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  • Lasya GP

47 Traditional Textiles of India: Where Culture Meets Nature!

Ever imagined India without its women donning a beautifully embroidered sari made of the finest fabric? Impossible. Isn't it?

Indian textiles have been a crucial part of Indian households since the Indus Valley Civilization. The identity of India is incomplete without its rich textile, embroidery craft, and sari industry. Indian textiles are a part of the state's rich culture, heritage, and history.

Many government initiatives to date have strengthened the foundation of the textile industry. However, many others remain, seeking the attention and support of the government and consumers alike.

This article is an attempt to briefly introduce some important traditional textiles of India without which the identity of any Indian is incomplete. However, if you wish to experience their true beauty and richness, I suggest you add a few of them to your shopping cart right away!

Textile art and crafts of India: Pashmina, Phulkari, and Bandhani fabrics
From left to right: Pashmina, Phulkari, and Bandhani

1. Pashmina (Kashmir)

Pashmina fabric weaving is a 100-year-old tradition. Pashmina comes from the natural shedding of the hair from the undercoat of the Himalayan goat found only in Ladakh.

Due to the diameter of the fiber being just 12 - 16 microns, it is easily breakable. Thus, it is hand-processed with extreme care, spun, and woven into the warmest shawls, scarves, throws, etc.

Pashmina is one of the costliest fabrics in the world since making and embroidering a single shawl takes laborious work for more than a week. However, once purchased, its vibrant color, warmth, softness, and lightweight justify its worth.

2. Kullu Shawl (Kullu, Himachal Pradesh)

Kullu shawls are produced from fine wool retrieved from merino wool, pashmina, angora, yak hair, and their mixtures. They are popular for being reversible where the same pattern and color appear on both sides.

Each shawl, worn by both men and women, may have up to eight vibrant colors. The simplicity of the geometric patterns on bright solid colors makes the shawls a statement piece in any attire.

3. Kinnauri Shawl (Kullu, Himachal Pradesh)

Kinnauri shawls are recognized for their close relationship with nature and religion. While the geometrical patterns embroidered into each shawl have a religious significance, the yarns used represent the various elements of nature.

Using Merino wool, Pashmina, and wool from the local sheep, the shawls are woven on frame looms and are hand-embroidered. A noteworthy feature is that no additional yarn is manipulated within each piece. Hence, this time-consuming work of art requires the immense expertise of the craftspeople.

4. Chamba Rumal (Himachal Pradesh)

The Pahari art form originated in the 17th century in Chamba and won royal patronage ever since. The flawless needlework on Chamba Rumals came from this Pahari school of art where ornate embroidery is combined with miniature art.

Traditionally, the queens embroidered on the Chamba Rumal to offer as gifts during weddings and ceremonies. Eventually, the art form extended beyond the palace walls and began to be practiced by the local dwellers.

5. Phulkari (Punjab)

Phulkari has many theories of origin. While some predict its origin from Iran, some indicate its earliest mention in 18th century Punjabi literature. Indian literature like Mahabharata, the Vedas, and Guru Granth Sahib are also believed to carry Phulkari's reference.

Regardless, the women of Punjab first began Phulkari work in Punjab in the 15th century. Although Phulkari means floral work, its motifs include geometrical patterns and other figures too.

Today, the people of Punjab create detailed patterns with merely a needle and silk threads of vibrant colors. The long and short darn stitch passes through the coarse cotton cloth to produce radiantly multi-colored saris, salwar kameez, churidar, and dupattas.

A salwar kameez takes at least 80 days to be completed. Hence, each heavily worked garment can cost as much as a Banarasi silk.

6. Panchachuli Weave (Uttarakhand)

Panchachuli weave's specialty lies in the use of natural, biodegradable, and organic ingredients to produce a weave with intricate geometric details. Women of Uttarakhand near the Indo-Tibet border weave designs using Merino wool, Pashmina, sheep wool, and silk.

The resulting products include high-quality shawls, scarves, blankets, and more. These lightweight garments are all spun, knitted, and woven by hand that come in a wide range of colors.

7. Woolen Weaves (Uttarakhand)

The Himalayan weavers from Uttarakhand’s Kolees, Rompas, and Bhotia/ Bhotiya communities use natural dyes to make shawls, carpets, and several other items.

