The humble and universally popular motifs of checks and parallel lines take on a touch of magic when the deft fingers of Kanjivaram weavers translate them onto timelessly beautiful silk saris. Apart from aesthetics, checkered cloth has a deeper significance, rooted as it is in Hindu thought. The check motif (the word is derived from the Sanskrit ‘chowk’) is in fact a representation of a mandala or sacred grid that symbolizes the universe. The horizontally running lines are parallel to the earth while the vertical lines arise from earth and go upwards. The crossing and linking of these lines is thought to create the cosmic energy that is manifest in all of creation. Tiny micro-checks all over the sari field in alternating colors have a soft, pleasing effect and are usually set off with a relatively simple border. A stunning traditional combination of checks in yellow, red and black has a deeper significance, these colors representing the three gunas or essential attributes present in all individuals. Yellow symbolizes sattvic guna, the quality of introversion and desire for spiritual progress. Red is rajas – passion, joy and desire for power. Black is tamas – inertia, indolence and brutishness.
Plain stripes running parallel to the sari border are appropriately known as thandavalam – the track motif. Woven as zari lines across a plain sari field or in alternating stripes of colors that contrast or complement each other, this simple, abstract design, when draped, accentuates the graceful curves of the feminine form.