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Documentation of Bhanu Athaiya's Heirloom Textile Collection

An intensive documentation and study of the personal textile collection of Bollywood's most iconic costume designer, Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya. 

Paithani Saree

Material: Cotton, Silver zari (gold plated + 5% gold content)

Dimensions: Length: 270 cm (106.2")  Width: 124 cm (49") Weave: Paithani, Paithan, Maharashtra

Design: with handwoven Akruti border frame on pallu with plain gold filling (panja baro/scorpio are other local names for motif design)

Technique: Handwoven

Occasion/Purpose: Paithani Shela for women

Circa: 1850-1900

Remarks: A traditional Paithani Shela for women. Khawle Kath/Narli Kath or coconut border

Paithani Shela

Material: Cotton, Silver zari (gold plated+approx 5% gold content)

Dimensions: Length: 152 cm (60") Width: 322 cm (125")

Weave: Paithani, Paithan, Maharashtra

Design: Khawle Kath/ Narli Kath or coconut border with jacquard assisted jaal with butti pattern. Akruti frame with zari filling pallu on both sides

Technique: Handloom with jacquard

Occasion/Purpose: For Royal family men/women. Shela draped as one side on the shoulder and rest following all the way to floor from the front

Circa: 1880-1890

Remarks: 60" wider shelas were typically made for men from royal/higher families, the length of which often lasted up to 4 yards. Draped as running from one shoulder to the floor. They were rich and overfilled with zari. Women did use wider shelas but Maharashtrian royal women preferred their shela draped on both shoulders. This Shela, instead of using standard heavy butti configuration, is created with jacquard assisted jaal indicating it was for the higher status owners or special occasions. 

Chandrakala Paithani Saree

Material: Cotton, Silver Zari (gold plated + 5% gold content)

Dimensions: Length: 848 cm (333.8") Width: 125 cm (49")

Weave: Paithani, Paithan, Maharashtra

Design: Khawle Kath/ Narli Kath or coconut border hand weaved all over rupiya butti, jaal pattern above pallu and akruti frame with zari filling pallu.

Technique: Handwoven

Occasion/Purpose: Bridal 9 yard saree

Circa: 1880-90

Remarks: Chandrakala often referred to as Kali Chandrakala (black paithani with heavy butti all over 9 yards), is a special saree of Makar Sankranti, a unique day when the black drape is acceptable. A misconception is common where Chandrakala has to be black. Navy blue or midnight blue is thus a perfect replacement. The Chandrakala is in deep navy blue color giving a realistic sense of night sky filled with shining stars. A fabric is added on the upper tucking side to indicate that the person wearing it was taller than usual and needed extra width.

Paithani Saree

Material: Cotton, Silver zari (gold plated + approx 5% gold content)
Dimensions: Length: 610 cm (240.1") Width: 80 cm (32")
Weave: Paithani, Paith Kath, Maharas Kath
Design: Khawle Kath/Narli Kath or coconut border with jacquard flower border frame on pallu with plain gold filling
Technique: Jacquard woven handloom
Occasion/Purpose: Bridal Saree custom made
Circa: 1880-1890
Remarks: Given width 32" and length 6.6 yards, this appears to a saree for a young girl/bride (1-13 years of age) draped as Nauvari. Sarees of shorter width are commonly made for goddess Tuljapur, Shree Bhavani, Mahalaxmi of Kolhapur but are often 9-14 yards in length.

Banaras Saree

Material: Natural Silk, Silver Zari (gold plated)

Dimensions: Length: 824 cm (324.4") Width: 126 cm (48")

Weave: Banarasi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Design: Gold band cross line pattern and filled frame pallu with closely spaced butta. 

Technique: Jacquard woven handloom

Occasion/Purpose: Bridal Saree

Circa: 1900

Remarks: A traditional Banarasi referred to as shalu in Marathi.

Banarasi Dhoti

Material: Silk with pure zari

Dimensions: Length: 480 cm (188.9") Width: 104 cm (40.9")

Weave: Probably Banarasi, Banaras, Uttar Pradesh

Design: Silk field in plain weave with gold zari border running lengthwise on both sides. Shikargah scenes of wildlife

Technique: Handwoven/Handloom

Occasion/Purpose: Men’s dhoti worn on religious and ceremonial occasions.

Circa: 1900s

Remarks: Janglabuti (woodland motif) consisting  floral patterns with birds (peacock) and animal (elephant, lion, deer) motifs. On the inner edge of the border, small keri or mango motifs are seen known as jhalar or kangur

Silk Dhoti

Material: Silk with pure zari

Dimensions: Length: 472 cm (185.8") Width: 120 cm (47.2")

Weave: Paithani, Paithan/Yeola (Maharashtra)

Design: Plain field with Khawale Kath or Narli Kath the border is completed by karvati kinar towards the field

Technique: Handwoven/Handloom

Occasion/Purpose: Men’s dhoti worn on religious and ceremonial occasions. 

