Tracing The Journey Of The Kanjeevaram Sari With Label Advaya
KH Radharaman of Advaya is changing how we look at the Kanjeevaram sari. The writer visits the sari’s birthplace with the visionary and returns suitably impressed
Textiles have made a definitive comeback in the Indian fashion lexicon. As for saris, weaves are at the centre of the conversation. And for makers of labels such as Advaya, the weaves are their life and culture, the heritage crafts going beyond conscious consumerism.
Founded in 2010, Advaya is creative director and chief designer KH Radharaman’s brainchild. They produce saris from end to end— from the yarn selection, designing, weaving and marketing to finally getting them to their loyal clientele. Radharaman is involved in every single Advaya piece that is created— his design samples are so exhaustive they need their own office space. In fact, a museum is in the making! After all, the family weaving history is 600 years old. His ancestors were Padmasilya (the traditional) silk weavers who migrated from Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu. Textile lovers have always known of the Raman family. However, the rest of the country woke up to their presence thanks to Deepika Padukone’s Mangalorean wedding ceremony sari.
“So did Deepika’s wedding change your life?” I ask Radharaman. “I think it totally did hers, mine is pretty much the same! When your work is rewarding, you don’t feel the need for additional gratification from the media,” he says. The man is quotable, formal, slightly cocky, knows what he brings to the table but highly earnest and attentive; and quite frankly, a bit of a genius. An engineer by training and a weaver by birth (his words), there’s a certain rebellious exactitude that he brings to traditional designs and patterns.
Call Of The Kanjeevaram
A Kanjeevaram is a silk sari with the addition of silver or gold zari, a contrasting or complementary border, and a heavy pallu. Radharaman’s constant zest for innovation means he has been able to take the Kanjeevaram and translate it on khadi, tussar and finally linen (perhaps his most recognised line). The saris straddle the same dichotomy as he does— at once being traditional, and yet present a progressive design platform. Experiments with Kantha, Kota doriya and jamdani are underway. It is safe to say that each of them is a collector’s item in the making. He’s serious, “Taking something old and making copies of it is reproduction; that is not revival. But taking a technique, which is either dying or obsolete, and bringing it back to relevance, not just for museums, is true revival.” For him, it is also the handloom culture that needs reviving.
Hand To The Heart
At one of the weaving centres we visited, he’s invited a mallipoo (jasmine hair wreath) seller for us. One of the weaver’s wife is freestyle- drawing a kolam (rangoli). “I see all of this as part of that cultural mosaic that is India.” He means to say, we’ve all lost touch with our hands. The weavers and their community cannot lose their dexterity. For them, weaving jasmine for hair and drawing the daily kolam keeps their hands in motion; and weaving too is a part that mosaic, not just a result of that dexterity.
The head priest at Vardaraj Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram (home of the Kanjeevaram) is walking us through the 3000-year-old temple. It rightly serves as a living mood-board for Advaya saris. One can spot Yali—a mythical creature that’s part lion, part horse and part elephant; the Gandaberunda—a two-headed bird (also the motif on Deepika’s wedding sari). And many iterations of the Ramayana. Traditionally, Kanjeevarams aren’t allowed to be woven with human figurines, as it could be disrespectful depending on where it fits you.
“Textiles are how we carry our culture forward!” Radharaman casually explains. Say that again? “If you go to Kanchipuram or Benaras, two of the most iconic textile centres in this country, they’re both centred around the temples which are cultural and historic, permeating the weaving and the textile tradition itself.” To him, temples and places of worship are cultural institutions, because they were once the centre of the village and rural life. The temples are our visual history and culture books, the saris take from it and, carrying the culture forward in real-time.
Cult Of The Designer
Like most other designers today, will Advaya ever have a celebrity face, or take a fashion week bow? Radharaman leaves me with his most impactful yet. “The celebration of the individual is a very American concept. We’ve always been more of a collective in our approach. I think my value system does not allow me.” With that, he’ll let the sari be his mood-board, mouthpiece and vision.
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