Bold, subtle, earthy or bright, the colours of Kanjivaram saris seduce even the most jaded of palettes, enthralling the viewer with their ineffable, ageless beauty. Equally interesting are the Tamil names bestowed upon these shades, for many colours and blends that cannot be appropriately described using common colour names. Typically, these innovative terms are derived from nature, everyday foods or just about anything that strikes in a creative flash!
The ubiquitous betel nut, known as ‘paaku’ in Tamil – a traditional mouth freshener chewed after food – is the inspiration for a deep, maroon-and-brown two tone sari colour that flatters women of all ages and teams up fabulously with gold zari.
‘Arakku’, a rosewood hue, is a shade beloved of Kanjivaram sari aficionados over generations. This rich colour, which offers a stunning contrast against gold zari work, is a natural dye derived from lac, a resin secreted by certain insects. Kanjivaram sari shops often use the term ‘ennai’ (oil) arakku, a phrase that perfectly captures the warm sheen of this deep coloured sari.
Turmeric, an Indian kitchen staple valued for its digestive, healing and cosmetic properties, finds its way into the language of Kanjivaram colours – ‘eera manjal’ , which in Tamil descriptively refers to a damp-from-earth, freshly uprooted rhizome, is the term used to describe a particular shade of glistening, orange-yellow silk.
An especially lovely descriptive term is ‘maanthulir ‘, inspired by the subtly blended hues of tender mango leaves. On a Kanjivaram sari, this translates into shifting shades of subdued green and pink, the silk yarn imbued with a gleam, much like young leaves in sunlight.
And finally, do look out for ‘paasi-payir’, another gentle shade of green whose name comes from the humble, green moong dal in our kitchens!