The Poetic Names of Kanjeevaram Saris

Since the 15th century, weavers have named the iconic saris with descriptions so expressive, that their names sound like the shortest poems in the world.

Meera Ganapathi

May 22, 2020

The Poetic Names of Kanjeevaram Saris
Sample Kanjeevaram sari colors (Vignesh Ramachandran/The Juggernaut)

Sunsets are different everywhere. In Mumbai, an October evening splinters the sky in five kinds of colors, whereas a pink summer sky isn’t unusual in Havana. But for many sari lovers in India, the sunset looks like a glossy orange Kanjeevaram sari.

Named after the color of the setting sun, government buildings, actresses, and even bright green soap, Kanjeevaram silk saris are a much-loved heritage loom from South India. These expensive saris (usually starting at $86 or ₹6,500) are associated with celebration for most South Indians: a staple at weddings, kutcheris (concerts), and Bharatanatyam dance performances. They represent an important moment in the lives of most women, from graduation ceremonies to weddings.

“My father bought me an araku (maroon) color for my wedding,” said Shyamala Padmanabhan, 61, a homemaker from Bangalore. “But when I moved to cities, some of my saris were damaged during the monsoons. I was devastated, but I managed to save my wedding sari by darning it. I can’t wear it anymore — it’s too delicate — but I keep it as a memory.”