The weavers are originally from a nomadic tribe that weaves warm woolens during winter and farms during summer.

The sheep and yak wool is hand-spun and hand-woven to make slightly rough but perfectly warm shawls for harsh winters. Additionally, as the needs of the Urban Indians and overseas buyers evolve, the weavers also update their designs accordingly.

8. Panja Dhurrie (Haryana)

The carpet weaving tradition in India dates back to 500 B.C. and is also mentioned in Buddhist texts. Moreover, in the 16th century, the Mughal emperors not just imported carpets but also offered patronage to Persian artisans to teach Indian artisans the craft of carpet weaving.

What started as Persian carpet designs soon saw tremendous evolution in the hands of Indian artisans under the patronage of Mughal rulers Akbar and Shahjehan.

However, dhurries are slightly different from carpets. Dhurrie is a lightweight and flat woven rug made of cotton and is generally reversible. A carpet is heavier and made of wool with clear patterns only on one side. Thus, the carpets are more expensive than the dhurries and are mainly used by the well-off.

The word 'Panja' in Panja Dhurries comes from a metallic claw-like tool that the weavers use to beat and set the weft threads in the warp. Today, Panipat's Panja dhurries are in great demand in domestic as well as international markets.

9. Bandhani (Rajasthan and Gujarat)

No one ever mentions Indian textiles without Bandhani, also known as 'Bandhej'. Bandhani is one of the most loved textiles in India and abroad. 'Bandhani' means to tie. Thus, it means to tie and dye the fabric to produce vivid patterns.

Bandhani's existence dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization around 4000 B.C. In the Bandhani technique, the artisans pluck the fabric and make small bindings. They then dip the fabric into dyes creating the classic Bandhani texture. The craft includes various subtypes based on the way the fabric is tied.

Striking colors like red, blue, yellow, green, and black are used to create fabrics that are considered auspicious around Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Punjab. Different colors communicate different meanings in Bandhani. The technique is used to produce saris, kurtas, salwar kameez, dupattas, turbans, bags, and chaniya cholis.

10. Ajrakh (Kutch, Gujarat and Barmer, Rajasthan)

Ajrakhis is an art form involving wooden hand block printing that began in Sindh (Pakistan), Kutch (Gujarat), and Barmer (Rajasthan).

The production of Ajrakh is closely linked with nature's blessings—the raw materials, colors, and motifs. The cotton and silk fabrics

are printed with the predominant color 'Ajrak' meaning indigo (from Azrak in Arabic), and the red that comes from the madder plant.

The motifs are usually geometric that symbolize the stars and flowers, while the trefoil means the indivisible unity of sun, water, and earth. The final fabric is then used to produce turbans, shawls, cummerbunds, sarongs, and more.

Textile art and crafts of India: Kullu shawls and Shisha work
From left to right: Kullu shawls and Shisha work

11. Sanganeri Block Printing (Rajasthan)

Sanganeri is a form of hand-block printing that originated in Sanganer, Rajasthan. Even though this art form is thousands of years old, it is loved and practiced in India even today.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Sanganeri print introduced the idea of block printing to European countries. It became one of the most sought-after exports of the East India Company.

The art form is deeply inspired by nature as both motifs and traditional dyes are acquired from gifts of nature. The motifs include paisley, flowers, leaves, birds, geometric, and religious figures. While the dyes used are also drawn from plants and insects. Due to this reason, most resulting designs have their names after flowers, vegetables, etc. However, owing to the rising demand for Sanganeri prints, chemical and synthetic dyes are also being used today.

The main colors used are red, black, yellow, green, and blue. The printing blocks are made of wood or metal and the printed designs carry symbolic meanings. Today, Sanganeri print can be found on scarves, skirts, bed covers, dresses, and salwar kameez.

12. Kota Doria (Kaithoon Village, Rajasthan)

Kota Doria is mainly produced in Kaithoon, a small town in the Kota district of Rajasthan. Its distinguished look comes from the squared or chequered weave patterns known as 'Khats'. This fine open weave fabric is made from cotton, silk, and zari on a pit loom.

The stiffness of cotton and the luster of the silk provides a breathtaking look and feel to the resulting textile. Thus, these saris are most preferred in summers as they are lightweight and extremely airy.

The varieties in the sari usually emerge from the embellishment done on the fabric. The three common styles of Kota Doria are plain/ basic, printed, and zari.

