Read this before you buy a Bengali saree this festive season!

Spot a Bengali woman anywhere and you’ll know her by the graceful way she wears her saree. Bengali sarees have long been top of the list of ‘neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’ but now, thanks to so many online shopping options, you can buy yourself one of those beautiful sarees Bengali women are so well known for. But before you buy, learn about the different kinds of Bengali sarees here. 

Tant


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The most popular Bengali saree, tant is a light and airy cotton saree that can be worn everyday as well as on special occasions. Tant is excellent for summers or even for hot days in September. The border can be wide or a narrow strip and may have gold or silver zari or threadwork. More often than not, the aanchal is embroidered too, while the body of the saree is plain. Or the body may have small embroidery. These sarees need to be starched before you wear them. Some of the more popular tant comes from the Tangail region of Bangladesh, and Fulia and Dhanekhali areas of West Bengal. 

Khesh


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Another very popular cotton saree in Bengal, Khesh is woven with a new yarn warp and thin strips of fabric from old sarees torn lengthwise. The labour intensive process of making this kind of saree makes it expensive. Typically one saree yields seventy to eighty long strips that are then woven randomly into a saree, making it a very colourful, if delicate, weave. Khesh can also be made into home furnishing, bags and menswear and has been hailed as an excellent way to recycle old cotton sarees. 

Jamdaani


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Also known as Dhakai Jamdaani, these sarees originated in the Dhaka region of undivided Bengal, and are characterised by a very fine weave with intricate threadwork that seems to float on the muslin fabric. The embroidery is usually very fine geometric, floral or plant designs in grey and white thread. It is a very light saree but can be difficult to manage if it is heavily starched. 

Garad


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This is a very traditional silk saree where the body is almost always white or off-white and the edges and aanchal have colourful, unornamented edges. The most popular is a white/off-white garad saree with a red border and a red striped aanchal, and it is used in everything from religious occasions to formal occasions, making this the quintessential Bengali saree. 

Korial


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Another form of Garad, a Korial has a finer texture of silk. These days, it is common to see Korial sarees in colours other than white and off white, and the borders and aanchal may have gold or silver zari work. The body may also have intricate embroidery, but the more preferred way is to have a plain body. 

Baluchari


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Baluchari is a very dressy saree – pure silk is embroidered with exotic embroidery depicting mythological motifs and it is common to find sarees that have fine embroidery showing the love of Radha-Krishna or Krishna playing his flute. It takes 2 artisans up to a week to weave one saree, given the intricate nature of the embroidery, and combined with the quality of silk used, makes Baluchari one of the more expensive sarees. Swarnachari is an even more expensive form of Baluchari where the embroidery is done using gold thread on a dark fabric. 

Tussar


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Tussar sarees have a laborious process of extracting the silk, making them slightly more expensive. Silkworm cocoons are boiled after the larvae have left them, resulting in a fine fabric with a natural golden sheen. The more traditional tussars have a natural white, beige, honey or tawny coloured base with a ornamental border and aanchal. You will also find tussar that is dyed to take brighter colours, but the natural colours are still more prized. 

Murshidabadi Silk 

  
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Like Balucharis, these silk sarees also originate in the Murshidabad and Bishnupur regions of Bengal. The Murshidabadi silk is known for its light-weight, fine weaving and a variety of prints. While embroidery may be present, most often Murshidabadi silks have prints, and batik is a very common print. 

Kantha Stitch


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A characteristic kind of embroidery from Bengal, kantha stitch has a running thread pattern and can be used on a variety of fabrics, ranging from the traditional Murshidabadi silk to Bangalore silk to Assam silk. Motifs may vary from flowers, animals birds and geometrical shapes, to themes from everyday activities and the running stitch pattern gives the fabric a slightly wrinkled, pulled together look which is a characteristic look of this style. 

The Traditional Red and White Saree


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Perhaps the most identifiable look of a Bengali woman is her red and white traditional saree. The fabric can range from tant to korial and gorod to benarasi and silk but the style is always the same – a white/off-white body with or without intricate patterns, and a wide red border and aanchal. The red and white colours signify marital bliss in Bengali women, and are reflective of the red (pola) and white (shankha) bangles married women wear in Bengal. Traditional and religious functions always see a large turnout of women in these sarees, and you can get yourself the same pattern in any fabric. 

Care for Bengali Sarees

Dry cleaning is advised for Bengali sarees although if you want to soften a Bengali cotton saree, you can wash it at home without starching it. Always dry clean Bengali silks and never keep them in plastic bags because they need to breathe. Muslin saree bags are are best for these sarees. They also need to be taken off hangers every few weeks if you are hanging them, sunned and put back on a side other than the one it was hanging by. 

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