I believe that every saree needs to be celebrated. Every saree has a story. I have been penning down saree stories for another forum. I just wanted to compile them all together before they got swallowed up by the big web. Some of these stories might appear disjointed as they were penned on different occasions.
Saree #11: Assam’s Muga Silk and a Mekhla Chador drape
This one is a Mekhla Chador in the traditional colours. This was my first buy in Muga silk and I chose to go conventional rather than try newer colours. My friends in Jorhat told me I could have draped it better if I had got the original starch washed off. But who cared about draping when all you were looking forward to was dancing in the baraat!
But here’s some interesting trivia for you. Silk probably came to India via Assam. The knowledge of sericulture probably arrived with the Bodo groups who migrated from China around the period of 3000-2000 BC. Ram Mohan Nath in his book The Background of Assamese Culture states that: “Silk is a word that was derived from the Mongolian word ‘sirkek’. The Indian word ‘sari’ is probably derived from the same word.”
Muga silk is the product of the silkworm Antheraea assamensis which is endemic to Assam. The larvae of these moths feed on som (Machilus bombycina) and sualu (Litsaea polyantha) leaves. The silk produced is known for its glossy, fine texture and durability.
Saree #12: The Himroo Saree
This is a Himroo handloom saree which originates from Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Himroo sarees are a blend of silk and cotton weaves. 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 replica of the same process using cotton and silk threads. 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. Now you know what you need to pick up on your next Aurangabad trip. A distinctive Himroo saree!
Saree #13 : The Bomkai Saree
Among all the cotton sarees I love the handlooms from Odisha for the way they fall and their comfort. I picked this from Boyanika on my last trip to Bhubneswar. This is a purple Bomkai cotton saree.
Bomkai sarees are also called Sonepuri sarees. These are woven in the village of Bomkai in Ganjam district of Odisha by the Bhulia community of Subarnapur district. Bomkai is one of the identified Geographical Indications of India. The Bomkai saree is woven in both silk and cotton. The weaving of Bomkai saree is time consuming and labour intensive. It follows the tie and dye method and has unique designed bandha. The procedure used in Bomkai pattern, is known as Jala technique. The original and traditional weave of this saree was made in low-count cotton yarn which is usually, coarse, heavy and dyed in intense colours.
The most charming part is its thread work in the designs of the border and the pallu and the tribal style motifs. The design basically emerges from the weaver’s mind. Several motifs are woven in Bomkai sarees which include pestle (rukha), hour-glass shaped drum (dambaroo), small flowers (kanthi phoola), bitter gourd (karela), peacock (mayur/mayuri), fish and few designs custom made.
Saree #14 : Tussar Silk Saree with Sujani embroidery
I usually steer clear of wearing red, but when I feel full of love I veer towards it! This saree is a tussar silk. But the borders are embroidered in Sujani style.
Sujani is an embroidery style from Bihar. The words Su+Jani literally mean ‘facilitating birth’. There is an old tradition in Bihar and several other parts of India where the new born child is clothed only in old clothes, at least up to the 6th day after which survival is better. There is a superstition which disallows mothers from buying new clothes for the unborn child. But the other reason might also be because old clothes are well worn and soft, and will not chafe the baby’s tender skin. Sujani embroidery was first used to make quilts for babies from tatters. So a bunch of old soft sarees would be piled together and sewed. These quilts were embroidered using running stitches to depict motifs from the everyday life of a woman.
Now of course, designers have encouraged these artists to make more modern motifs. This is similar to Kantha stitch with minor differences. The borders are made in black. And the colours are filled in with straight stitches unlike kantha.
Saree #15: Raw silk saree with embroidery
This saree was love at first sight. I grabbed it the moment the salesman showed it. And as always, every saree is entangled with an endearing memory.
I packed this saree on my first-ever cruise. Three friends, now living in three different continents, decided to go on an all-girls’ cruise – minus the spouses! So we ended up doing a seven-day Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian Epic. We had fun travelling to Barcelona, Florence, Rome, Vatican City, Marseilles, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast and Cannes. On one special evening, on my friend’s birthday, I decided to wear this saree. My attire attracted compliments from complete strangers of several nationalities. But the funny part was at the birthday dinner.
One look at my saree and all the Mallu stewards and waiters from Kottayam came running out of the kitchen. They might have been rather homesick and talking to Indians was rather fulfilling to them. We got special attention and quick service from them that night at the restaurant! But as my friend complained, her birthday was spent with my playing Mommy and agony aunt to all those young lads who were missing home! 😉
Coming back to the saree, it is a black raw silk with a jute border. And is embroidered with these beautiful flowers and paisley motifs all along the edges and pallu. But what made it extra-special was my friend Sucheta Dandekar’s effort. She got the blouse made by her fantastic tailor, who painstakingly replicated the flowers on the saree on the blouse as well! I can’t thank them enough for this magical effect.
