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the present treasure of the past

As the joys of Eid-ul-Fitr draw nearer, it is high time to think of dazzling all comers on the special occasion. An auspicious day like Eid calls for class and sophistication, and we feel there are few better ways to class it up than with a traditional Banarasi sari, and so this week we take a look at the past and present state of this icon of Bangladeshi fashion.

If you travel along the silk threads of what makes a Banarasi sari, you will find yourself travelling along our very own history; such is the intricate connection of this garment with this land. The art of making Banarasi has evolved separately in Veranasi in India where its origins lay and in Mirpur, Dhaka where some of the artisans migrated after the 1947 partition and were stranded after the 1971 War of Independence.

The local Banarasi sari can be found in many types such as Banaras, Butidar, Monihar, Organza, Sharnalata, Banarasi jute cotton, etc. Each is an off-shoot of the basic Banarasi concept of weaving, differing in the material used. Until recent years Mirpur Banarasi has been in somewhat of a rut.

“The designs were repetitive and gaudy,” said Tahajul Islam, owner of Saree Kutir, a renowned retail outlet for Mirpur Banarasi saris in Bashundhara City, “The perceived value did not match the quality and craftsmanship of the work since we were always behind the Veranasi Banarasis in terms of design.”

Such was the picture because the Mirpur artisans were heavily dependent on the craft masters who hailed from India once every year to update the designs and motifs. As a result the 'new' designs in the Mirpur Banarasi saris were already 'last season' in our India-dominated sari market. The extent of this 'design trap' could be observed in the local Banarasis being named after last season's Bollywood flicks.

Thankfully a change ensued from 2005 when the local artisans identified this gap in innovation and with the help of some NGOs and other groups dedicated to preserving our heritage, journeyed into the bold territory of creating rather than copying.

Now the local Banarasi sari is reemerging. The ultimate tribute for a sari is being chosen as a bridal outfit, and this is now happening for local Banarasis, a change from how the product was seen maybe ten years ago.

Banarasi as sold today
Spreading from Mirpur 10 to 11 and housing almost 110 shops, the Banarasi Palli is a haven for sari lovers -- buyers, sellers and makers alike. Manick Banarasi is one of the bigger outlets in the area that has been serving its customers for the last 22 years.

Talking to the manager of the store, one gets to feel the passion that runs through the people who are involved in this art. To them, a Banarasi is not just a piece of clothing, it is rather a flamboyant portion of art and heritage that deserves the utmost respect.

It was amazing to see the thirst for innovation in this sector. Manick Banarasi came up with this exclusive brand of katans called 'Tagore's Studio Collection' which have been made by replicating the designs from the saris worn by the womenfolk of the Tagore household. The designs were stripped from age-old portraits. Manik Banarasi has also taken their product range and service a step further by catering to the niche segments of society with an exclusive Signature Collection, which contains saris that are unique with the guarantee of never being replicated.

The saris are made from pure silk, which is more expensive than artificial ones imported from China. The Signature Collection ranges in price from Tk.20,000 to more than a lakh. Manik Banarasi also offers customised services to its customers, which means that a customer can choose her own design and can direct the weavers to make the sari according to her taste.

The Banarasi katan is a lurid story by itself, one that has been weaved into the tradition and the heritage of this country since time immemorial.

Still a way to go
Despite the improvement, the local saris still have to compete and convince potential buyers and that makes it an uphill journey. Added to this is the lack of infrastructure facing local artisans. The other drawback is the time required for a single sari to be produced. It ranges from fifteen days to six months with a whole family toiling over the process (usually the men weave and the women do the embroidery at home) which yields between Tk.1000 and Tk.20,000. The pressure on prices is intensified by the Indian products flooding the market, which are always seen as better and hence many Mirpur Banarasis are sold in the market as Indian Banarasis!

A final -- though decreasing -- drawback is the attitudes of the buyers who always seem to regard local products as inferior in quality to foreign imports, which in this case are Indian Banarasis. This ideology is however ebbing away to the tide of patriotism, which seems to have flooded our nation as more and more people opt for local garments, often sporting a Banarasi sari, which is traditionally a sari for festive occasions.

If you like Banarasi saris and are interested in making the trip to Mirpur, Manick Banarasi Ltd. is located at House 1, Lane 9, Block A, Section 10, Mirpur Banarasi Polli, Dhaka. You may also call them at 01711406767, 8031320.

By Raisaa Tashnova and Afrida Mahbub
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Airin, Chaitee, Isha
Makeup, styling, jewellery: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe: Manick Banarasi
Special thanks to Sayeed Siddiqui, Riyad Siddiqui and Ashrafun Siddiqui for opening their door for the Star Lifestyle team.


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