My childhood summers are filled with memories of my mother’s crisp ‘Taant’ saris being aired out in the sun, after being shut in cupboards and chests all through winters. The changing seasons commanded dress codes that were strictly adhered to and every fresh season began with the distinct ‘odor of naphthalene balls’ emanating from the clothes after having been locked up in chests for one full season. It was like an endless cycle for the clothes in our house. So like clockwork, just after spring, out would come all cottons and my mom’s ‘Taants’. Always worn crisp, these saris are so easy to maintain and once draped, just sit comfortably on any body type. My introduction to Bengali saris was via the humble ‘Taant’ and my very first sari collection started with one.
Draping a ‘Taant’ is not an easy affair, you need practice and once you get the trick to pleat properly you have mastered the art. However, Bengali women drape the sari much differently. And haven’t we all admired that look right from the televised ‘Munshi Premchand’ stories from Bengal or the way Aishwarya and Madhuri flaunted the drapes in the famous movie ‘Devdas’.
Often most of us mistake Bengali sari to be either ‘Taant’ or ‘Korial’ (The white sari with red border that epitomizes the Bengali woman stereotype) But there’s more to Bengal saris. There are varieties like: –
- Dhakai Jamdani
- Tussar silk
- Kaantha embroidered
- Murshidabad Silk
- Garad Sari
Most of these names would sound familiar to most sari lovers but many wont be able to connect these saris to Bengal.
My guide will help you to shop for these saris from the City of Joy, Kolkata. I loved shopping from most of these stores and I believe this guide will help you too.
Start with this typical local market, complete with hawkers selling clothes and jute bags, mostly local unbranded stuff and dotted with numerous Sari stores everywhere. The saris you get here are mostly traditional. My favorite stores here are:-
The RMCA Basak
My first visit to this store was back in 2009 and I bought many ‘Taant’ saris from here for my mom and aunts. The prices then were as low as INR 240 or so. Over the years the store has gone through major revamp and it looks fairly modern. The sari collection is on the first floor where you have to typically tell a salesperson what you are looking for so they can start showing you the variety. This store has all types of Bengali saris and the most reasonable prices for the quality they offer. Having used the saris that were bought from here years ago, I can vouch for the quality whole-heartedly. In the past years I’ve picked ‘Taant’, ‘Jamdani’ and recently a cotton silk sari from here.
Tip:- While saris here are the most sought after, the ‘Chai waalah’ who sits at the gate is just amazing. Very nondescript, yet the lemon ‘masala chai’ he serves is simply superb. You may have never had ‘tea’ like this before so do give it a shot.
New Sharee Kuthir
(22, Suren Tagore Road, Ekdalia)
A hit with the local Kolkata crowd, this is one popular sari store in Gariahat with a lot of similar sounding shops in the vicinity. This store has mostly traditional Bengali saris. Their Dhakai Jamdani collection is really very good and starts at 2k. They have half n half saris too in the same style. Their super fine Jamdani saris are priced as high as 25 to 30K. Apart from this they have a really nice range of linen saris starting at 1400 INR. ‘Kantha’ sari collection here is also pretty good so you can find a decent priced one. Apart from these they also keep ‘Muga silk’(popular silk variety of Assam) and ‘Tussar silk’ saris here, priced 5k onwards. Do check those out if you love to wear silk saris. These look very classy and can be donned for any formal event.
The variety is pretty good and the saris are all medium to high priced.
Tip:- If you are looking for budget deals below 2k then skip this store and just visit RMCA Basak but if you want a good Dhakai Jamdani or are looking for a nicer silk one then definitely visit.
Hindustan Park Boutiques
Just a short walk away from Gariahat is the Hindustan Park area that’s home to the famous By Loom store. It’s a residential area with wide roads and very few vehicles driving past. A periphery of around 500 to 600 metres is dotted with interesting boutiques that keep the more modern Bengali saris. The best thing I liked about the boutiques in Hindustan Park is the designs of the saris (quite unique) and the way the displays are done. Each sari is hung vertically rather than kept stacked on shelves. It’s easy to surf through as you get an idea of the body and the ‘Pallu’ without the hassle of getting the staff to unfold and fold back.
byloom (bai lou)
This brand has re defined handloom weaving techniques by creating interesting fusions. Prepare to be mesmerized and swayed away by the collection that this enchanting boutique store has. It’s so addictive. The ground floor has stoles, ‘duppattas’ and ready to wear clothing whereas the second floor has an exclusive sari section and a blouses’ section. The sari buying experience here is just so perfect. The staff is very helpful and guides you to the most suitable sari. You can also half drape the sari and admire yourself in the mirrors there. Look for the ‘abir’ cottons, linens, silk linens, quirky print cottons, ‘tussars’ with ‘jamdani pallus’, silks with sequence work and much more. I dare you to walk away empty handed from this store.
Once you’ve made the sari selection walk into the blouse corner and get some mix and match done from the ready to wear range. They have cotton as well as silk blouses.
Tip:- As if shopping wasn’t enough, the café here serves some really good food so don’t miss that for anything.
This is another nice store with an excellent handloom sari collection. I particularly liked the ‘Jamdanis’, linens and ‘Tussar’ silk saris here. Apart from saris they keep cotton ready to wear clothes for women as well as men and a lot of other handmade knick-knacks from all over India. Since I was out to buy saris, I concentrated more towards that section and found it quite nice.
You should definitely give it a shot. The prices here are almost on the same lines as By Loom.
Tip:- Better to ask for the type of saris you’d like to see as they may have different colors that are not on display.
A few steps ahead of ByLoom is this really cute little store with another really nice sari collection. This store keeps saris and stoles exclusively so the variety is immense. They have very good silk saris, especially ‘Tussars’ and ‘Matka’ silks. The pricing is reasonable enough and the store has a good display.
Tip:- They keep cotton saris too but their silk variety is way better.
Made in Bengal
Another boutique store with an interesting collection of saris and ready to wear ‘kurtas’ and blouses. They have more traditional Bengal handloom saris like ‘Kantha’ work saris and ‘Jamdani’ cottons. The pricing here is fairly competitive with the others on this street. They also keep handmade personal care products and accessories.
In the same area you will find a few more stores similar to these, selling saris and ‘kurtas’ and stoles, try focusing on the ones I have mentioned first and if you still don’t find the perfect one you may venture to others. But, I’m sure that the list of names above will suffice.
My sari shopping in Kolkata is mostly exploratory and there’s a lot of nostalgia associated to Gariahat specifically. It’s a beautiful reminder of my one-year stint in Kolkata almost a decade ago so I may be a little partial towards this place. I’ve realized, however, that like every other city in India, local markets have a certain charm over the malls where you may shop every now and then, but when it comes to traditional, local is where we would love to explore! Hope this guide helps you in scoring the perfect saris for your wardrobes when you are in Kolkata next!