons from Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Bandhani Ghatcholas , with their characteristic dots arranged geometrically into floral designs, have always been the craze with brides galore.
Kota in Rajasthan has lent its name to the net-like cotton weave which is now a popular summer wear all over the country. Down south, there are a number of cotton weaves to choose from. The most beautiful cottons hail from Kerala. Off-white with gold borders and pallus, the Kerala kasavu offsets the greenery of the state, and spells grace and dignity. Andhra Pradesh produces its beautiful zari-lined Venkatgiri cottons, and its highly prized Gadwals. There are also the classy Mangalgiris and Narayanpeths in solid colours in the medium price range. Narayanpeths, incidentally, have their origins in Sholapur district of the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. But historical links with Maharashtra have had Andhra Pradesh adopt the weave too. At the moment, the saree is woven and worn in both states .
Coimbatore and Kanchipuram have their own distinct weaves, which are a blend of silk and cotton. The Kanchi cotton saree is a light blended saree, which is comfortable for summer wear, and very low on maintenance, thus accounting for its popularity. The Maheswari cottons of Madhya Pradesh rival the Kanchipuram cottons in popularity and quality. Soft and comfortable on the skin, these cottons owe their origin to Rani Ahilyabai who is credited to have designed them.
The Chanderis of Madhya Pradesh are a silk-cotton blend, with a diaphanous texture. However, they are not exactly for casual wear. The prices of Chanderis may range upwards in keeping with the quality of work they showcase. Printed chanderis can be had for lower prices, though, and are ideal for everyday use. India presents several varieties in cotton ikat. The double ikats, which are styled out of warp and weft yarns dyed initially and then used for weaving the cloth, are a speciality of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Odisha.
In spite of being neighbouring states, though, the ikats do not resemble each other in design. The Pochampally ikats of Andhra Pradesh bear a striking resemblance to the Patan Patola ikats of Gujarat. The Odisha ikats, on the other hand, use traditional motifs that are representative of eastern India. The weaving renders flowers, elephants using geometrical elements, giving it a unique flavour. The cotton ikats of both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh are easy on the pocket, and boast a texture that make them low-maintenance. Odisha also produces the Bomkai cottons, which are characterised by their distinctive border and pallus. The state of West Bengal is a treasure trove of handloom cottons for the connoisseur. Partition brought the weavers of Tangail in Bangladesh to India, and with them came the fine Tangail cottons.
The famed jamdanis on Dhaka muslin also moved to districts around the international border. A jamdani is a high –end fabric woven on the legendary Dhaka muslin. The fine weaving of flowers, and bootis(dots), often with zari, makes it a prized possession handed down from generation to generation. Besides these fine weaves, one also has the medium –priced Dhanekhali Cotton sarees and the slightly thicker Shantipuri sarees to choose from, both of which are native to West Bengal.
The Dhanekhali cotton sarees are characterized by pretty colours, and a pallu marked by a sheaf of paddy, which reminds one of the green paddy fields of its place of origin. The Shantipuri cotton sarees are native to the Vaishnav bastion of Shantipur, and boast ornate borders in bright colours. These are much cheaper than the other varieties. The same goes with the Phulia cottons, which are single weave cottons that are extremely easy on the pocket.
Of late, the traditional phulkari embroidery of the Punjab is being used on cotton sarees too. The Phulkari cottons are light and pretty, and can be used for casual or office wear. Similalry, kutchi mirror work that was traditionally used for blouses and odhnis is now being used on sarees too. There are also some modern blends that are now being attempted such as supernet or organza cotton.
Related: Kalamkari Printed Cotton Sarees
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