13. Bagru Print (Rajasthan)

It is believed that Bagru block printing was introduced 450 years ago by a community of Chhipas. 'Chhipas' literally means people who print. This nomadic community settled on the Sanjaria riverside where it resides even today.

While the Sanganeri print is done on a white background, the Bagru print is done on an Indigo or a dyed background. Due to the effects of the local water, Sanganeri produces rich dark hues while Bagru gives a reddish tinge to the printed textiles. Besides, Bagru also differs from the Sanganeri print in its color combinations, motifs, and design.

Bagru printing uses natural color and traditional methods of printing. It is done in two styles of printing—direct and resist style. Although Bagru art needs the immediate support of buyers today, it is the abundant water in the Sanjaria river that helps Bagru survive.

14. Shisha Work (Rajasthan)

Shisha or mirror work is one of the most captivating textile embroideries that originated in 17th century India. It exists alongside the celebrated Indian crafts such as tie and dye, applique, and other embroidery styles. The shisha work technique has been passed down through generations that demand highly-skilled and focussed minds.

In this complex craft, mirror pieces of various shapes and sizes are decoratively embroidered into the fabric. The three types of shisha work include work done with mica, commercially produced mirror pieces, or other embellishments stitched along with the mirrors.

The base color of the fabric is usually dark to allow the bright stitches and the mirror work to shine through.

15. Patola (Patan, Gujarat)

Patola is a unique double ikat weave. It is made from silk and includes a combination of weaving, tying, and dyeing techniques. Additionally, it takes four weavers and between 6 to 12 months to weave a sari. Due to these reasons, a Patola sari is expensive.

However, these detailed techniques add further richness to the fabric. That is why, it had once been a favorite of the aristocratic and royal families, especially during auspicious occasions.

The Patola craft is passed on from father to son, quite literally, only to the sons. It is woven in Patan, Surat, and Ahmedabad but is also a treasured textile in Indonesia.

16. Chikankari (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh)

Lucknow is world-famous for its delicate and elegant Chikan work, done with white cotton thread on cloths of various colors.

'Chikan' comes from the Persian word 'Chakin' or 'Chakeen' which means producing delicate patterns on fabric. The artform existed more than 200 years ago. Originally, the Chikankari work was inspired by the detailed carvings on the Mughal architecture and was patronized by the Nawabs. It is believed that Chikankari was introduced by Nur Jahan, the wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir.

What was done traditionally on fine muslin cotton (mulmul), can also be seen on cotton, silk, crepe, wool, and chiffon today. The stitches used are flat stitches, embossed stitches, and Jali work that can be seen on dresses, cushion covers, table linen, and more.

The work is done mainly by women who belong to the 5000 Muslim families around the villages of Lucknow. Apart from Lucknow, Delhi and Mumbai also have active centers for Chikankari work.

17. Banarasi Sari (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh)

Banarasi brocade saris are produced in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. They are favored for being finely woven with silk and heavily decorated with exquisite designs using zari. This makes the Banarasi saris best suited for festivals, special occasions, and parties.

Banarasi sari weaving tradition came with the Mughal rule in India. They are gorgeously ornamented with a combination of Persian and Indian motifs. The resulting designs are based on birds, fruits, flowers, animals, humans, geometric patterns, and more.

Conventionally, Banarasi saris are woven on jacquard looms. Sometimes, the saris also feature opulent gold or silverwork, meenakari, compact weaving, jali work, metallic effects, satin borders, cutwork, etc.

18. Bhagalpuri Silk (Bihar)

Bhagalpuri silk belongs to the city of Bhagalpuralso known as the 'silk city'in Bihar. What differentiates Bhagalpuri silk from other silk is its eco-friendliness.

The silkworms used to make the silk are native to India. Bhagalpuri silk uses a limited number of silkworms that are bred using cruelty-free methods. Hence, it is given the name 'peace silk'.

A favorite of the Mughals, Bhagalpuri silk started as a regular task of pulling out threads from the silkworms and spinning them. This soon garnered interest among the Bhagalpuri weavers who started producing brilliant and textured fabric as a source of their livelihood.

Woven from 'Tussar silk', it is also known as the "queen of all fabrics" due to its remarkable resilience, golden appearance, and high quality.

