There’s no debating the fact that Banaras has been an important centre for weaving since time immemorial. But it was Mughal Emperor Akbar who gave the weaving industry, here and across India, a shot in the arm. The emperor who was known for his love of the finer things in life – Persian wine, his gem-crusted sword with crusted elephants, his sarpech (turban ornament) which consisted of large emeralds in elaborate floral motifs, and more – also loved zari work (embroidery in pure gold). He had many of his wives and those from his harem wrapped in rich silk sarees with zari work. And this is what we today popularly refer to as Banarasi silk, while also adding silver threadwork to the mix.
Emperor Akbar so loved the silk work that he didn’t limit its use to clothing and even had his palace draped in it – carpets and wall hangings made from Banarasi silk. Little wonder that centuries later, the British colonizers too were baffled by this intricate handicraft. But it was post independence that several small scale industries grew in the region and Banarasi silk became much sought after.