History of Chanderi sarees
Ancient texts speak of Madhya Pradesh as a famous center for weaving between the 7th century and the 2nd century BC. One of the historical identities of Madhya Pradesh, is situated on the boundary of two cultural regions of the state, Malwa and Bundelkhand. This habitation, in the dense forests of Vindhyachal Ranges, is a depository of various traditions. Contemporarily, in eleventh century, its location near the trade routes, connecting Malwa, Mewad and Central India to the ports of South and Gujrat, gave it the importance. It has been an important ancient center of Jain culture. We find its reference in the Epic Mahabharata. Famous Persian scholar Albaruni referred this town while making a reference to a period around 1030AD in his book "Albaruni's India". Mughals, Rajputs and Maratha dynasties ruled this region from time to time. Kings and Kingdoms, Badshahs and Sultans, battles won and lost, Queens who performed Johar, Palaces, Forts, Doors and what not, which gave name and fame to Chanderi, now remain only part of stories and fables; but what survived throughout, from 12th and 13th centuries AD till today, is the magic of the weave of Chanderi which is known to rich and middle classes of India as 'Chanderi Saris'. Proven record of tradition of cloth weaving is available from 13th century. In the beginning, weavers were mostly Muslims. In 1350, Koshti weavers from Jhansi migrated to Chanderi and settled down here. During Mughal period cloth business of Chanderi reached to its peak. The cloth length of Chandri was sent to Mughal Badshah Akbar folded and packed in a hollow of a bamboo, when it was taken out, a whole Elephant could have been covered by its length. This was the delicacy and sophistication of weaving of those days. During the reign of Jahangir, this art of weaving still used to mesmerize people. But this is also true that this excellence of weaving which peaked during Mughal period, also deteriorated during this very period. Jain community has been living in Chanderi for a very long time. There are many Jain temples and pilgrimages in Chanderi. It is said that in Gajrath Samaharos, held between1436 to 1468, turbans made only from Chanderi cloth were worn. Chroniclers of history of Chanderi have mentioned the uniqueness of Chanderi fabrics. Tieffenthaler, a Jesuit priest who stayed in nearby Marwar from 1740 to 1761, mentioned in his description De L’Inde in 1776 that “very fine cloth is woven here and exported abroad.” One by-product of this was the growth of new weaving centers; Chanderi rose to prominence as a cloth producer on the back of the raw cotton boom. Weavers produced very fine quality turbans for export to Maratha rulers among whom the cocked ‘turban’ was becoming a distinguishing mark of high nobility. Much earlier one finds mention of Chanderi in Maasir-i-Alamgir (1658-1707) wherein it is stated that Aurangzeb ordered that “in the Khilat Khana embroider cloth should be used instead of stuff with gold and silver worked on it.” The material was very expensive, a pair of sari costing eight hundred to one thousand rupees and sometimes even more. “The beauty of fabric consists in its fineness, softness and transparency, but the ends were often worked and fringed heavily with gold thread.” A British R.C. Sterndal described Chanderi cloth as, "Chanderi is a place where thin Malmal cloth is woven. The cloth woven in Chanderi is the favorable choice of Queens in India. This cloth is very expensive, which have works of Golden thread on its borders. The cloth of Chanderi can be identified by its thin, soft and transparent texture, which can only be experienced." Till recently, all the turbans of Maratha rulers of India were made by Chanderi weavers. These turbans were woven on a 6" loom. There is probably no weaver of this school of weaving is left in Chanderi now. Royal families of Gwalior, Indore, kohlapur, Baroda and Nagpur used clothes woven in Chanderi on festivals like child birth, marriage, etc. Chanderi produced a range of saris appropriate to the tastes of its clients, the royalty and nobility of Gwalior, Baroda, Nagpur and beyond. Rarely could a trader get past the discerning eye of an elder in these select households. The Maharani of Baroda would immediately put aside the 200s count cotton by just a ‘rub on the cheek’ and could decipher the finer nuances of the motif work and pay accordingly. Gwalior state patronized Chanderi weavers from time to time. Traditionally, Chanderi cloth was woven using hand spun cotton thread. Threads were always brought here from outside. Due to its proximity to trade routes, supply of threads was never interrupted; but in 19th century local weavers started using mill spun thread. Then Silk thread was preferred because the mill spun cotton thread could not produce the required shine which was the specialty of Chanderi cloth. This was the time when 'woven air', which was the name to describe exclusiveness of Chanderi cloth had started losing its meaning.