19. Chanderi Fabric (Madhya Pradesh)

Coming from the town of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh, Chanderi fabric's origin dates back to the 7th Century B.C. It has long been considered a symbol of royalty as this hand-spun cotton weave was used to produce turbans for the great Maratha rulers. Some evidence also exists of Chanderi's origin in the Vedic era.

The yarn used to produce Chanderi textile is extremely fine and of high quality. Moreover, the non-degumming of the raw yarn gives the fabric glossy transparency and sheer texture.

Chanderi fabric features gold, silver, or copper threads and motifs inspired by flowers, fruits, coins, peacocks, heavenly bodies, and geometric abstract forms. The weaving on dobby and jacquard looms produces three kinds of fabric— Chanderi cotton, pure silk, and Chanderi silk cotton.

20. Paithani Sari (Aurangabad, Maharashtra)

Paithani sari comes from the Paithan region in Maharashtra. These symbols of royalty are hand-woven with Mulberry silk yarn with pure gold and silver Zari. However, imitation Zari is also being used today.

Paithani weaving tradition is approximately 2000 years old. The weaving technique involves a labor-intensive and time-consuming procedure called 'tapestry'. The saris thus produced are heavily laden with motifs of peacock, parrot, flowers, and vines in rainbow colors.

An interesting feature of the Paithani saris is its design which comes out the same on both sides. These days, the modern machine-made version comes at an affordable price.

Textile art and crafts of India: Banarasi Sari and Assamese Muga Silk
From left to right: Banarasi Sari and Assamese Muga Silk

21. Narayan Peth Sari (Solapur, Maharashtra)

Narayan Peth saris are traditionally made of silk but are also available in cotton today at affordable prices. It is believed to have traveled with the Maratha ruler, Chatrapati Shivaji, where he camped briefly. Some of his weavers stayed back and started weaving saris in their exceptional style.

Narayan Peth saris are especially loved by the Solapur women for their checkered overall pattern, contrasting zari border with motifs of Rudraksha, and the pallu with detailed ethnic designs.

During the sari-making process, vegetable dyes are used and 8 sarees (56 yards) are prepared at a time on the loom. A silk sari takes 4-5 days to complete while a cotton sari can be completed in a day.

22. Kantha Sari (West Bengal)

With the simplicity of a running stitch, the iconic Kantha saris are famous for their classy impression all over India. Made with Tussar silk, the saris feature motifs that reflect nature like plants, animals, fish, the sun, the tree of life, and the universe.

'Kantha' means an embroidered quilt. Hence, the embroidery style was originally used to decorate quilts. It originated in Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. Today, the work can also be seen on kurtas, dupattas, saris, and various furnishings.

The Kantha sarees are generally of pure silk, Tussar silk, or cotton. The embroidery skill is passed down through generations and is still done by rural craftswomen of Bolpur. Each sari takes from weeks to months to be readied for use.

23. Jamdani (West Bengal)

Jamdani saris are one of the rich textiles of Bengal that are in great demand, even on the ramp. The name Jamdani comes from the Persian words 'jam' meaning flower and 'dani' meaning vase. The name is appropriate for the graceful floral patterns on these saris.

Jamdani work was at its peak under the Mughal patronage. These textiles that developed in Dhaka in Bangladesh, were known for being one of the finest muslin varieties, hand-woven from cotton. Today, they are also known as Dhakai Jamdani or Dhakai. The saris are thin and soft that feel very airy and light.

As preparing a Jamdani sari involves high-skilled strenuous work, it is one of the most expensive fabrics in the world. The opulent floating motifs created from gold and silver threads are woven together with the sari on a brocade loom.

24. Lepcha Handloom (Sikkim)

Lepcha, one of the predominant Sikkim communities, was the first inhabitant of Sikkim. The community is also appreciated for its inherent sense of environmental consciousness, sustainability, creativity, and nature worship. These qualities also show in the various crafts they practice such as basketry, weaving, and carpentry.

The Lepcha handloom fabric is traditionally woven on a back-strap loin loom. Earlier, yarn from the nettle plant fibers was used to weave the Lepcha fabric. Kuchai silk cocoons were used that were grown on Sal and Arjun trees.

Today, the base is made with cotton yarn while the main body is woven from woolen yarn. Using yarns in multiple colors generates colorful motifs in a vertical striped pattern. The end fabric is used to make furnishings, bags, belts, and the Lepcha community's traditional coats.