Circa: 1900s

Remarks: This border is typically seen in Paithani sarees also. 

Banarasi Silk Saree

Material: Mulberry Silk and pure zari

Dimensions: Length: 760 cm (299.2") Width: 121 cm (47.6")

Weave: Banaras, Varanasi Uttar Pradesh

Design: Traditional delicate jaal border with small buttis densely placed, kairi or paisley in pallu and lagadi patta border.

Technique: Handwoven with Jacquard

Occasion/Purpose: Silk 9 yards ceremonial saree

Circa: 1900s

Remarks: Banarasi butidar silk saree comes under the category of pothans or baftas. Border- phulwar or floral scroll edged with a jhalar. Pallav is in solid pure gold with a cross border of keri (mango) motif arranged in a straight line (patewal). Also seen is a band with Karan Phool (8 petalled flower. In the two inner corners is seen an ornate mango motif ( koniya paisley motif). Probably from this saree Bhanu Athaiya replicated the two pink sarees Banarasi sarees in the 1900s. One of which was worn by her daughter Radhika Gupta in her wedding ceremony. 

Kunchi

Material: Silk brocade/Kinkhab with pure zari and silk lining

Dimensions: Height: 67 cm (26.3") Waist: 43 cm (16.9")

Weave: Probably Surat, Gujarat

Design: Ornate floral motifs with broad silk pipping and thread tassels overhead.

Technique: Jacquard hand weave

Occasion/Purpose: Christening Rob

Circa: 1900s

Remarks: The kunchi was worn by the baby in the Maharashtrian custom Barsa or naming ceremony, usually conducted on the 12th day of birth. Kinkhab in gold (Kinkhab are a thicker variety of brocades with all-over patterns used for dress materials, jackets, blouses, etc.) Could be woven in Surat the border seems to be silk satin weave again seen mainly produced in Gujarat.

Banarasi Saree

Material: Fine cotton with pure zari

Dimensions: Length: 832 cm (327.5") Width: 140 cm (55.1")

Weave: Banarasi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Design: Floral with minakari weave and matching buttas

Technique: Handwoven with Jacquard

Occasion/Purpose: Formal 9 yards saree

Circa: 1920s-1930

Remarks: This saree is seen on Bhanu Athaiya as a young girl in the 1930s and then on her mother in 1955 at Athaiya’s daughter, Radhika’s wedding.

Paithani Saree

Material: Cotton, Silver Zari (gold plated + 5% gold content)

Dimensions: Length: 816 cm (321.2") Width: 120 cm (47.2")

Weave: Paithani/Yeola, Maharashtra

Design: Khawle Kath/Narli Kath or coconut border, karwarti kinar with jacquard-assisted flower frame with zari filling pallu.

Technique: Handwoven

Occasion/Purpose: Saree

Circa: 1925-35

Remarks: Jacquards with Banaras punch cards became popular in 1920 onwards and Yeola was the main centre for such fusion Paithani sarees where handwoven and jacquard assisted motifs added another dimension of richness to typical coconut border paithanis. Saree weaved without butti indicated that either it was economic selection or saree for elderly women.

Paithani Saree

Material: Silk, Silver Zari (gold plated + 5% gold content)

Dimensions: Length: 124 cm (49") Width: 816 cm (321.2")

Weave: Paithani /Yeola, Maharashtra

Design: Khawle Kath/Narli Kath or coconut border, karwati kinar with jacquard assisted paisley butti, large paisley above pallu, and jaal pattern. Flower frame with zari filling pallu.

Technique: Handwoven with jacquard

Occasion/Purpose: Bridal saree

Circa: 1925-35

Remarks: Probably custom-made jacquards with Banaras punched cards that became popular in 1920. Yeola was the main centre for such fusion. Paithani sarees, hand-woven and jacquard assisted motifs added another dimension of richness to typical coconut border paithanis. A combination of different bases (self wrap x weft) under zari paisley, heavy butti, and silk indicates that the saree was probably made for a higher family or sold at a premium. A similar known saree was priced around Rupees 105.00 in 1933.

Banaras Shela/Odhna

Material: Natural Silk, Silver Zari
Dimensions: Length: 384 cm (150") Width: 10.55 cm (40")
Weave: Banarasi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Design: Gold band and flower border with cross patterns all over the body. Paisleys in the corner.
Technique: Jacquard woven handloom
Occasion/Purpose: Bridal Shela/Odhna
Circa: 1930
Remarks: Item (1) and was probably made on the same loom at the same time, and its pallu ends were cut later or ordered as fabric.

