The Good Life

Pleats of Heritage

Whoever thought traditional saris cannot be luxurious has yet to see these opulent six yards

The six yards has always been one of the many faces of Indian heritage. Each pleat resembles rich legacy and years of traditional practices. Now, heritage sari stores in India are combining this authenticity with luxury. It's no surprise then sari lovers want to have them all, and even chase some of the costliest outfits in the country. Don’t believe us when we say this? Then Google it for yourself. One of South India’s favourite, The Chennai Silks made a sari worth Rs.3.8 million, the costliest sari ever, which earned itself a spot in Guinness Book of World Records! This 8 kg sari is made up of navratna stones, corals, pearls and embroidered with pure gold, silver and platinum. But that's not even the best part. Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma's 11 paintings have been recreated on the sari. This retail chain is also famed for its customised range of high-end saris. However, this isn't the only expensive collection in the market.

Chennai Silks’ regional competitor, RmKV has also bagged a name and an award for recreating Varma's painting on one of their saris. With two national awards for design innovations, RmKV is known for its innovative designs. "Theme saris such as 50,000-colour sari, Durbar Krishna and Aishwarya Pookkal make our collection stand apart. All these saris are hand-woven and made from rich tapestry,” says Rm K Sivakumar, MD, RmKV.

The discussion of silk saris in the south cannot end without the mention of Nalli silks. Started by Nalli Chinnasamy Chetti in 1928, Nalli Silks is usually considered as the go-to place for to-be brides. Starting at around Rs.100,000, the pure Kanchipuram silk saris is unlike anything you can imagine. Designs vary from sari to sari but embroidering the names of the bride and groom on its wedding collection is very common. A typical Kanchipuram sari of this kind takes about three to four weeks to weave. Lavanya Nalli, vice chairman, Nalli Silks says, “The pure zari work with intricate designs handmade by the artisans from Kanchipuram district gives these saris an exclusive element.”

To the west, Patan Patola Heritage Museum, the only ones making authentic patola saris in India, also boasts about an exclusive guest list with Bollywood celebrities and politicians. The base of these patolas is raw silk but this isn’t why the saris are worth a few million. Patan patola is a variant of double ikat that involves extreme precision of tie-dye to retain the motifs without any seeping or blurring. The dye is made of natural substances such as vegetables or insects, that are imported from China, Spain and other countries. In the 1930s, the Patola sari used to cost Rs.120. However, today, the simpler versions of double ikat start from Rs.150,000, depending on the intricacy of the design. Each sari takes four to six months to create if two weavers work on it. Another quality that makes Patan patolas stand out is that both the sides have equal intensity of colour and design. Of the many families in Patan who used to weave authentic patolas, today, Rahul Salvi is the only one left still pursuing the art. Salvi, owner of Patola Heritage says, “Many sari shops in India will sell you patola saris that are made from Rajkot and Mumbai. But those use chemical dyes. The authentic patolas weigh somewhere between 450-500 grams.”

With newer brands and designers stepping into the market, there has surely been a shift in sari lovers' demand, but these traditional stores are not deterred. It's all in the name, which explains why it is so hard to walk past these stores without an ounce of temptation.