25. Apatani Fabric (Arunachal Pradesh)

The Apatani fabric is more than an ordinary fabric for the Apatani Tribe. A fabric that is woven only by the tribe's women, carries immense value during rituals and cultural festivals of the tribe.

Apatani tribe from Arunachal Pradesh dwells in Ziro, the headquarters of Lower Subansiri district. Each tribe has its special design and colors that symbolize the people of that tribe.

The fabric is known for its vivid geometric, zigzag patterns, and angular design. The weavers use various plant-based dyes to color the cotton yarns organically in their indigenous ways.

26. Mishmi Weave (Arunachal Pradesh)

Arunachal Pradesh is home to 26 major tribes including sub-tribes. Each tribe follows its own customs, traditions, and nature-oriented festivals. The festivals are also a way to celebrate the artistic abilities of these tribes.

Apart from Apatani, Adi and Mishmi are the other two textile patterns crafted by the tribes. The various colors and designs that they use to weave their fabric carry symbolic meanings. Some varieties of clothes and ornaments used by the tribes symbolize social status and achievements concerning hospitality and war.

Mishmi weaves carry legendary stories in their attractive straight lines and bands. One such folktale from Arunachal’s Mishmi tribe is associated with the origin of weaving. It revolves around a beautiful fish called Hambru, a cursed avatar of a girl who eventually taught the art of weaving to all the women of the village.

27. Muga Silk (Assam)

'Muga' is an Assamese word meaning yellowish. Indeed, Muga silk is golden yellowish and one of the rarest silks, produced only in Assam by the Garo community.

The pricey silk takes 1000 cocoons to give 125 grams of silk and it takes at least 1000 grams of silk to prepare a single sari. Furthermore, a Muga silk saree takes about 2 months to be ready including the process of rearing the silkworm.

Thus, the silk's color, glossy texture, durability, and high value make it a fabric reserved previously for the royal families. Today, Muga silk is used to produce saris, waistbands, bedsheets, and more.

28. Naga Weaves (Nagaland)

All the Naga tribes are extremely versatile artisans with expertise in pottery, jewelry, bamboo crafts, basketry, wood carving, textile weaving, and more. However, the weaving is entirely done by the women of the Naga tribe.

A fascinating feature of the Naga weaves is that the design, motifs, and colors used in the textiles vary between the 16 major tribes. Regardless, Naga textiles own a special place for the structural simplicity of the patterns in dark, blue, and red (yellow is rarely used).

The loom deployed by the people is the oldest and simplest device used for cloth weaving called the loin loom or backstrap loom. Its specialty lies in its ability to adjust with the weaver's body without any mechanical modifications.

Nagaland is well-known internationally for its diverse handicrafts. But these crafts, especially the handloom industry of Nagaland, are a prime source of tribes' livelihood.

Cotton is the main raw material for weaving as they are abundantly grown in the region. Once harvested, the Naga tribes use the cotton for themselves and even sell it to other tribes for weaving.

29. Wangkhei Phee (Manipur)

Manipuri culture carries religious and romantic sentiments around weaving—bound with legends, ceremonies, and festive occasions.

Traditionally, every girl in a Manipuri household knew how to weave. And many types of fabric are still developed in the state. Woven by women throughout Manipur, Wangkhei Phee fabric is one such textile made of fine white cotton.

Wangkhei Phee was formerly made with a muslin cloth that was used by Manipur's Royal family. Today, this valued textile is protected by the Geographical Indication tag, best suitable to prepare luxury items for women.

30. Phanek (Manipur)

The sacred Phanek is Manipur's traditional costume and a crucial part of a Manipuri woman's life. Phanek is donned as a partial sari with a blouse and an upper cloth.

Phanek is primarily hand-woven with cotton or silk. Casual-wear Phanek is usually block-colored in bright hues, while those for formal occasions are generally striped.

Phaneks are decorated with motifs and borders that vary with each tribe. Additionally, the designs thus created carry local legends and transform the textile into a matter of power and pride.

Weaving Phaneks are a source of additional income for some of the Manipuri women that they spend on their children's education. Thus, these intricately woven textiles also symbolize these women's simplicity and hard work.

