Heritage,  Sarees

My Saree Stories: Part 1

I have always been in love with the saree. But discovering the heritage behind the fabric and the weaves is a recent passion. Since the last one month I have been penning down the stories behind my sarees on another forum. I just felt like compiling all my writing together on this blog.

I don’t know how many men understand why women are emotional about their sarees. But every saree has a story behind it. It is as if you pull out one saree from your wardrobe and a tangled mesh of memories emerges along with it. These are personal tales, and might appear disjointed as they were written on different days. But it tells you why women find it so difficult to give away sarees. The plan is to showcase 10 random sarees in every post. Let’s see how it goes.

Saree #1: The Madhubani Saree

Here I’m wearing a khadi silk saree adorned with hand drawn Mithila art or Madhubani painting from Bihar. This particular piece has several elements from nature such as leaves and flowers, but the predominant motif is that of the fish. Fish is considered an auspicious symbol in Bihar (like in Bengal). And quite often along with other usual items sent as shagun during a marriage from the groom’s side to the bride, are a few kilos of fresh fish

Saree #2: The Paithani Saree

These are some photos from last Diwali. We were welcoming a bride home for her first Diwali. The house was decked up like a bride too. With this rangoli which Subodh and I made together. And I chose to wear my first Paithani which Subodh had caringly chosen to buy for me from his trip to Aurangabad. 

Paithanis are sarees named after the town Paithan in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. These are considered one of the richest sarees in India. Paithani is a hand-woven silk saree with a rich, ornamental zari (pallu and border. Paithani sarees are characterized by borders of an oblique square design, and pallu with a peacock design. The weaving of a Paithani saree could take between 18 to 24 months depending upon the complexity of the design. Traditionally, Paithani sarees are part of the trousseau of every Maharashtrian bride.

Saree #3: The Moirang Phee Saree

This is a Moirang Phee handloom cotton saree from Manipur. Notice that the border is different from the temple border seen in South sarees.

The name comes from the village of Moirang. Locally Moirang Phee is called as Yarongphi. Ya means tooth, rong means long, and Longba means pronged. So essentially it stands for the long thin and pointed teeth of a mythical Manipuri pythonic God called Pakhangba. Interesting isn’t it? The story behind this saree!

Saree #4: The Chikankari Saree

Today’s mood was mellow. So how about yellow? A soothing chikankari on a hot summer day. In a sunny yellow.

Literally translated, the word Chikan means ’embroidery’, and it is one of Lucknow’s best known textile decoration styles. One version says the word Chikankari has been derived from a Persian word ‘Chakin’ or ‘Chakeen’ which means creating delicate patterns on a fabric. One version says that this embroidery came to India as part of the culture of Persian nobles at the Mughal court. However the more popular story credits Noor Jahan, the queen of Emperor Jahangir, with the introduction of the Chikankari in India. 

Chikankari is a very delicate and intricate shadow work type of embroidery. Chikan began as a type of white-on-white embroidery on fine muslin. Later white thread was used to embroider cool, pastel shades of light muslin and cotton garments. Now of course, coloured threads are also used. Now, georgette, chiffon, cotton and other fine fabrics are also being used.

Saree #5: The South Cotton Saree

My father had spent some years teaching at Sainik Schools and Military Schools. Perhaps that was the reason why his choice of colours was sober. So when he shopped for my frocks and dresses the colours used to be white, black, olive green, brown, khaki and grey. I loved them and how smart they looked.

But my mother was the exact opposite. Her preferences used to be bright. Reds, pinks, oranges and yellows. I would wrinkle my nose every time she shopped for me. And even laugh at her taste. Yes, she was fair skinned and carried off those colours really well. I couldn’t. And we would often bicker about her choices.

I remember once Dad had brought me an olive green dress which was smart and sober. Before it reached me, she embroidered pink flowers all over it, saying it was too boring for a girl to wear!

As I grow older I realise to my shock that I have begun veering towards my mother’s colour palette. If she saw me wearing this South cotton saree today, I bet she would wiggle a finger under my nose and say: “Oh yeah! So that’s not too bright, hai na?!! You and your nakhre!”

