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Deeper study of the motifs

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Nature and the regional
animals / birds were also a huge inspiration for the designers. The swans in
the lakes, the elephants in the temples, the lion, tiger, horses, deer’s,
parrots, the mythical Yali and Garuda
and the national bird peacock were all part of the saree motifs.


This is a mythical
animal sculpted in many Hindu temples. It is represented with the head of a
lion, tusk and trunk of the elephant, body of the horse and the tail is a
serpent. Thus, the Yali combines the
key strength of each animal to create a super powerful, mighty creature. This
hybrid creature is mythical inspiration for the artists and interpreted
differently by each artist and used one of the key motifs.

yali as a motif

Yalis are most commonly drawn with intricate
abstract patterns and are filled in with various patterns that are used as a background.
In most sarees with the Yali motif,
it becomes a key element without too many other distracting patterns. As not
only is the yali worshipped, it is
also empowering. This could have been inspiring for the freedom movement during
the 1940s when India was fighting for independence from the British.   


The yali as a statue in a


Garuda/ Gandaberunda

This Hindu mythological
bird is mix of the eagle with human features and is used as a mode of transport
for God Vishnu. It represents the birth of heaven and is the enemy of all
poisonous creatures.

Normally it is drawn
with a white head, body of gold, red wings and talons of an eagle. But the
artists of Kanchipuram took liberty to add a twist to the original design. The
birds were designed with one solid color, most commonly with gold thread and
instead of talons they added a big tail to dramatize. Variations of this were
created and used as a main motif.

On the saree the motif
of the garuda was drawn heart shaped
body, tiny almond shaped wings and a large fan like tail with detailed
feathers. The entire body of the bird was filled with intricate supporting
patterns to make the entire design even grander. The head was a simple circle
with the eyes facing away from the body and an elongated beak which is open to
represent the bird call.


Garuda used as a statue/logo for a company

The Garuda
as a motif








This is the national
bird of India is a large brightly colored bird with a fan of feathers spread
out from the back. Each feather on the tail is perfectly detailed with a
hallmark green and blue eye spot. This beautiful bird is the most common motif
found in sarees around India. Even within the kanchi saree there are several
different representations of the peacock which have evolved over the years.

In the earlier period,
the peacocks that were sketched were simple and did not contain many details. Over
the years this bird ‘mayil’ has been
drawn in various ways. The most common representation nowadays is a side
profile with its tail shrunk and folded and its head looking back towards the
tail with a graceful tilt. The body is filled with smaller patterns starting
from the head to the beginning of the tail and within the tail the most common
patterns are leaf shaped designs. The tail is usually two times the size of the
body of a live peacock but all the inspired motifs have the tail smaller, about
half the size of the body. Traditionally, though still a side profile, the
peacock motif was drawn tail facing up and fanned out and the head facing

The peacock was such an
inspiration to the artists that detailed studies of the feathers on the tail
gave them further material and the eye spot of the tail itself became a main
motif in recent years post independence

More traditional peacock motif

Very modern peacock motif on the
pallu of the saree





traditional Mango

The mango being the
national fruit of India and grown in abundance in India served as a huge source
of inspiration to the artists.

traditional variations… due to the traditional blue color and gold zari.
Also the honeycomb pattern in the second one is very popular

artists used mangoes everywhere, including the entire body of the saree which
is quite different in the kanchi saree. Each mango could be unique and the
patterns within the mango are still mostly the same basic patterns. In the
cases where the artist would cover the entire body of the saree with the same
mango motif, the weaving of the saree would take longer or he would add it in
as supporting designs to a more intricate design.

Very modern variation of the
mango… due to the very bright and new color scheme and the design with the
flower motifs on the side



Temple motif

Hindu temples served as
an inspiration to design as traditionally they were not just a religious
building but also a hub of cultural and urban life. The south Indian temples
typically had an ornate gateway which was topped by the Gopuram. These Gopuram
designs are represented in gold as saree motifs.

The piliyar mooku is one such design which is most common and simple temple
pattern. It relates to the ‘Pilaiyar’
or lord Ganesha a popular elephant
god in India.

is another more detailed temple design which looks like a crown with pointed
edges and symmetrical laterally. This design shows the top of the temple which
has several layers building up and showcases a story. The details of the story
itself are not used but the decorative borders are used to create the supporting
designs. Seepu rekku is one more variation of the temple design.

Nowadays other god
houses are also represented in designs taking the traditional to new, more
modern variation that showcases India as Secular nation post independence. The
artists have been inspired by Churches and mosques to create newer forms and
patterns of the temple design.

Temple and church

Pillaiyar mokku





Saree Design and Layout

The six meter saree is
not all covered in designs and motifs. The body of the saree, which is the
major five to five and half meters, has a designer border and sometimes simple
motifs as ‘bottu’ (dots). The last
half to three quarter meters of the saree called the ‘pallu’ is the most intense and decorative part of the saree. This
border design, the body of the saree and are all part of the design layout. The
traditional ” used are simple dots to diamonds or flowers. Nowadays the bottus itself have intricate and complex

Again the traditional
borders used to be multiple lines of the Vanki
or a line of simple mangoes. This has evolved to having the main motifs,
ranging from elephants to peacocks and supporting designs on all or two sides.
Checks and stripes were more used in the olden days within the body of the
saree itself.

The Pallu can be as simple as a few lines
with a temple edge many times. The grand wedding sarees are intensely
decorated. The intricate designs have multiple sections with a central element
and symmetrical designs on either side. This layout is followed in most
traditional sarees and many examples are shown below. The modern sarees have
unique styles with pictures of gods or even a photograph of the bride and groom
custom woven as the pallu.

The original colors
were primarily poster red, indigo, parrot green and mustard yellow. Vegetable
dyes were primarily used. Nowadays with chemical dyes the color options are
innumerable and various shades of every color are used to weave a kanchi saree. A saree is renowned for
its vibrant colors with contrasting borders. 





The traditional sarees with
conventional motifs

Traditional check & temple motif

Traditional mango motif of the
kanchi saree


Traditional mango motif with modern color variations





The modern variations

A very modern saree with the
picture of the bride and groom on the pallu of the saree.

Very modern colors and design
covering the body of the saree. The swans are not a kanchi motif.

The intricacy used to make the
picture of the god can only be achieved with modern technology.  

The bright, light blue is a
modern color and the butterflies are closer to the banarasi style.











evolution of the Kanchi saree


The traditional artist
used to draw the design on paper as a first step. This was then translated to a
graph paper. The marking on the graph were first pencil dots drawn at the
intersection (and not within the square); this made it very precise and is
traditional of Kanchipuram designers. After this design was approved by the
master weaver, the drawing on the graph was outlined in pen to make it clearly
visible for the next step. Punch cards were then handmade, which was a long and
painful process. The punch cards were then used in the loom to weave in the
design. This whole process of making the saree can take three month or longer.


Nowadays with the
computers and software aiding the artist, the process has changed. The initial
design is still drawn on paper; it is then translated via graphing software
into the computer. The punch cards are then automated and made with a machine.
These punch cards are then used in the modern and enhanced handloom. The entire
design to saree process can be now be shortened to a month.

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