Say Kanchipuram and the colorful Kanchipuram sarees are all you can think of. Even the beautiful ancient temples of the holy town step back and let you soak in the silken grandeur of its only industry. When I was visiting the place, I asked almost everyone I could, where to buy Kanchipuram Sarees in Kanchipuram. Most people answered – Anywhere!
People in Chennai said – Do not buy in Kanchipuram, most people will try to cheat you there. However, when I was talking to the staff of the hotel I was staying at, I figured out that many families visit Kanchipuram only to buy wedding silk sarees.
No matter where you stand in the holy town, you can not miss large billboards telling you where to buy sarees in Kanchipuram. The problem is there are so many of them. Displays in glass windows can entice you to walk in and surf the world of silk sarees.
Shopping for Kanchipuram Sarees in Kanchipuram
There are two types of shops you can visit to buy silk sarees.
First is the weaver’s cooperatives that sell via small shops. Most of their Sarees come with a silk mark. A silk mark means that the sarees are certified to be of pure silk. You can find many of them on Gandhi Road.
Showrooms displaying Silk Sarees
Second is multi-floor big showrooms. Here, when you enter after taking off your shoes, which is mandatory in all shops, you would be asked your budget. Based on the range of Sarees you are looking for you will be directed to a floor. A salesperson would be assigned to you who would take you to the available spot on the floor. He would then lay down Aqua green colored cotton sheets, three on three sides of him, to show the Sarees. You are expected to sit on the floor but if you can’t they will oblige you with a plastic chair.
The salesman will then judge you based on what you are wearing or your body language and then start showing you sarees accordingly. You can specify the price range, colors, patterns, fabric, and whatever else. The more you specify the better choices you will get. If like me, you go with a so-called open mind to explore sarees for whatever catches your fancy, then walk in with ample time and hope that the salesman does not lose patience with you.
Pure Silk Saree
As per my local contacts, a Kanchipuram saree is not really a pure silk saree unless there is a Silk Mark on it. So, use that as a yardstick. Besides pure silk sarees, you can also buy silk cotton, pure cotton, and wastage silk sarees. The last ones are the ones made from leftover silk threads of pure silk sarees.
Since I was traveling solo in Kanchipuram, I had a funny experience in the silk saree shops. Most staff are used to big families or a group of women walking in for saree shopping. When I walked in alone, that too not wearing a saree, they would look around for someone accompanying me. Realizing that I am alone, they almost lost interest. At one place, I had to say, I am coming with my credit card, you can show me sarees. Talk of fine cultural nuances.
Did you know that Kanchipuram Silk or Pattu as it is known in Tamil Nadu is also called Kanjivaram, Conjivaram, and variants like that? Yes, there is no difference between Kanchipuram silk and Kanjivaram Silk.
The third type of saree shop you can visit is where you can sell your old sarees. The buyback of the saree depends on the amount of gold woven into it. The buyers burn the saree to extract gold that is obviously re-used.
How to test the purity of Silk of your Kanchipuram Sarees?
To test the purity of silk, take a few strands of silk and burn it. If it leaves ash, it is pure silk, else probably not. To test the purity of Zari, check the thread inside the Zari at the loose end, it should be of red color for pure Zari. Practically speaking, you need to trust the seller and your own instincts. Silk Mark is your best bet to trust.
Saree Shops in Kanchipuram
Now, I was primarily in Kanchipuram to explore its ancient temples, specially Kanchi Kamakshi Temples. However, all temples close before lunchtime and they open around 4:30 PM or later. So, I had afternoons to spend at Saree shops. I was staying at Gandhi Road, so it was easy to roam around the road and browse the shops.
Some of the Saree shops that I visited in the town:
- AS Babu Sah – This is the biggest brand in the town. You will see their boards in every nook and corner of the city. How I wish the temple boards were also put the same way, I would not have lost my way time and again. Following the boards, you can easily reach the shop. I found the place too crowded and the focus is more on those who come here for wedding shopping. Even the Sari collection is more focused on wedding Sarees. So, if you are there for general shopping, you may avoid it.
- Kanchipuram Silk Sarees Store – They specialize in customized wedding silk sarees, so you can order your own designs in your chosen colors. I will get a sari from them someday.
- SSK Handloom Silk – I found their prices to be the best. They were so reasonable that I did not even feel like bargaining. The collection is nice too though I must say I primarily bought cotton Saris.
- Prakash Silks – Good range with one floor dedicated to wedding Saris only.
- Pachaiyappas Silk – I found their range good and prices reasonable.
- Komathi Silks – They are slightly pricey compared to other shops but they do have some contemporary designs.
- Temple – This was a nice designer silk store close to AS Babu Sah shop. They had a limited but lovely collection for contemporary wear.
If you are not traveling to Kanchipuram anytime soon, check out some online on Amazon.
Weaver’s collectives include:
- The Kanchipuram Kamakshi Amman Silk Cooperative Weaving Society
- Kanchipuram Murugan Silk Cooperative Society
- Venkateswara weaver’s cooperative society
- Anna Silk Handloom Silk weaver’s society
You can check some of these Sarees online at Cooptex Website.
A Silk Saree is the best or probably the only souvenir that you can buy in this place.
History of Kanchipuram Sarees
In oral history, it is believed that silk weavers are descendants of Rishi Markanda, who was a master weaver himself. In recorded history, the weavers from the Devangas and Saligars communities came to Kanchipuram from Andhra Pradesh about 400 years ago during the reign of Vijayanagara King Krishnadevaraya.
They weave patterns from the stone carvings using silk threads and threads of gold.
Mulberry silk is homegrown in Tamil Nadu and gold threads for Zari work come from places like Gujarat.
Quintessential Kanchipuram Saree
In a quintessential saree, pallu and border are woven separately and then attached to the main Saree. The joint is called Pitni and you can see it on the reverse side. It is said that the joint is so strong that Saree may wear and tear but the joint will not lose its place.
They come in two sizes – usually 6 yards and traditional 9 yards.
They have a GI or Geographical Indicator tag that makes them a heritage weave. This means that these sarees can come only from this town.
The most popular and favorite motif is that of a temple. It comes in the form of a temple border where the Shikara of the temple is replicated in silk and Zari. Other auspicious signs of Indian culture like floral patterns, leaves, elephants, Swans, Parrots, Rudraksha et al can be seen in various combinations.
On the richer Saris, you can see the Devi devatas and their stories woven.
Read More – Kanchi Kamakshi Temple
If you want a story of your choice woven on your saree, you can get that custom woven for yourself. Be prepared to shell out a custom price too.
So, did you wear or would like to wear a saree at your wedding? I wore one from Kanchipuram.