Regardless of whether you are slim or tall, sari suits everyone and brings the feminine side of women. You just need to know how to wear it
The other day, at a party, we had a nice conversation going regarding sari. The conversation was mainly on the different kinds of saris and the pleasure of wearing them. That got me thinking of the time I started wearing a sari. Just the thought makes me feel old. After all, 50 years is a long time since I started wearing a sari. Now that makes me ancient. Often looking at a sari I am hit by nostalgia.
When I pull a sari to wear, a sweet memory associating it with a special event or certain people who gifted it to me comes to my mind. Combine that with the passed-on memory of my mother, when I inherited her saris, after her demise. That’s a lot of memories. Some memories might be even 100 years old. Saris are often passed down from one generation to the next. You can call sari a family heirloom. Gifting a sari to the new bride was the popular tradition until recently. Now you will rarely see a bride in a sari.
They rather wear expensive lehenga or ghagara choli. Though lehenga is becoming very popular these days, youngsters need to understand that lehenga is also derived from a sari. In South India, the simpler form of it is called pawadai (without the pallu) worn before puberty and Pattu Pavadai Daavani (half sari) that girls wear after puberty till they get married, after that it is sari. Pawadai is very similar to guniu choli that we give to our girls at the onset of puberty.
Sari used to be the thing to wear after a person reached puberty, there was no alternative. Now, that is not binding any more. Now there are plenty of other options to choose from. Sari might have its ups and downs, so far its popularity is concerned but its usage will never disappear despite the fashion pressure of the Western world. Then again, a sari is a sari, the epitome of elegance, nothing can replace that. Only sari can compete with the formality of Western clothes.
Saris while being purely functional garments, like many aspects of our clothing, are deeply connected to our memory and sometimes our identity. I remember my college days from the early 70s. At the time the famous Indian actress, Jaya Bhaduri, had a particular way of wearing a sari and that became quite popular with my group of friends. The reason was that it covered you completely when you brought the pallu/anchal in front. Later, most of my friends gave up the style but I still continued it. Hence I was identified by the way I wore my sari. For me, saris are very special. The younger generation might not agree with me. They might consider it cumbersome to wear. That’s fine, as long they understand its impact on our culture and its history. Yes, sari does have a history of its own.
History of sari
You might find it amazing to know that at more than 5,000 years of existence, sari is considered to be among the oldest forms of garment in the world. Even the Vedas mention it. Records from the Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1300 BCE) indicate its usage at the time. Despite being that old, it is equally popular now. Its usage ranges from ramps of leading fashion shows, in film industry both in India and Nepal, on streets of rural and urban Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, to college students and their conservative mothers and grandmothers. Sari is very much ingrained in our culture even now. Most of us know that sari is an unstitched piece of cloth but very few know the actual length of it. It ranges from four and half meters to eight meters. This depends on where it is worn. It evolved because ancient Hindu believed stitching cloth made it impure.
According to Sanskrit texts dating back to the sixth century BC, sari evolved from a three-piece-attire consisting of unstitched length of cloth draped like a skirt, a chest band and a piece worn over one’s shoulder (dupatta) covering one’s head. The amazing thing is that, it can be an heirloom, or a purely functional garment of daily use. This simple garment is equally seen on the streets and on the runways and has influenced fashion designers throughout the world. Though a sari is much loved, it is often misunderstood. A sari is more than an uncut piece hand-woven cloth. It is one of the most sensual attires of a South Asian woman. Often people think there is only one way of wearing a sari: the Nivi style.
A sari can be draped in more than 100 different ways. You will see these variations in different parts of India and Sri Lanka. Nepal too has its own variation. It is called haku patasih. However, the popular method of wearing a sari is still the Nivi method. Now that I think about it, I know at least five different ways of draping a sari. Once, one of my American friends asked me about the advantages of wearing a sari. At the moment I could not answer her question, but the question made me think about it.
Good things about it
We take wearing a sari for granted, but wearing it has its own advantages. It can be warm in winter and cool in summer. It’s professional and aesthetically stylish. This puts sari on the top of any South Asian women’s attire. For starters, it is an excellent attention grabber. If you wear it well, and carry yourself well, it will increase a woman’s confidence and bring out their beauty. It adapts to your figure perfectly.
Regardless of whether you are slim or tall, it suits everyone and brings the feminine side of women. You just need to know how to wear it. Though it looks complicated, it is very comfortable and roomy, elegant and easy to handle. You do not have to struggle wearing it. Granted it is much easier to wear a pair of jeans or a party dress, but they cannot replace the grace and poise of a sari. Sari can be worn in all Asian contexts. That’s what women wore for centuries in the past and will continue to wear in the future too. The only thing is that most of the women from the younger generation find it cumbersome wearing it. Some don’t know how to wear it. In this era of technology and internet, one can find numerous videos teaching how to wear a sari. At a time when sari is gaining popularity in the Western world, we need to preserve our culture and tradition of wearing a sari ourselves too.
Gigi Hadid, an American fashion model opened the show for Prabal Gurung’s autumn/ winter 2018 collection at New York Fashion Week last month wearing one of his creations—a fuchsia-toned wrap skirt with a patterned scarf draped across her torso. The scarf also wrapped around her neck, with one fringed tail hanging over her shoulder. To some, it may have looked like an interesting form of draping, but those who know, got a glimpse of a sari right there.
Gurung’s adaptation of a sari was clever and innovative without putting the brand at risk of any cultural-appropriation controversy. Thus sari is becoming a subject for the fashion designers too. It has not only become a sensuous, glamorous all-time-wear for women through the years, but also the ‘canvas’ for weavers and printers to create artistic weaves and prints.
Keeping all this in mind, I urge parents to teach children to respect a sari and also teach your daughters how to wear it. If you don’t know, look it up in the internet. That should not be too difficult.
Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books