Varanasi, said to be the oldest city in the world is known for its ghats, culture, ancient temples and rich food and its Banarasi sarees. The keepers of this rich textile heritage are the weavers, who, for generations, have conserved the fine weaving techniques, and the manufacturers, who have made the Banarasi weave a global product.
One such group is the Yashri Ghanshyam Nilesh Silks, a 70-year-old family-run business in Varanasi. It’s retail arm Shanti clubs modern sensibilities and timeless handcraft techniques, spinning a contemporary narrative around the age-old Banarasi sarees.
Amrit Shah, 29, a third-generation entrepreneur and Creative Director at Shanti Banaras, says, “A lot of young women in India are not draping sarees and one of the many reasons is the disconnect with the beautiful garment. My idea has been to make sarees that appeal to the younger lot,” says Shah.
The family launched its first retail store Shanti in July last year, which houses sarees, lehengas, bespoke bridal and trousseau ensemble made in gold threads.
Few of the designs are inspired by Egyptian, Persian, Chinese and even Japanese cultures. Barely a few months old and the brand has released a few interesting edits like ‘I Am Shanti’, inspired by the seven chakras in the human body and the latest one is the Navrasa that is inspired by the nine human emotions.
Amrit’s wife Priyanka Shah, Brand Manager of Shanti Banaras, also an Odissi dancer and a singer, came up with the concept of the Navrasa collection, Amrit designed the sarees on the sixth chapter of Bharata Muni’s ancient scripture Natya Shashtra. “When we were brainstorming about ideas for our next campaign, I thought of bringing emotions or dance or mudras in it. As I am a dancer, the concept of Natya Shastra came naturally to me,” says Priyanka.
यथो हस्त तथो दृष्टि
(Wherever your hands go, your eyes will follow) यथो दृष्टि तथो मनः
(Wherever your eyes go, your mind will follow) यथो मनः तथो भाव
(Wherever your mind goes, there will be expression of inner feeling) यथो भाव तथो रस
(Where there is expression shown, there will be sentiments evoked)
– नाट्य शास्त्र
The nine master weaves portray the nine emotions—Hasya (laughter), Karuna (compassion), Veer (bravery), Adbutha (wonderment), Beebhatsya (disgust), Bhayanaka (fear), Raudra (anger), Shringara (beauty) and Shantha (peace). Each saree has a story to tell. The sari inspired by bravery has Devanagri and Egyptian scripts combined. The weave depicts spiritual knowledge and the strength of an empowered woman. The fear-inspired sari depicts a Mata ni Pachedi; each motif is retraced meticulously in a graph and has silver zari on it. The one on compassion has old Persian textile broaches and cuttings fused with oxidised zari woven in the sari.