Every sari is a story. A tale of careful selection, and painstaking coordination; a tale of the enduring diversity and richness that defines India; a tale of the details, the fine print and the life that go into making of the whole nine yards.
The Capital was witness to a mega event over the past weekend, which celebrated a few thousands of such tales. Organised by Red Earth and curated by ‘Sari Man’ Himanshu Verma, at Alliance Francaise, Lodhi Estate, the Saree Festival Delhi 2016 comprised a workshop on how to drape a sari, sari-themed performances and a sari mela (exhibition).
The mela brought together artforms, weaves, motifs and patterns from across India, in fabrics such as linen and cotton, perfect for Delhi summers, apart from the silks, georgettes and chiffons. While it celebrated the tremendous variety the sari offers in terms of style and tone – explaining why it remains the go-to garment for Indian women – the exhibition also showcased the story of the sari, how each carries with it the stamp of a distinct culture and identity, and the journey it makes before it becomes your prized asset, your precious heirloom.
One of the many stalls at the festival was by Angikam, run by Kuchipudi exponent Vanashree Rao, wife of Padma Shri recipient Jayarama Rao. Rao’s saris are painted in the Kalamkari style of Andhra Pradesh, in which motifs are drawn using burnt tamarind sticks, and then painted with organic vegetable dyes. Each sari takes close to two months to be drape-ready, through a process that involves boiling it multiple times in water and buffalo milk.
“The patterns are drawn from my experience as a dancer. Just like a dance performance has a beginning, middle and end, the various motifs and detailing in my saris come together to form a coherent pattern,” says Rao.
On display close to Rao’s stall were Banarasis — with their unmistakable sheen — at Roliana, run by Vikash and Roli Mehra, who said they were working to keep the traditional grandeur of the Banarasi alive. In rich shades, their saris bore motifs and patterns inspired by the purest form of the Banarasi.
Next to the heavy silks was a stall by Pratham, which brought to its linen saris the Rajasthani artform of Pichwai. Inspired by Shrinathdwara, a temple to Lord Shrinath, the art uses motifs from Lord Krishna’s life, such as the lotus, the flute, cows. Then, there was the Pariah collection by Pranami. Pranami, who is from Assam but has studied abroad most of her life, said she named her collection Pariah, which translates to ‘the other’, or ‘the outsider’, because her fashion “is a quest to integrate the fringe into the mainstream”.
“Anything can be pariah. The north-east is pariah for a lot of people from the mainland. Many motifs and art forms, such as the elaborate kimkhawbs of the Ahom dynasty of Assam, are slowly losing popularity, becoming pariah. My collection seeks to integrate such elements,” says Pranami.
This was the third year of the Saree Mela in Delhi.
Ruchika Mehra, 32-year-old banking professional and resident of Barakhamba Road, has been visiting the festival since the first year. “Today, I am walking out with a tribal weave from Odisha, a Jamdani from Bengal and a Kalamkari sari from Andhra Pradesh,” says Mehra.
Often, one sari unites artists of a particular style drawing motifs inspired from a different era on a fabric that may have come from any region of India. Every time you wrap a sari around yourself, you are wearing a bit of all that is beautiful and magical about India.
As Verma, the ‘Sari Man’ resplendent in a rich Ilkal, told visitors at his festival — “Jai Sari, sakhi”. Jai sari, indeed.