31. Puanchei (Mizoram)

Puan means a hand-woven cloth. Mizo Puanchei is made by sewing three pieces of fabric together. It is primarily worn by women during rituals, auspicious occasions, and festivals of the community.

Women drape the Puanchei around their waist and tuck both the ends onto the opposite sides. Traditional patterns and colors are incorporated into the designs that are not only symbolic but also amplify the aesthetics of the garment.

32. Risa (Tripura)

Risa is a hand-woven textile worn by both men and women of Tripura. In olden times, the intelligence of a woman in Tripura was judged based on the designs she wove. Today, a girl is given her first Risa during her adolescent ceremony, when the girl embarks on her journey to becoming a beautiful woman.

Women of Tripura wear Risa as an upper garment by wrapping it twice around the torso. They also use it to carry their babies on their backs. Whereas for men, it becomes a symbol of strength and status. They wear it as a turban, muffler, or around their waist over a Dhuti. Sometimes, it is also used as a stole or a gift to others to show respect.

Although Risa is common among all 19 tribes of Tripura, the patterns, motifs, and colors vary between communities. During a major harvest festival in Tripura, called Garia Puja, Risa is worn during the celebrations. Today, Risa is being promoted as one of the important Indian handloom weaves following the 'Vocal for Local' initiative by the central government.

33. Ryndia Eri Silk (Meghalaya)

Eri silk, a highly textured silk, is known as Ryndia in the native language. It is a hand-spun and hand-woven textile worn proudly by both men and women due to its cultural significance. However, its short fibers must be handled with care while spinning.

Ryndia silk is dull gold in its undyed state but is adorned with maroon and mustard plaid patterns otherwise. It also provides livelihood to the people of the region and turns them into self-sustaining communities. The silk is spun, woven, and dyed by women of Meghalaya—individually, in clusters, or inside their own homes.

A specialty of Eri silk is its eco-friendliness in the truest sense. The silk is also known as the 'silk of peace' as it is extracted from the cocoons without harming the silkworm. Therefore, it is highly preferred by Buddhist monks since the fabric-making process does not harm any living creature.

34. Kuchai Silk (Jharkhand)

Jharkhand is the largest Tussar silk producer in India. Kuchai silk, mainly produced in the Kharsawan district in Jharkhand, received 'organic silk' registration in October 2008. Since then, this organic variant of Tussar silk has seen increasing demand from overseas.

Kuchai silk is produced without chemicals or environmental exploitation during the entire production process. Due to a promising future for eco-fabrics, Kuchai silk is now preferred by professional designers and design students alike.

35. Kosa Silk (Chhattisgarh)

Kosa silk is a variety of Tussar silk that is known for its strength, purity, and soft texture all over the world. Its signature dull golden brownish tint is admired by many. But this silk textile is also widely available in colors like fawn, dark honey, orange, cream, pale gold, and many more.

The Devangan community from Korba, Champa, Bilaspur, and Raigarh in Jharkhand is known to produce high-quality Kosa silk. Yet, the silk from the Champa region is considered the best silk and hence, exported to several countries abroad.

This heavy fabric is used to make saris, lehengas, dhotis, kurtas, furnishings, etc. Not only are they used to make ethnic wear but many designers also use them to prepare luxurious western outfits. As the textile originated among the tribals, it carries stunning designs inspired by nature.

Due to its heaviness, Kosa silk is not recommended for everyday wear. However, this auspicious fabric is considered ideal to be worn during celebrations, festivals, and religious ceremonies.

36. Sambalpuri Sari (Sambalpur, Odisha)

Sambalpuri saris originated in the tribal belt of Sambalpur, Odisha. These saris are most popular for the tie-dye art known as Sambalpuri Ikat and showcase an ancient handicraft form called the Bandhakala.

Due to a tribal influence, the saris reflect geometric patterns and nature-oriented designs such as plants, animals, and landscapes. The patterns are also closely associated with religion and hence, depict symbols such as Shankha (shell), Chakra (wheel), and other such icons.

Sambalpuri Ikat differs from Pochampally Ikat in many ways. While Pochampally Ikat is created using a resist-dyeing technique, Sambalpuri Ikat is made by dyeing tied threads in multiple stages. While Pochampally Ikat appears blurry, the Sambalpuri Ikat produces clearly defined motifs.

Today, Sambalpuri saris can be found in both silk and cotton that impart an effortless and classy look to the wearer.