Saree #6 : The Bandhani Saree

Bandhani (also called Bandhej) is a highly skilled type of tie and dye handicraft. The word Bandhani is derived from the word bandhna which means ‘to tie’. The art of Bandhani involves dyeing the fabric which is tightly tied with a thread at several places to produce different patterns. The fabric which is to be dyed is dyed in different colors sequentially. When this tied fabric is dipped into a dye, the tied part does not pick up color, while the remaining fabric does. This craft is practiced mainly in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and some parts of Uttar Pradesh.

The colours used for bandhani work are usually vibrant and bright, such as red, orange, yellow, saffron and maroon. Depending on the manner in which the cloth is tied, Bandhej patterns include Lehriya, Mothra, Ekdali etc. Bandhani is offered in different varieties: ekdali means single knot, trikunti means three knots; chaubandi means four knots and boond means small dot with a dark centre.

This is a simple shaded olive green bandhani silk saree with a predominant boond pattern. It is an unusual choice of colour for a bandhani saree, and I can almost hear my mother grunt: “But who buys bandhani in military colours?!” Moms always have the last word. But I happen to be Daddy’s girl!!

Saree#7: The Gharchola Saree

There is something memorable about stepping into a new home immediately after your wedding. There is a turbulence within you, a mix of anxiety, fear, loneliness on leaving your maternal home, and an inexplicable joy anticipating the future.

You step in among strangers, try to find some familiar face in that chaos and suddenly she is there. Someone who understands your confusion and is there by your side. A new sister for life. Your sister in law. And when you find one who is almost your age and as bubbly as you are, you relax.The bhabhi-nanad bond is special. She turns your friend and confidante in a strange new setting.

Here I am having fun just before a haldi ceremony with my sister in law. And as auspicious ceremonies demand we are dressed in red and yellow. My saree is a traditional gharchola. When in doubt, go traditional. You cannot go wrong!

The word gharchola comes from ghar (meaning home) and chola (meaning cape or clothing). Gharcholas originated from Cambay in Gujarat where these were used as odhni or shoulder drapes when a girl entered her new marital home. Now of course, these have transformed into sarees. The design has the typical grid pattern where zari is woven in a chequered pattern. Later, bandhani tie-dye patterns are made between each grid.

Saree #8 : The Bhujodi Saree

This hand-woven Bhujodi saree is special for many reasons. I visited Bhuj this January and had a chance to visit weavers in villages which were resurrected after the earthquake. I bought some hand-woven shawls. And since the weavers were the last on my trip, my baggage was already overweight by airline specifications from my buys in Ajrakhpur and Kala Raksha. So couldn’t buy a Bhujodi saree. But then I was inspired to hunt for one again. Luckily I managed to find this one in an online sale.

This particular saree is dyed with vegetable dyes and made by National Award winning weaver Chamanlal Premji Siju from Bhuj. Have a look at a close-up of his painstaking work below:

Saree #9: The Bagh Print Saree

On days when you need to look formal, a crisp cotton saree with symmetrically aligned block prints does the trick. This is the Bagh print from Madhya Pradesh. Comfortable and chic.

Bagh print originates from Bagh in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. The printing process is characterised by hand printed wood block relief prints. Naturally sourced vegetable pigments and dyes are used in this process. Bagh print fabric motifs are typically geometric, paisley, or floral compositions.

Saree #10: The Kandyan Saree or the Osariya Drape

This is an international drape: the Kandyan Saree or the Osariya. This is from Sri Lanka and the drape is traditional to the Sinhalese women.

My husband got me this handloom saree from Colombo and it has been lying in my cupboard since almost five years. I learnt the drape from YouTube videos and tried it. But since the saree was too simple, I experimented this drape again with a pattu saree which was plain but had a spectacular pallu with deer and musician motifs. I found this style quick to wear and extremely comfortable to be in. There are pleats at the shoulder but no pleats at the waist. Just thought I could wear this again with sarees where I need to show off grand pallus. 

Enjoy the stories behind these sarees. More will come up as soon as I wear more of these!

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