Saree #16: A South Cotton Saree
This blue saree, which drove my blues away just by its bright colour, is a South cotton picked up in Coimbatore.
I’m in the middle of fixing the pleats of my saree when I hear him knock on my door. “I’m leaving,” he says. “What? No! How can you do this to me? Wait! Wait!” I plead frantically. “It is my OPD day. I have to leave early.” “Please! Two minutes! Mera photo!” “Ask someone in office to click it.” “But no one clicks nicer pictures than you!” And he relents! Yippee!
That is how most mornings begin since I began documenting my sarees. But the last line is the truth, not flattery.
Husbands click the best pictures. Because you can be yourself with them. You can tell them to click again when you feel your flab is showing or your eyes are closed. You certainly can’t say this to people in the office. So even if only 10 percent of the photos (2 out of 20 as he says) make it to approval stage, the minnats to get a good picture clicked by the person in my life I received after many mannats is totally worth it!
Saree #17: The Bengali Taant
This morning as I struggled with this starched Bengali taant, instead of being frustrated, I smiled. It has been a twenty year old journey to actually loving starched cotton sarees. And the traveller in this journey has been my husband.
I was married into a family which was conservative in expecting its bahu to wear only sarees. And I didn’t know how to wear one. So every important family function was preceded by an hour of grumbling, frustration and tears, with my husband patiently trying to hold on to my pleats, completely clueless of what was expected of him! Now I don’t need his help, but those days of arriving bleary-eyed to any function after a tiresome session of unresolved arguments are memorable. Two days ago I reminded him of those days when I yelled and screamed at him for not doing a ‘satisfactory job’ and he said “Now I know more about settling unruly pleats than you do!”
Thinking of it now, the art of draping a saree bonds two strangers for life in a rather comical way! Love happens in unusual settings!
Saree #18: The Pochampally Ikat Saree
“I don’t have anything to wear!” I rued as we dressed to attend a dinner that evening. He looked towards my overflowing wardrobe, raised his eyebrows and grinned.
“Yes, I have these sarees,” I argued, “But everyone has seen these!” He didn’t stop making fun of me. Until this morning when he said, “You girls should start a saree exchange programme. When everyone has seen your sarees exchange them with your friends so that they can show them off!” Not a bad idea actually!
This saree is a Pochampally ikat. I love the turquoise blue and white combo. Pochampally Ikat sarees are woven in Bhoodan Pochampally, which is in Telangana. The traditional intricate geometric design is unique to these weaves and makes them stand apart. It takes a family of four, almost 10 days to weave one saree. The unique feature of Pochampally Ikat sarees lie in the transfer of intricate design and colouring onto warp and weft threads first. These are then woven together. Globally these are known as double ikat textiles. Pochampally sarees received Intellectual Property Rights Protection or Geographical Indication (GI) status in 2005.
Saree #19: Another South Cotton Saree with a story
As I stepped out of the dressing room, hubby looked at me from head to toe, and said: “Mustard.” “So what does mustard remind you of?” I asked. “Pungent. Spice. Like you. Teekha.” he said. I raised my eyebrows sky high at this new style of romance and shook my head.
All this while, while wearing this mustard South cotton saree edged with dull purple, I was visualising Raj and Simran running through a sarson ka khet, with the yellow mustard blossoms nodding their heads in happiness. And all this man could think about is kasundi in his food!
Strange how men and women view romance differently. But the way to his heart is definitely through his stomach!
Saree #20: The Maharashtrian Shalu
Not much has changed in the last four decades, has it?! The black and white photo is from a “Brides of India” competition in school. My mother seems to have reluctantly parted with her red Kanjeevaram saree. She never used safety pins while wearing her sarees, and the number of pins my teacher used to get me dressed had her aghast!
Bling is simply not my style. And yet when my nephew chose to have a ‘Two States’ wedding, the elevation to saasuma status, prompted me to buy my first Maharashtrian shalu with all this crystal work in the pallu. Was such a weight to carry! And I’m not just talking about hosting this wedding, but about the saree! I have to tell you about this shaadi picture in detail.
What happens when a Bihar ka chhora falls in love with a Marathi mulgi? Well then, litti chokha meets misal pav. Tokris of khaajamithai get exchanged with shidoris of puranpoli. Mundavalya are worn along with patmauris. Mangalasthak is in tandem with sindoor daan. Such a beautiful blend of the traditions where throughout love was celebrated! But the real moment came when the band, baaja, baraat blared lollipop lagelu in sync with zingat. One baraat band party is enough to make you evolve from sober saasuma into ecstatic baarati! What a day!