Zari, once representative of royal Indian households, is undergoing a revival with modern designs
Ask any sari lover what would be their choice of fabric for a traditional gathering and a zari-embellished sari will top the list. Kolkata-based designers Swati Agarwal and Sunaina Jalan know this all too well. Their ongoing exhibition in Delhi, Gold: The Art of Zari, is an ode to lovers of zari, which is basically intricate metallic threadwork (gold or silver) on rich fabrics. “Currently, there are three kinds of zari used: pure silver thread draped in gold, copper dipped in silver, and synthetic zari,” explains Agarwal.
India has long been known for its exquisite zari work. It was popularised by the Mughals, but over the years, it fell into oblivion due to the high costs of production, its labour-intensive nature and cheap imitations that became widely available. Artisans specialising in this craft, too, started dwindling.
So what led the designer duo to dabble in zari? Their desire to wear original zari-embellished saris, they say. And it was this desire that led them to the bylanes of Varanasi a decade back. On the way, it turned into a journey to revive this lost craft.
The exhibition contains Banarasi saris with metallic threadwork, for which they collaborated with a set of weavers from Varanasi. These weavers represent the only surviving workshop in the country that uses pure zari, which was traditionally used in royal Indian households. These saris then use the purest form of gold-plated silver zari and come with an authentication certificate. “Our zari is 98.5% silver and the certification we offer can be equated with the Hallmark certificate that you get when you buy gold,” says Agarwal. “We even give our customers a spindle of zari yarn used in the fabric in case they want to do some independent testing,” adds Jalan. The certificate provides details of the sari bought, such as its weight and quality, as well as the details of the weaver.The oldest reference to zari is found in the Rig Veda, dating back to over 3,000 years ago. “Our exhibition conveys the different ways in which zari has been used over the years and the different patterns that can be interwoven into the fabric,” says curator Mayank Mansingh Kaul.
The exhibition is on till September 27 at Bikaner House, New Delhi