The saree story

Six yards of clothes. That is all there is to the sarees. Yet, it lends a certain grace and elegance to the wearer unmatched by any other garment. More importantly, the saree epitomizes the continuity of an age-old tradition that has withstood the onslaught of many different cultures, to emerge today as a visible symbol of the resiliency, continuity and timelessness of the Indian way of life.

So interwoven is the saree with the life and traditions of the people that each region of the country has developed a weave of its own. Each is a unique expression of the skills of the weavers and dyers, which have been handed down the generations. The exquisite Patola weave, and the Bandhini style of dyeing comes from the west. Weaving silks in vibrant colors, some weighing as much as 10 kilograms is a specialty of south India. Silk sarees embroidered with the Kantha stitch, a specialty of the Bengal region in the east, is a typical example of the perseverance of the Indian craftsman. He puts in as much as six months of labor to create a single saree. The Paithani silk saree from Maharashtra and the brocades from Benaras are equally representative of the continuation of the age-old crafts.

Then again, each region displays a different style of draping the saree. This is usually determined by the lifestyle of the people of that region. The urban Indian style is by far the one most common seen. Stiff tangails, flowing silks, elegant chiffons and heavy brocades - all of them can be easily maneuvered into this style. Tied around the waist, the saree forms a skirt with the pleats positioned in front thus allowing for free movement. The Pallav or the part draped over the left shoulder is either pleated and pinned up the convenience, or is left flowing loose for glamour.

Tucked away in the mountains, in the south is Coorg, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in India.

The women here wear the saree in a style so unique, that its very elegance is intriguing. The pleats of the saree are not in front but at the back forming a fan. The pallav covering the chest is brought over the right shoulder. This is held in place with a broach or a pin. And as they walk, the pleats behind gently swing giving the impression of the long train, lending grace and elegance to the already exceedingly beautiful women of this land.

The Bengalis of eastern India are tradition bound. Bengali women are exceedingly active, yet fiercely traditional. This is perhaps best reflected in the fact that at festival time, come what may, all Bengali women make it a point to drape their saree in the Bengali way. Here there are no pleats. The saree is wrapped around the waist and tucked in at the left. This is then brought back to the right side and draped over the left shoulder. The portion left over is brought up under the right arm and draped once again over.

In the south is the style of Tamil Nadu, a repository of India's ancient fine arts, dance and music. Protected by the hills, this region enjoyed long years of peace which not only nurtured the arts, but also developed a religious fervor that can still be seen among its people. The followers of the Hindu religion were divided into two distinct groups. Those who worshipped Lord Shiva came to be known as lyers and the worshippers of Lord Vishnu were as lyengars. So distinct were these two groups that they differed even in the way the women draped the tradition saree.

In both communities it was the nine yard saree that was worn. The draping of the saree in this style is rather complicated and perhaps needs to be explained step by step. After the first wrapping around the waist, the saree is brought back and pleated with the pleats positioned along the left leg. The rest of the saree is draped over the left shoulder, wrapped once again round the waist and tucked on the left side.

However the lyer style includes a few pleats at the back which is not there in the lyengar style. It is not very often that one sees women dressed in such sarees today. The style is by far, too cumbersome for the modern women. But at weddings this is a must, and so it is perhaps only once in a life time that the Brahmin women of Tamil Nadu wear the saree in this style. What is more, the enterprising clothiers have now introduced ready-to-wear nine-yard sarees, all complete with hooks and buttons, offering a welcome alternative to trendy young girls!


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