Varanasi, the oldest city in the world, is known for its ghats, ancient temples, rooted cuisine and of course, its fabled looms. Looms that weave spellbinding tales in threads of gold on silk. These unique textiles also have myriad emotions woven into them.
Of these, Shanti Banaras presents nine - a collection of master-weaves that celebrate the craftsmanship of this magical city. Reliving the cadence of a bygone era, the Varanasi-based brand brings a textile treasure trove to the modern buyer.
The carefully curated collection, Navrasa: Threads of Fantasy, is the embodiment of nine human emotions through the performing arts listed in Bharata Muni's ancient text, Natya Shashtra.
With painting-like creations that rebel against conservative presentation and using imagination to craft a distinct vocabulary, the brand nonetheless enriches heritage, one weave at a time. How did the unique inspiration—Navrasa—come about?
Amrit Shah, Creative Director, Shanti Banaras, says, "We always research concepts that have a surreal and unique feature. When we find a concept that is rich and would enhance the features of a sari, we redesign those to adjust with the sari design. The concepts vary from optical illusions to old scriptures and mythological elements. My wife, Priyanka Shah, is an Odissi dancer and a singer. She came up with the idea to link the nine emotions of a woman to the collection and design accordingly. The thought of bringing emotions or mudras inspired this distinct design."
Though it is mainly inspired by the many mudras in performing arts, the Navarasa collection also borrows from Egyptian, Persian, Chinese and even Japanese cultures. For example, the sari inspired by the emotion of bravery or 'Veer Rasa', has a combination of Devanagri and Egyptian scripts. The weave depicts spiritual knowledge and the strength of an empowered woman.
The one inspired by fear or 'Bhayanaka' depicts a 'Mata ni Pachedi' (cloth of the Goddess); each motif retraced meticulously in a graph with silver zari on it. 'Karuna' or compassion has old Persian textile broaches and cuttings fused with oxidised zari woven in the sari. Each sari in its own way embodies the strong, beautiful and accomplished woman of today.
A mix of old and new, the brand focuses on revivalist techniques of weaving but brings it out in a contemporary and modern look that appeals to today’s world. “For example, the weaving techniques in the rasas are an example of the typical Banarasi textile, but presented differently. It has brocades in optical illusions, dampaj in horizontals and verticals, Tanchoi with scriptures, jaamdani, junglas, satin weaves in Persian, hand-embroidered and kadwa in the Pichwais, reversible weaves in herringbones and more,” says Shah.
Using hand embroidery, munga tussar, katan silk, Chanderi, linen, organza, dupion silk, tussar silk, silk tissue, zari borders and even digital prints, the brand tries to appeal to customers of all demographics and taste. The apparels include saris, shawls, duppattas and stoles, and the target audience varies from the contemporary young to the subtle regal vintage crowd.
"We have upgraded ourselves and structured ourselves to understand our core customer needs and build relatively. This doesn’t mean we are creating commercial wears; it’s just that we understand the tastes and infuse it with our creation to reach a common ground. We have evolved and developed into serving various customer tastes and trends that have changed over time," says Shah.
He stresses that women today want something that is subtle yet makes a bold statement and Shanti Banaras with its earthy colours and natural richness is just the perfect answer.
Using homegrown textiles and age-old techniques of craftsmanship in designs, it presents a beautiful blend of colours and traditional motifs. The price range expands from a moderate Rs 8,000 for the woven handloom fabrics to over a lakh for the real zari jaamdani saris.