Heritage,  Sarees

My Saree Stories: Part 11

The eleventh edition of my saree stories features a saree with intricate Lambani embroidery, a saree from the Bodo region of Assam, and the not-so-amusing story of my bridal makeup.

Saree #101: A cotton Ilkal saree with Lambani embroidery

Today’s saree is a purple cotton ilkal. But its highlight is the one metre pallu entirely embellished with Lambani embroidery.

The Lambanis are a semi-nomadic tribe who originally belong to Marwar. These tribes are said to be descendants of the Roma gypsies of Europe, who migrated through Central Asia and Afghanistan before arriving in the deserts of Rajasthan. This particular piece is done by Lambanis from Sandur village in North Karnataka, and hence it also goes by the name Sandur embroidery. Sandur is near Hampi and now this handicraft has its own Geographical Indication number.

The word Lambani comes from the Sanskrit word ‘lavana‘ meaning salt. Don’t quite know if it refers to the salt desert where they originally belong to. Or maybe it is to do with the fact that they used to barter cattle and salt originally.

This vibrant exquisite embroidery is embellished with intricate stitches, decorative applique, mirror and patchwork. Lambani embroidery is a beautiful amalgam of pattern darning, mirror work, cross stitch, overlay and quilting stitches. The 14 types of stitches used in Lambani embroidery are kilan, vele, bakkya, maki, suryakanti maki, kans, tera dora, kaudi, relo, gadri, bhuriya, pote, jollya and nakra.

The banjara women use this craft to create their own colourful blouses and skirts and to make the trousseaus for their daughters. While this piece is decorated with small mirrors, others use cowrie shells, beads as well as coins and tassels. This handicraft can now be seen in other household items like bed covers, cushion covers, wallets and bags. I feel privileged to own such a stunning piece of our heritage.

Saree #102: The Banarsi saree from my engagement

The administrator of a Facebook group has given the theme of ‘bridal sarees’ for the week. I see the hundreds of bride posts as I struggle to scroll through Facebook. And I clench my jaw tightly and tell myself: “You will not succumb to this temptation”. It is twenty one years since that fateful evening when I got married. And I have promised myself that I will not look at those ghastly pictures again. I am proud that I kept my promise to myself.

What is it about make-up artists in small towns that compel them to ruin the most important day of your life? I had just joined my first job, and was unlucky to be stuck with the worst possible head of department you can ever imagine. It was humiliation every day at work. And just my luck that my wedding was scheduled just four months later. As expected I was told that I would not get any leave, and the only way I could leave was by forfeiting my pay. Which I did. So when I reached home two days before my wedding, I knew nothing about what had been shopped for my wedding. My bags had been packed by my mom, the blouses stitched (all small for me, which I discovered only after I reached my sasural!), and I was forbidden from opening any packing and spoiling all her hard work.

Come the D-day, and everybody I knew disappeared to take care of the guests. I was left at the mercy of two ladies from the beauty parlour, who started with saying everything I didn’t want to hear. I was told I had grey in my scalp, and laughed at saying: “Which bride has grey hair?!!”. Then there were nasty comments about everything possible about me — oily skin, nails not long enough, hair too thin, face too big. Did wonders for my self esteem, you bet! All my requests to keep the make-up minimum were ignored. When they finished, I could not recognize myself. Pancake and more had been sloppily whacked on my face! It was too late to do anything. As one of my friends would say as she flipped through the album later, I looked like Guddi Maruti. It is a comment stuck in my head and I refuse to look at the pictures again. If I had it my way, I would burn it right now.

The moment the Jaimala finished, I went to the sink and washed off my face. For the wedding, I chose to have nothing but compact, liner and lipstick on my face. Applied with my inexpertise. And so the photos were ordinary. But thankfully not weird like before. In any case, I wept and wept, so it would have washed out anyway. Arranged marriages are like that. The fear of marrying and spending your life with a stranger can be scary. You feel like backtracking every second minute.

So how did I fulfil the admin’s request to post my bridal pics? By posting photos of my engagement. All the makeup done myself. Feeling more relaxed and calm. These are pics I like better. And today, after 21 years, I decided to wear the saree I wore then, again.

And yes, as I always tell Subodh, some day I will get married again. My way. With only flowers in my hair, wearing an off-white Kerala saree. By the beach. With a priest who translates whatever he utters from Sanskrit to English. So that I value the solemnity of the occasion. With my closest people. Without too much of unnecessary spending. But with lots of fun. As I tell Subodh, he has to decide if he wants to marry me again!

