The city of Banaras is alive and kicking. Pulsating through its bylanes is not just the chaos of traffic, but also culture and craft, tucked away in corners and pockets. When it comes to the brand Tilfi, they’re known to be the custodians of one such craft — the hand weaving of banarasi silks. Setup by Aditi Chand, Ujjwal and Udit Khanna in 2016, the family’s history with textiles dates back approximately five decades. Built purposefully in a bid to carry forward the legacy of Indian craftsmanship and establish it on the world map, Tilfi now engages with over two thousand highly specialised craftspersons in its city of origin.
In order to inaugurate their new collection, Gulab Bari, I had the pleasure of visiting and experiencing the chaos and kitsch of Banaras first hand. Drawing inspiration from a festival unbeknown to many, called Gulab Bari, the collection pays homage to the music festival that brings people together, in white and pink attire, to welcome Chaitra, the first month of the year in the Hindu calendar.
Co-founder Aditi Chand further elaborates, “This cherished occasion used to once be synonymous with the city’s social calendar, but started to fade into history over the course of the 20th century, remembered only by a few veterans. As a brand firmly rooted in Banaras' heritage, we felt compelled to uncover the city's hidden treasures in the realm of classical arts, and rediscover Varanasi’s musical essence. What attracted us to Gulab Bari in particular is that its festivities have such a definitive colour story, with pink sarees for women and white kurtas with pink stoles for men. It’s a uniquely roseate celebration of tradition and of Banaras, a UNESCO city of music known for its heritage arts. To capture the roseate and harmonious ethos of the festival, we decided to create the Gulab Bari collection.”
Capturing the freshness of summer, the colour palette for the collection includes pinks, peaches, ivory, off-white, lilac, and garnet. Expertly hand woven in kadhua, cutwork, and meenakari techniques, the designs comprise cascading vines of Chaiti roses and botanical motifs in jaal patterns, and lyrical floral stripes running along the warp, embellished with a combination of roopa and sona zari.
Wreathed with the smell of some of the most fragrant roses, my experience celebrating Gulab Bari with Aditi and Ujjwal at the ghats of Banaras was nothing short of spectacular. A musical extravaganza presented by Sucharita Gupta’s exquisite vocals was followed by a visit to the label’s decadent store, which helped us understand the intricacies of the crafts even better. The process, as Aditi explains, “Emphasises the collection’s trans-seasonal nature through the use of light and airy georgette fabrics. A notable aspect of the festival is that it celebrates seasonal change with showers of rose petals, specifically the symbolic Chaiti rose, named after the month of Chaitra.” In order to translate this imagery through their clothing, they chose to work with hand-dyeing and brush-painting sarees, which resulted in delicate ombrés, evocative of the seasonal transition to spring.
As the collection places eminence on the Chaiti rose as a central motif, it is intricately woven using kadhua and meenakari techniques. The drapes further go on to showcase cascading rose vines and botanical motifs arranged in lattice patterns, a reminder of the rose petals in free fall, much like the way they were gently showered upon us while celebrating the festival by the ghats.
Throughout my stay in Banaras, experiencing the story of silks with Aditi and Ujjwal, there was a constant — the passion with which they spoke of the work they do. There’s a long way forward for team Tilfi, and hearing about the same was an inspiring note to end the trip on. “We started with the ambition to take the finest Banarasi craftsmanship to the world, push its boundaries and take it to greater heights. Through the years, we've been successful in building a strong patronage of our textiles all across the world. We've reinvigorated our craft ecosystem through interventions in design, materials and techniques. Tilfi today also represents a thriving weaving community with artisans that are truly excited about the future. Our unwavering commitment to the pursuit of excellence and ambition to craft extraordinary pieces that stand the test of time continue to fuel our passion. We are only getting started.”
Words Unnati Saini