The Number Story
The origin of the saree-like drape dates as far back 100 B.C. From then to now, the versatile garment has travelled a long way, evolving with the times. It continues to be one of the most coveted garments among Indian women. Whether it is in silk, cotton, silk-cotton, tussar or raw silk, Indian women are buying and wearing the saree with great pride and delight.
Behind the lure of the saree lies a mind-boggling tale of numbers, numbers that make up the saree weaving industry of the country. Let us look at some of them.
What is a saree?
A saree is an unstitched length of cloth measuring 42-49 inches in width and 5.5 to 9 yards in length.
- There are about 20 different traditional saree wearing styles, depending on the region the saree is from and the culture of the people. The most famous styles are: set-mundu of Kerala, Coorgi style, Gujarati drape, Maharashtrian dhoti style, Bengali style, and Kacchanivi of Andhra Pradesh.
The cost factor
Sarees are priced anywhere between Rs 200 and Rs 20 lakh depending on the fabric, the weave, the design, the texture, the workmanship, and the brand as well. Normally, 50% of the cost of a handloom saree is material cost.
The people behind the scene:
- Any story on sarees is incomplete without the mention of the weavers, who form an integral part of the textile industry in the country. With over 43 lakh people involved in weaving and allied activities, the handloom sector is second only to agriculture in terms of employment.
- The Banaras saree weaving industry provides employment to over 5 lakh people in Varanasi district alone and the trade is valued at over Rs 5,000 crore per year.
- In Kanchipuram, over 5,000 families are engaged in saree weaving.
- Generally, a saree takes about 8 hours of weaving from start to finish. The average weight of the saree is 850-900 grams.
- During a weaving career spanning 30 years, a weaver uses his limbs 18,360,000 times to weave about 1,000 sarees!
- A Kanjivaram silk saree takes about a week to finish, while a Maheswari takes about 3 days.
- A Banarasi saree takes about 4 days, with some sarees extending to 6 months, depending on the intricacy of the pattern! Three people work together to weave one Banarasi saree.
The magic of Kanjivaram
- Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, which is famous for the Kanjivaram silk sarees, has more than 20,000 looms and produces more than 5 lakh sarees a year. Three to four weavers work in each loom. Some handloom varieties require at least 6 workers for a single saree.
- The warp frame used to weave this fabric has about 60 holes. There are 240 threads in the warp and 250 to 3000 threads in the weft. This is how complex and mathematical the weaving process is!
- In addition, to this there is a tremendous physical effort involved in weaving a Kanjivaram saree. There are 10,000 single ply silk threads in the warp. The average number of wefts per inch is 70 and 17,920 in a saree. This means a weaver uses his legs 17,920 times to weave 1 saree!
- As per Geographical Indication (GI) label, a Kanjivaram saree should have 57% silver and 0.6% gold in the Zari. Thus, an authentic Kanjivaram with pure silk and pure zari can cost anywhere between Rs. 7,000 and Rs.2,00,000.
- The width of a regular saree is 45 inches but a Kanjivaram silk saree is around 48 inches. A typical Kanjivaram saree weighs between 500 grams and 1 kg. It was initially a nine-yard weave but over the years the more practical six-yard has become popular.
So, the next time you drape this beautiful garment, do remember and appreciate the intricate computation behind the weaving of the saree and the labour of the body, mind and soul.