ThrivingAt13: Tracing the evolution of the Mysuru silk sari, Bengaluru's beloved handloom

We speak to three experts from the fashion landscape about some of the glorious moments of the traditional Mysuru silk sari that strangely enough, calls Bengaluru home...
Allure of authentic Mysuru silk sari
Allure of authentic Mysuru silk sari

When you first come to Bengaluru and engage in a tourist trail starting from Lalbagh Botanical Garden to Vidhana Soudha and the Basavanagudi Bull Temple to Cubbon Park and the works, it is during your stop at the magnificent Bengaluru Palace that you first experience the allure of the Mysuru silk sari.

Stationed outside the opulent palace are auto-rickshaw drivers who convince tourists to stop by stores that sell Mysuru silk, almost like it’s the only thing Bengaluru is famous for! Even though their authenticity stays debatable, the idea we intend to put across is that when in Bengaluru, a Mysuru silk sari is one heirloom piece that you must invest in.

We trace the tale of how these seven yards of sheen came to be so important in the saga that is Bengaluru...Initially reserved for the exclusive adornment of the royal family, the legacy of the Mysuru silk sari began under the patronage of maharaja Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar when he established a factory, now being run by KSIC (Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation Limited), in 1912. The Mysuru silk sari became the first product from Karnataka to receive a Geographical Indication (GI) mark, serving as an assurance of its quality.

Textile revivalist Pavithra Muddaya begins the tale by sharing, “A good KSIC sari comes with a number. There is a certain quality and now it is established that if you want to get a good KSIC sari, there is a number that adds to the authenticity and longevity stamp.” Stylist and textile enthusiast Prasad Bidapa adds, that while the traditional weaving techniques contribute to its longevity, there is so much more to the silhouettes’ appeal than its look and feel.

“I think that the softness and muted sheen of Mysuru silk is incomparable and the new Chinese silk yarn in the market looks spurious and synthetic in comparison,” Prasad shares while telling us how seamlessly the fabric has now made its way into menswear. “The classic silk tie with a matching pocket square is still popular. Men do wear silk shirts and kurtas made out of Mysuru silk. This is the authentic provenance of the Mysuru silk sari,” he claims.

If you ask us, the transformative journey of the Mysuru silk sari exemplified global recognition when the newly crowned Miss World 1994, Aishwarya Rai, caught a dinner break after the momentous moment and ate a meal sitting on the floor dressed in the regional sari, celebrating her home, Tulunad, which is within Karnataka.

Even though before this moment the seven yards of grace was prominent, this particular one catapulted the charm of a heritage weave globally. Speaking about one such high point of reviving this fabric and bringing it to the mainstream, Prasad tells us that the erstwhile maharani of Mysuru, Pramoda Devi Wadiyar undertook a project to modernise the designs a couple of years ago. “This sari, with its variations of pure silk, georgette and chiffon is considered a masterpiece, which remains classic through the ages. She created a beautiful range of designs in exquisite colours and used the royal emblem of the gandaberunda to great effect,” he explains. Further on the revival, Prasad avers that while efforts are in place to keep this beautiful heritage handicraft alive, especially by KSIC, there is a need to bring more young people into this revival landscape.

Pavithra chimes in on the revival of the handloom and shares, “When I was growing up, Bengaluru silk meant the thinner varieties of silk — both woven and prints. Today what we know of the Mysuru silk sari, is the KSIC crepe sari. Because of their efforts, people now don’t mind paying extra for the authentic design and the pure zari work. It is so much more than a revival.” Fascinated by how the perception of the traditional textile has evolved, we also speak to Kamlesh Talera, one of the founders of Mysore Saree Udyog, who is now taking the sari beyond the borders of Karnataka and opening a flagship store in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad.

He tells us that the Mysuru silk sari has not made it to the mainstream yet because of ever-evolving fashion preferences and, currently, it’s at the stage where it’s balancing keeping up with trends and also honouring its traditional roots. “Even though patrons love them, newer trendier silk saris are grabbing more attention. Finding a balance between tradition and what’s hot right now might help it become more popular among a wider audience,” he adds. We speak to him at length to find out more...

How would you define an authentic Mysuru silk sari?
Authentic Mysuru silk saris are meticulously crafted from pure mulberry silk. Renowned for their exquisite texture, softness and natural sheen, these saris typically exhibit superior quality, often weighing above 60 gm per square metre, especially in crepe and georgette variants. Additionally, these saris are woven using time-honoured techniques passed down through generations. Another hallmark of authenticity is the intricate zari work that adorns many Mysuru silk saris. Metallic threads, predominantly gold and silver, are intricately woven to form elaborate patterns and motifs, imparting a luxurious and opulent touch.

How would you say the Mysuru silk sari has evolved over the years?
Over time, numerous design interventions have been implemented, particularly by MSU, to ensure the continued relevance of Mysuru silk for today’s generation. One such recent innovation is the incorporation of hand-painted patachitra designs onto Mysuru silk saris.

Has the Mysuru silk sari made it into menswear?
The traditional allure of Mysuru silk saris has started to influence men’s fashion, particularly through the utilisation of Mysuru crepe fabrics. This exquisite material has found its way into men’s wardrobes, specifically as fabric for kurtas signifying a subtle yet significant shift, introducing the richness of this fabric to men’s clothing in a limited but noteworthy manner.

What do you think is the future of the Mysuru silk sari? What does the future hold for this fabric according to you?
The future of the Mysuru silk sari appears incredibly promising. This exquisite fabric is poised to maintain its timeless allure and cement its position as an indispensable ethnic wear choice for women. As fashion evolves, the Mysuru silk sari continues to stand out due to its enduring elegance and cultural significance. Its versatility allows it to adapt to contemporary trends while retaining its traditional essence, ensuring its continued relevance in the wardrobes of women and now men, across generations.

X: @muskankhullar03

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