Come wedding season and saree shops are choked to the doors with avid mothers and daughters, aunts and cousins in tow, watching as yards after yard of precious sarees are displayed for the bride. It’s that time that trousseaus have to be decided and wedding sarees have to be bought, and that one saree that seems to be pitching in some of the highest sales figures is the Shalu saree.
While through the centuries Benaras remained the center of textile weaving , it got a sudden burst of new energy with the migration of weavers from Gujarat to this center and a new weave began. But it was around the time of the Mughals that the richness of zari was added to Benaras textiles and from that emerged the brocade-the koras, the tissues, the katan and the jamdani.
Amidst the slowly gaining cult status acquired by Benarasi silks , the Peshwas who travelled from Pune to the doorstep of Benaras, were completely awed by the grandeur of the weave. He brought the artistry of the weave back to the Maratha confederacy and asked weavers from the region of Yeola to create a weave as majestic. From that arose a kind of brocade and silk weave that has impressions of Paithani and the weave of Benarasi. This admixture is often referred to as the Shalu saree.It is thus not uncommon to see the Benarasi brocade called the Shalu being worn by brides in Maharashtra. You will often find that the body of the saree will have the same zari motifs that one sees in the typical Katan Benarasi but the border and the pallu will have some Paithani influence.The most important difference between the Paithani and the Shalu is the thickness of the silk in the body. Paithani is far more thicker weave and the saree falls with a certain amount of stiffness while the Shalu is more popular as it is easy to drape, the silk being much thinner and lighter yet with the same kind of intricacy of work.Typically the wedding Shalu sarees may not have heavy zari throughout the saree body and this makes their lighter version most suited for the smaller pre wedding or post wedding ceremonies. Here are two examples-the zari work is usually concentrated along the border while the weave on the pallu too have been kept quite heavy-rest of the saree simply rejoices in its rich color.Here is another example how the Banarasi has been combined with the Paithani border to create the Shalu saree seen in its blue avatar.
To be complete honest now the Maharashtra Shalu is almost extinct but the version developed by the Yeola based weavers has survived and though those weavers are now making more Paithanis than Shalus. The love for these sarees has not reduced. So most Shalus are now from Banaras and thus most wedding sarees are now named as a Shalu sarees.
The Shalus come with newer designs, its link with tradition and the undying faith that women have in its glorious designs, and its ability to make a woman turn into a queen, is truly a story of a saree that is archival in its rich tradition.
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