Saree #103: A classy Himroo silk saree

On my last trip to Aurangabad, I got to meet some national award winning weavers at Mughal Silk House which is on the way from Ellora to Aurangabad. I learnt about the art of weaving Himroo sarees from them. The word Himroo comes from the Persian words ‘Hum rooh‘ which loosely translated means ‘similar’. In royal homes Kinkhwab fabric was woven using gold and silver threads. This is a more cost-effective replica of the same process using cotton and silk threads.

That blog post on Himroo is long overdue. But I have already worn the sarees that I purchased from them. This particular silk saree caught my eye. One thought was that the colours are usual and sober, but the way it shone in the light made me decide in its favour. Notice the Persian style motifs woven into the fabric.

The historical story behind Himroo is rather interesting. When Mohammed Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad the weavers patronized by him also made the shift. But when he shifted his capital back to Delhi, the weavers stayed behind. Aurangabad has more than Paithanis to offer. Look out for the classy Himroo sarees too, which are available in silk and cotton.

Saree #104: A monochrome cotton-silk saree

Today’s saree is one of my simple daily wear cotton silk sarees that I picked up at Nalli’s. I like it monochrome and not too bright when I am at work. Accessorized with a Swarovski pendant and earrings.

Saree #105: A dual-toned green Kanjeevaram saree

I landed in Chandigarh that afternoon after changing flights. I was groggy as I had woken up at an unearthly hour to get to the airport after a long drive. I was waiting for my luggage at the airport rather irritably at the carousel. My phone had slipped into some undiscoverable nook of my packed backpack and I was rather hassled.

Suddenly I heard a voice behind me: “If I’m not wrong, you are Dr Anshu from ‘Doctors and Sarees’! I turned around to find myself looking into a pair of glistening expressive eyes and a wide smile. It turned out to be Aparna Mohanta! Such a surprise. I was more surprised that she recognized me even though I wasn’t wearing a saree. She asked me for a selfie and I was hesitant to be clicked with my crumpled clothes and my dishevelled hair. She was sweet to understand. But I regretted saying no to her a moment later. Who cared what I looked like? It was just to capture the moment. But it was too late to make amends as she had already left.

The next morning I was one of the participants in a panel discussion on Competency based medical education in Pathology education at our national conference APCON 2019. The session was held at PGIMER Chandigarh. The session went off well, but the moment we finished I had audience members coming to talk to me — not just on the topic, but about my sarees and my blogs!! It tells you what a small place this world is. Also about the power of words. And reminds me to use this power responsibly.

The saree I wore for the occasion was a simple jewel toned Kanjeevaram that I love, accessorised with a Kashmiri shawl with aari embroidery.

Saree #106: A hand-painted saree from Kerala

Today’s outfit is a made-to-order hand painted saree in silver tissue silk from an artist in Kannur in Kerala. I found the neon and off-white combination striking. I wasn’t too pleased with cages until I was convinced that they were empty and the birds symbolized freedom from captivity. We are all captive in cages of our own making, aren’t we? And when we break free we discover our own music. And to symbolize the music I paired it with ghungroos around my neck and in my ears. Howzzat?!

Saree #107: A South cotton saree from Smita Ma’am

The saree I’m wearing is an elegant South cotton which belongs to Smita Ma’am. She wanted me to wear this. I teamed it with an ikkat blouse. But then I chanced upon a photo of her wearing this same saree with her baby son in her lap and the most glorious smile on her face. That son is now a strapping lad doing his PhD in London. And it made me realise what a treasure I’m wearing.

Saree #108: A Bhagalpuri tussar with a Chevron design

I’m dressed here in a Bhagalpuri tussar today to combat the winter morning. I love the Chevron design in cobalt blue and the accents in bright teal and ochre. My kind of ‘bhaashan saree‘ when you want to make an impact.

Saree #109: A Bengali taant

This is a Bengal taant saree sent to me thoughtfully by my brother-in-law who is now in Kolkata. The problem with me now is that everyone sends me sarees and everyone sends me brightly coloured stuff. With the dictat…Pehenkar Facebook par photo daalna!

