The store located at 12,MG Road,oozes antiquity. Well-worn furniture,slightly faded white walls and airy premises,coupled with the products stocked inside,transport the visitor to a bygone era. From among T-shirts,straw hats and knick-knacks,the bold colours of the traditional Parsi gara stand out at the Poona Zoroastrian Seva Mandal store.
Gara is a vintage Parsi thread-work tradition that dates back to the 1800s. Its origin can be traced to when Parsis,who traded with Oriental countries,acquired Oriental silk that was embroidered with peonies and pagodas made by the Chinese for their women. According to the Zoroastrian Heritage website,the word gara stems from the Gujarati word for a sari. But it has now come to mean a particular Indian Zoroastrian (Parsi or Irani) style sari, goes the definition.
The embroidery is generally made on a georgette or crepe sari, says a staff member at the store. The gara saris stocked at the Poona Zoroastrian Seva Mandal store are intricate and have been machine-embroidered. Priced at Rs 6,000 and above,the store stocks gara-embroidered kurtis as well.
Be it a Parsi wedding or navjote (initiation) ceremony of the old Zoroastrian community in Pune,the gara is an important part of the community. Ratush Wadia,a Pune-based patron of the gara,throws light on the history of the embroidery. If you look closely,many of the original Chinese motifs are still used, she says,adding,Earlier,the mulmul fabric was favoured. But somehow the trend has changed over the years.
Now,from cozy layers of mulmul,the gara is making its way in to fashion boutiques. Earlier favoured by upper-class Zoroastrian ladies for special occasions,the gara is being used on designer bodices,handloom saris,skirt hems and structured jackets,thanks to noted designers such as Aneeth Arora,Nupur Kanoi,Anupama Dayal,Sabyasachi Mukerjee and Anamika Khanna.
Mumbai-based revivalist and designer Parveez Aggarwal,who was in the city recently to host an exhibition-cum-trunk show at Vivanta by Taj Blue Diamond,says,It is very difficult to find a good,hand-embroidered gara,these days. Aggarwal has had sold-out exhibitions in New York,Singapore and Hong Kong and she hand-embroiders garas in chiffon,georgette and silk.
The most beautiful thing about the gara is that it keeps an ancient art alive and provides a livelihood for craftsmen who put their heads,hands and hearts into creating each exclusive piece. It is a source of income for those who would otherwise have no other form of employment, she says,adding that her artisans are based out of Mumbai and Kolkata. Her saris are priced at Rs 50,000 and above.
While traditionally,garas are family heirlooms,many Pune-based Parsi women are enthusiastic about experimenting with the heritage embroidery. I have two saris given to me by my mother,and one sari given to me by my mother-in-law. While the new lot that Ive seen in Mumbai is not as elegant as the old one,I quite like to experiment with the kurtis,stoles and shawls embroidered with garas, says Pune-based interior decorator Delnaz Agarwal.