37. Bomkai Sari (Ganjam, Odisha)

Odisha has always been one of the important states for heritage handloom products in India. Bomkai saris originated from a small village called Bomkai in the Ganjam district during the rule of King Patna Ramai Dev. The saris of those times were woven with coarse cotton featuring buti and exotic temple borders.

Until the 1950s, cotton saris and dhotis were the main items produced by the 'Bhulia' community whose primary occupation was weaving. Today, Bomkai saris are popular in India and abroad for their unique designs, durability, and elegant color combinations.

These fine works of art are now available in mulberry silk, Tussar silk, and zari as well. They come in red, dark blue, dark green, black, and white with detailed floral and geometric patterns on their borders. The simplicity of these saris with contrasting color effects make them ideal for a modern sophisticated look.

38. Pochampally Silk (Telangana)

Pochampally, a village 50 km away from Hyderabad, is called the 'Silk City of India' for its world-famous 'Pochampally Ikat' saris. These saris received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2004 and a special mention from the Indian Prime Minister for their outstanding Ikat designs.

The characteristic geometric patterns in Pochampally saris come from a traditional technique used to dye the fabrics. In this resist dyeing technique, several methods are used to prevent the dye from bleeding into parts of the fabric.

The air hostesses of Air India—an Indian airline—wear custom-designed Pochampally silk sarees. Pochampally is also a part of UNESCO World heritage sites as an iconic weaving cluster of India.

39. Kalamkari Fabric (Andhra Pradesh)

A name in Indian textile and handicrafts that can never be forgotten is that of Kalamkari. This most-loved form of block-printed and hand-painted cotton textile claims its origin in Andhra Pradesh.

The painting is done on cotton fabrics with a pointed bamboo kalam (a Persian word meaning pen). The two distinct Kalamkari forms are the Srikalahasthi style from the Chittoor district and the Machilipatnam style from the Krishna district.

In the Srikalahasti style, an entirely hand-worked Kalamkari is done where first patterns are drawn freehand with a pen which is then filled in with colors. In Machilipatnam style, the patterns are block-printed on the fabric using vegetable dyes.

Kalamkari, which evolved during the Mughal rule in India, later began to be practiced during the Golconda Sultanate. Today, it proudly bears the Geographical Indication (GI) tag under handicraft goods.

Kalamkari can now be seen on a plethora of products such as ethnic and western wear, wall decor, saris, furnishings, and much more. Kalamkari products are best identified for their depiction of flowers, peacocks, and paisley along with various stories and figures from Indian folklore and epics.

40. Mangalagiri Fabric (Andhra Pradesh)

Mangalagiri fabric and saris are produced using cotton yarns in the temple town of Mangalagiri. This craft carries a history of more than 500 years.

The fabric's main feature is the durability of the colors, the sari's softness, and comfort in any climate. Earlier, the fabrics were mainly woven to be made into a sari. But now, they are also being turned into dress materials, blouses, kurtis, and dupattas due to great demand.

Mangalagiri fabrics are available in plain and floral designs which is a good reason why they are loved for both casual and formal wear. The cotton saris usually feature a zari border in a contrasting color.

Mangalagiri fabric is also a key base fabric for the Kalamkari work. And for all these reasons, this fabric has received the Geographical Identification (GI) tag as a valuable handicraft from Andhra Pradesh.

41. Mysore Silk (Mysuru, Karnataka)

The city of Mysore is the largest silk producer in the world. The first silk factory—the Mysore Silk Weaving Factory—was established by the Maharaja of Mysore in 1912 and it is India's oldest silk manufacturing unit.

Today, this unit, which exclusively produces the Mysore silk, is owned by a government body called the Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation (KSIC).

Mysore silk is manufactured using pure mulberry silk. The fabric produced is special for its natural sheen and rich texture. With a single color base and gold zari on both ends, the Mysore silk sari looks minimalistic yet luxurious. One can verify its authenticity with a distinct mark placed to identify the sari's durability and purity.

42. Ilkal Sari (Karnataka)

Ilkal saris are prepared in the ancient weaving center of Ilkal. Patronage from the local chieftains led to the rapid growth of these saris. A unique technique used in making the saris imparts an interesting texture to them.