Banaras Shela/Odhana /Fabric Piece

Material: Natural Silk, Silver ZariDimensions: Length: 316 cm (125") Width: 105.5 cm (40")
Weave: Banarasi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Design: Gold band and flower border with cross patterns all over the body

Technique: Jacquard woven handloom
Occasion/Purpose: Bridal Shela/Odhna
Circa: 1930
Remarks: Appears to be cut from the saree as there is an absence of end panels of the typical shela.

South Silk Saree

Material: Silk, Silver, and Gold zari (gold plated + 5% gold content)

Dimensions: Length: 130 cm (51.1") Width: 780 cm (307")

Weave: Probably Tamil Nadu

Design: Traditional flower Vine Border in gold and silver zari pallu and Koniya paisley motif with thin horizontal lines in the body.

Technique: Handloom

Occasion/Purpose: Silk 9 yards saree

Circa: 1900-1940 (the 1940s)

Remarks: A traditional south silk saree 

South Silk Saree

Material: Silk, Silver zari (gold plated)

Dimensions: Length: 108 cm (48") Width: 508 cm (200")

Weave: Probably Tamil Nadu

Design: Traditional flower vine border in gold and zari plain pallu without butti body.

Technique: Handloom

Occasion/Purpose: Light 6 yards saree

Circa: 1900-1940 (the 1940s)

Remarks: A traditional lightweight cotton silk south saree. 

South Silk Saree

Material: Natural Silk, Silver Zari

Dimensions: Length: 134 cm (50") Width: 772 cm (303.9")

Weave: Probably Tamil Nadu

Design: Gold band and flower border with the standard plain pallu

Technique: Woven handloom

Occasion/Purpose: Light 9-yard saree

Circa: 1920-1945

Remarks: A traditional lightweight silk south saree.

South Silk Saree

Material: Natural Silk, Silver Zari
Dimensions: Length: 114 cm (45") Width: 800 cm (314.9")

Weave: Probably Tamil Nadu
Design: Gold band and flower border with the standard plain pallu
Technique: Woven handloom
Occasion/Purpose: Light 9 yards saree
Circa: 1920-1945
Remarks: A lightweight silk saree.

Paithani Pitambar

Material: Silk, Silver Zari (gold plated + 5% gold content)

Dimensions: Length: 117 cm (34") Width: 468 cm (184.2")

Weave: Paithani, Yeola, Maharastra

Design: Khawle Kath/Narli Kath or coconut border with karwati kinar

Technique: Handloom/Handwoven

Occasion/Purpose: Men’s pitambar, (Dhoti for religious ritual)

Circa: 1920-1965 (Given this is silk, it is probably the 1950s)

Remarks: Men use pitambar (a turmeric yellow or orange color waist cloth), a special dhoti while performing rituals. Pitambar and Uparana (small shela draped over shoulders) are considered a must-have attire while performing any ritual. This is still practiced in most Brahmin families and other orthodox and Hindu families. 

Banarasi Silk Saree

Material: Silk with pure zari

Dimensions: Length: 552 cm (217.3") Width: 122 cm (48")

Weave: Banarasi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Design: Handwoven with Jacquard

Technique: Traditional delicate jaal border with small buttis densely placed, kairi or paisley in pallu and lagadi patta border

Occasion/Purpose: Silk 9 yards ceremonial saree

Circa: 1950s

Remarks: Replicated from Item (17) for Bhanu Athaiya’s daughter Radhika Gupta’s wedding. 

Banarasi Silk Saree


Material: Silk with pure zari

Dimensions: Length: 592 cm (233") Width: 121 cm (47.6")

Weave: Banarasi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Design: Traditional delicate jaal border with small buttis densely placed, kairi or paisley in pallu and lagadi patta border

Technique: Handwoven with Jacquard

Occasion/Purpose: Silk 9 yards ceremonial saree

Circa: 1950s

Remarks: Replicated from Item (17) for Bhanu Athaiya’s daughter Radhika Gupta’s wedding

Costume

Material: Silk with artificial zari

Dimensions: Skirt - Height: 94 cm (37") Waist: 46 cm (18.1")

Blouse: Height: 49 cm (19.2") Top Width: 30 cm (11.8") Bottom Width: 54 cm (21.2")

Weave: Banarasi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Design: Floral with light minakari jaal

Technique: Handwoven with Jacquard

Occasion/Purpose: Stage performance

Circa: 2000s

Remarks: This appears to be an unfinished costume assignment to have belonged to the eminent Kathak dancer, Sitara Devi

Research and documentation done by Radhikaraje Gaekwad in collaboration with Maharaja Fatesingh Museum Vadodara with inputs by Rashmi & Prashant Tapadia, Pune.

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