by Ayesha Binte Towhid
When it comes to clothing and textiles, this part of the subcontinent has been famous in so many ways. We had the extraordinary skills of weaving muslins, the best indigo for dyeing clothes and so much more! Although most of those have disintegrated, the art and creativity of weaving remained. What started as small cottage industry has now become one of the largest sari industries of this region. Yes, we are speaking of the ultimate sari hub, Benarasi Palli. This week we travelled to that part of the city and explored through the narrow lanes to find out the how it started and where we are now.
The Benarasi Palli is located in the north-western edge of the capital and occupies a large area from Mirpur 10 to 11. The history of Benarasi Palli can be dated back to the partition of India in 1947. Many families from Benaras, presently Varanasi, a well known city of India, came to this part of the border and settled at different places of Dhaka and its surrounding areas. With them they brought the skill of weaving the famous Benarasi sari. After our liberation war, this group of people became the permanent residents of Bangladesh. They started to make their living by weaving and selling saris of such kind.
During the 1990s, few Gadi Ghars were established. These were the manufacturing factories as well as both retail and whole sale centers. The demand of the saris kept increasing and more and more people joined this business. Eventually it turned into a complete village in 1995. The locals claim that it comprises an area of 150 acres, but it is subjected to verification. There are 131 shops at present and thousands of people involved in the process. Though the craft of making Benarasi sari was brought in by non-Bengalis, gradually the number of Bengali artisans has also risen and at present the number of Bengali artisans is almost equal to those of non-Bengalis
Enough with the background check, it is time to hit the street. The entire area is divided into lanes and sub lanes with show rooms on both sides. Each showroom has a special man appointed outside the door to draw the attention of customers. As you walk through the lanes, you will hear people calling you from here, there are everywhere. Here are more than hundred shops. You will come across the large air conditioned showrooms as well as small low lit ones. But regardless the size of the shops, the creativity, dedication and hard work in making this traditional pieces is visible everywhere. First we visited the S.S Sharee World where the director Md Mahabubur Rahman gave us an overall view of the products and prices available here. Depending on his guide lines, we started off to check the racks.
As the name suggests, the first thing you will come across is Benarasi saris. It is a special kind of silk sari made in only a few places in the world – Varanasi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, a small number in Pakistan and Mirpur in Bangladesh. These saris are traditionally used for wedding purpose. They are made in a gorgeous fabric, with old motifs woven into the design. In the world of fashion Benarasi Sari has been a subject of much appreciation for world-wide costume connoisseurs.
Beside Benarasi, here you can find lot more other textures too. There are katan, jamdani, raw silk, silk jamdani, half silk, cotton, andy cotton, kota, brocade, georgette saris and many more.
Here you will get saris of all possible colours and shades. Although the red colour is and will be the popular choice of wedding sari for many years to come, people are also experimenting on different shades of blue, pink and green. We found the white saris to be an absolute elegant choice. But white also had different versions. We have seen the golden white, the creamy white and the off white. You can find sophisticated sari with less work as well as heavy studded flashy saris. The wedding sari starts from Tk 5,000 and goes up to Tk 1,20,000.
Apart from wedding saris, there two other major types available. One is party wear and another is casual wear. The party wear saris have wide array of options. There are the light coloured ones for day time and the dark shades for evening event. Silk, katan, jamdani and georgette are popular choice here. The price of such kind starts from Tk 2,000 and ranges between Tk 4,000.
The casual saris are mostly of cotton and simple jamdani. There are options for people of all ages. These are priced between Tk 1,000 and Tk 2,000. Cotton saris are highly demanded in this season but you need to give some effort in finding a design of your choice. But one thing you need to keep in mind is that most prices here are subjected to negotiation. So make sure you justify the price before making your final decision.
Benarasi Palli also offers you to customize your own sari. Be it in bulk for ‘Gaye Holud’ programs or single pieces, all can be done here. The price shall depend on what type of design you want and your preference of cloth. You will find more than fifty shops selling different design and decorative materials. There are expert tailor shops too so you need not to worry about your blouse piece.
The best part of this place is that it fulfills the demand of all classes of people. A middle class woman can get a good wedding sari within her budget whereas the upper class has options for high end saris as well as average priced ones. Especially for the wedding rituals, where you need to buy many saris for dozens of people, this is actually a good place both price and quality wise.
The sari industry of Bangladesh as a whole has gone through various ups and downs. There was a time when a large group of people leaned towards buying foreign clothes, especially from our neighbouring countries. During that time the local industry had a tough time competing and many people left this trade. The business of Benarasi Palli was hit very badly. But at present, the trend of buying our own products is back and the Mirpur area is once vibrating with customers. With the Eid and wedding season approaching, we are sure that you already have few saris in your list. So why don’t you take out a day and explore Benarasi Palli? We assure that you will not be disappointed.