Saree #110: A traditional Bodo Dokhona saree

The saree I am wearing here is a Dokhona saree which is the traditional attire of tribes of the Bodo ethnicity of Assam and North Bengal (they are called Meches here). Dokhona sarees can be either plain (called Matha Dokhona) or with designs (called Agor gwnang). The Bodo term for design is Agor.The plain sarees sometimes have a simple line at the borders and these are called pari lanai. Plain sarees are usually worn during prayer and worship. Brides wear yellow matha dokhonas called Dokhona Thaosi meaning pure Dokhona. Others members of the family in the wedding also wear plain sarees in gwmw (yellow), gwthang (green), and bathogang (parrot green). Plain sarees are also woven in gwja (red), solay rong (violet), and neel (blue).Among the sarees with design, you can have designs all over the body of the saree (called mwdwm gongse agor), designs only in the border (called jing jing aaolo agor lanai) or small designs in both body and border (called gejwraobw ese agor erdernai)

Traditionally the dokhona was worn without a blouse, but these days Bodo women have begun wearing blouses. Bodo women wrap these sarees starting from the chest and reaching up to their ankles, with a knot on the left side. While the saree starts at the bust, these women use a scarf called jwmgra (which measures 2.5 m x 1 m) to cover their upper body. Along with this a small scarf called aronai is tied around the waist or wrapped around the neck.

There are several designs which are popular among the Bodi weaves. The Hajw Agor (mountain design) and Pareo Megon (pigeon’s eye) are two commonly used designs on both Aronais or sarees. The other most commonly used designs to decorate attire of Bodo women are: Bandhuram Agor (design first crafted by Bandhuram Kachari), Daorai Mwkhreb (peacock), Phul Mwbla (varieties of bloomed flowers), Dingkhia Mohor (fern leaf), Bwigri Bibar (flowers of plum), Muphur Apha (footprint of bear), Agor Gidir (diamond shape) and Gorkha Gongbrwi Agor (twill design).

Traditionally Dokhona sarees are 2.5-3 metres long and 1.5 m wide. I tried several times to drape this saree in Bodo style, but failed miserably and then I realized why. The saree I have, has the dimensions of a normal saree, so it is wider and longer. I couldn’t get the ankle length right. And then because it was so long, and because the Bodo drape hardly has any pleats, I couldn’t get it right at all. Frustrated, one rainy evening, I tried the Jalpaiguri drape emulating a YouTube video. I succeeded this time, but I can see several faults. One of course, is that the drape should look like a wrap-around dress a little above my ankles. But with my short stature, it reaches far below my ankles. Secondly it is supposed to be worn without a blouse, which I dared not do. So this is some hybrid drape, which I loved nevertheless.

This saree that I’m wearing is woven using the loin loom, which is also called the backstrap loom. This is a very simple ingenious device made of bamboo and wood, which does not need a frame to weave. Since it is light and portable, it is popular among the hilly regions. Not just Bodo, but also Mishing, Naga, Manipuri, Karbi and other tribes use it in their weaving practice. Usually the weavers are tribal women. So how does a loin loom work? The warp yarns are stretched between two parallel bamboos. The bamboo at one end is fixed to a stick driven into the ground. It is named the loin loom or backstrap loom as the bamboo at the other end is held firm by means of a strap worn around the lower back of the weaver. When she bends forward, the warp yarns become loose, and when she bends backwards the warp becomes tense. Thus she regulates the tension by moving forward or backward. This is generally more strenuous that weaving on a frame loom. One cannot weave for long periods of time. The warps are generally narrow, not wider than 50-60 cm in width. To see how the loom works have a look at this video:

In an attempt to keep the highly stylized weaving technique honed over generations alive, this particular saree has been designed to meet contemporary needs, while preserving the traditional craft. The dominant feature here is the emphasis on geometric and linear patterns. The colour combinations are vital to this weave. This saree has elaborate kalka designs (kalka= paisley pattern in Bengali) in contrasting blue and red coloured threads on a white background. Inspired by many others, I converted an Assamese gamosa received as a gift during a conference in Jorhat into a blouse.

Catch up with my other saree stories, if you haven’t done so already!

My saree stories: Part 1
My saree stories: Part 2
My saree stories: Part 3
My saree stories: Part 4
My saree stories: Part 5
My saree stories: Part 6
My saree stories: Part 7
My saree stories: Part 8
My saree stories: Part 9
My saree stories: Part 10

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