The sari's body displays checks and striped patterns while the border is usually broad. Ilkal saris come in vibrant hues such as red, green, yellow, and white. Moreover, the saris for brides are made in the auspicious color of 'sindhoor', used by the priests' wives in the region.

43. Kasavu (Kerala)

The simple Kasavu sari from Kerala is considered one of the most ancient garments in the world. The name Kasavu indicates the material used to make the garments including the zari gold that makes the border of the Kerala sari.

Kasavu saris look radiant in their cotton white/off-white body with the gold zari border. Kerala's Onam festival, weddings, and many traditional ceremonies are incomplete without putting on the beautiful Kasavu. When Kasavu is used in a mundu (dhoti), it's known as Kasavu Mundu.

Many iconic paintings by the reputed Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma feature Kasavu saris. The history of Kasavu mundu goes back to the Buddhist era and the handloom industry revolution.

The three popular clusters in Kerala involved in the production of Kasavu saris are Balaramapuram, Chendamangalam, and Kuthampully. They have also received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag from the Indian government.

44. Kanjeevaram (Kanchipuram,Tamil Nadu)

Kanjeevaram silk saris are statement works of art from Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. They are woven from the pure mulberry silk of the south intertwined with thick pure gold and silver zari from Gujarat. The resulting bold and vibrant saris are a favorite of the locals, brides, as well as celebrities.

The use of multiple colored threads gives the saris a luxurious royal look. No less are the motifs drawn from the Pallava temples, palaces, paintings, Bhagwad Gita, and great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

While simple versions of Kanjeevaram can take around 10-12 days to complete, the more elaborate saris may take up to 20 days of hard work. Thus, the price may range from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 50,000 per sari based on the quantity of zari interwoven with the silk.

A specialty of the Kanjeevaram is that the sari is made by making its body, border, and pallu separately and then weaving them together. According to some legends, Kanjeevaram weavers descend from the lineage of Sage Markanda, the master weaver for the Gods.

45. Madras Checks (Plaid) (Chennai, Tamil Nadu)

The plaid patterns on lightweight cotton became a global phenomenon around 800 years ago when the daily wear of Madras fishermen and paddy farmers became the preferred fabric for the well-off American families and luxury brands.

Madras checks have humble beginnings as handkerchiefs in red plaids. The British exported these small pieces of checked cloth to other colonies including Nigeria, where it remains a symbol of Kalabari identity even today.

At present, it is making an unforgettable impact on the global fashion runways. It has turned into a mass phenomenon for its timeless design, simplicity, and versatility for use in ethnic as well as western wear.

Traditionally, the bleeding colors of the yarn gave the fabric a new look every time it was washed. Today, these colors have been replaced by fast colors for the international market.

46. Kunbi Fabric (Goa)

This traditional textile is an almost extinct craft from Goa, worn by the women of Kunbi (a Goan tribe). The words Kun means family, and Bi means seed. Thus, the Kunbi saris represent the familial ties and the skills that have been passed through generations.

The Kunbi was traditionally worn by women without a blouse and a hanging pallu. It is draped around the waist to reach just below the knees. The sari was draped this way for easy movement while farming. Today, women can be seen wearing it with a blouse.

The sari in a yellow, red, green, maroon, purple, or black chequered pattern was a weave sturdy enough to be worn in the paddy fields. This weave was also used to produce cotton towels, handkerchiefs, and loincloths.

For Kunbi, the lines forming the check symbolize the creative forces of nature that embrace a sacred block of space in between. Hence, it is also worn during religious and cultural occasions due to its auspicious nature.

47. Indian Khadi

The term 'Khadi' is used for a hand-spun and hand-woven cloth made of natural fibers like cotton, silk, or wool. It has a deep-rooted history in the Indus Valley Civilization as well as India's freedom struggle.

Indian Khadi is known for its rough texture and comfortable feel, which keeps the body warm in winter and cool in summer. It owes its current status as the 'nation’s fabric' to M.K. Gandhi who saw its potential in making the Indians independent, self-sufficient, and confident.

Final Thoughts

This brief tour of Indian textiles hopes to ignite a spark to seek further knowledge about Indian crafts. They are not only the pride of India but also a witness to its rich history and the expertise of its craftspeople. In most regions of the country, they are the primary source of livelihood for the weavers and their communities.

We hope that you bring some of these home from your next trip through the various states of India and take pride in the stories embedded in them.

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