The Kerala Sari
The Kerala Sari
Culture & Tradition

The Kerala Sari

Shobha G K

The Kerala kasavu sari has always been loved and appreciated. It has for long been used as also the mundu and neriayathum by Kerala women. The typical Kerala sari is a hand woven cream coloured sari with a golden border. It is one of the finest traditional saris woven in India, which defines the beauty and elegance of every woman who adorns it. The unbleached cotton comes in a creamy shade which is enhanced by the golden border, giving it a simple yet regal look.

The soft cotton is suitable for Kerala’s humid weather and has always been a popular choice of both the young and the old. While seniors like to keep zari to a minimum, and prefer ‘karas’ [borders] of sober colours and conventional designs, the youngsters prefer bright colours inter spaced with zari borders of intricate and attractive designs. This handloom fabric when worn with taste gives an august aura.

Besides the cotton weaved sari, cream coloured tissue saris are also gaining popularity. These have heavy zari on the pallu and close strands of zari in the main weave itself. This gives it a grand look and is a popular choice of brides nowadays. The Kerala sari also forms part of the ‘pudava’ handed over to the malayali bride during the wedding ceremony as a symbol of care and acceptance.

Today the’ kasavu’ sari has popularity all over India and handloom enthusiasts praise its uniqueness and quality. The fabric has become not just a symbol of Kerala tradition but defines style, quality and class. Nowadays this pretty cream and golden bordered fabric is available by the metre to design and make fashionable gowns, churidar kameez sets and dresses according to one’s taste and choice.

The Kerala sari has made a makeover since 1970s when coloured borders and intrinsic gold thread work invaded it. The printed borders came later. Then this was modified to checks, stripes, prints and painting on the body and borders of the off white sari. Mural paintings have been trending since last season.

As they say, change is the only constant and so too with the Kerala sari. Fashion diktats come and go but the beauty of the original Kerala sari lives on. The grace and appeal of this sari has come to symbolise the malayali woman. It is the favourite on all special occasions, especially during Vishu and Onam when new clothes are traditionally presented to the younger ones and everyone decks up in brand new clothes. During these busy times the weavers say more intricate weaves like ‘puliyilakara’ are much in demand. Embossed prints on ‘Kasavukaras’ [golden borders] are also popular. For the past few years silver zari has become a popular choice. Half fine zari [artificial threads] costs only half the price of the genuine gold zari. A heavily worked zari handloom sari can cost several thousands of rupees depending on the craft involved. Furthermore, many weaves are throw-shuttle pit looms to make cotton saris with pure gold. As there is little mechanisation in the weaving process, weavers toil day and night to meet demands. This also is a factor for the high cost of the sari.

Judging by current trends for this Onam, Kalamkari is the flavour of the season. Multi coloured kalamkari borders and kalamkari blouses contrast well with the off white and gold cotton sari.

Kerala saris are woven mainly at Balaramapuram and the surrounding villages in Thiruvananthapuram, Kuthampally in Trissur, Chendamangalam in Ernakulam district and some places in Kannur. Balaramapuram has a history of weavers of more than 300 years, and till today maintains its supremacy. Kerala saris are available all over the length and breadth of Kerala.

Among the many symbols of Kerala like the coconut tree, the snake boat, kathakali, the elephant and spices, the most evocative remains the Kerala sari.