Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi – the many names of one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world whose textile links have been and remain an intrinsic part of the city. From the c. 2nd century B.C when Patanjal, the great grammarian in his text Mahabhasya mentions kasika textiles as being more precious than others to references in ancient Buddhist and Jain literary sources that mention Kashi as an important weaving and trading centre, the glimpses continue through the ages and up to the present times the unchallengable links remain.
One of the textiles that writers and traders – from the principle history of Mahmud of Gazi, Tarikh –us –Subuktiginwritten by Baihaqiin in the 10th century to the 16th century merchant and trader, Ralph Fitch as well as the famous French jeweler, Jean Baptiste Tavernier exclaimed about was the legendaryKinkhab -the jewel like cloth of gold and silverliterally meaning ‘little dreams’ in Urdu.With over a hundred thousand people engaged in both the weaving and the pre and postloom activity the economy of Banaras remains inextricable connected to the loom using intricate techniques – Kadwa, Fekwa, Katraua, NalPherwa to name a few.
The continuing familial handloom traditions with weaves whose structures, techniques and physical quality remains related to the past can be seen in the 6th generation of the family that wove the cloth of gold that were displayed at the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition inaugurated by Queen Victoria which received over 5.5 million visitors. Located in Pilli Kothi, the ancient stronghold of Banarasi weaving the family patriarch Badrudin Ansari of KasimSilk Emporium strives to achieve a balance between the preservation of the established while innovating and adaptingtextures and patterns to the times and changing clientele.
While Kinkhwabwith specially commissioned real gold and silver metalic yarns continue to be woven – taking two months to complete a bolt of four meters – the family is now equally known for the weaving of theGyasar brocades – densely patterned silk with auspicious Buddhist symbols and floral imagery in gold and silver threads for Buddhist monasteries across the globe.
The weaving of the Gyasarwas introduced at the time of Badrudin Ansari’s father HajiNooruddin. Since the 1970’s the weaves have been supplied for traditional dress to the Royal family of Bhutan, while their Kinkhab are used across the globe for both dress and furnishing in palaces and luxury homes.
The house of Kasim is also known for its Morpankhi, woven with peacock feathers combined with a silk warp where furnishing fabric is supplied to the RastrapatiBhavanand to the Kuwait Royal home.The textile shimmers in iridescent colors andBadrudin Ansari was awarded the Presidents National Award in 1987 for his skill in weaving it. Continuing to nurture their ties and trade links with the world outside they now have a customer base spread across the globe that includes international designers to their the weaving of sacerdotal fabrics for Greek Orthodox churches.
First published in the Sunday Herald.