Saturday, September 15, 2001

styles forever
Sumona Roy

THE saree never gets out of fashion. You can wear it in any style, at any age and on all occasions, and still, not feel out of place. Little wonder, this six-yard-long drape is recognised as the most enduring and versatile of all Indian garments as it combines grace with dignity and sensuality with modesty.

"The saree serves many purposes," declares Sonali Chandra, a well-known textile technologist. "It reveals as much as it conceals. You can hide those ungainly bulges and at the same time, make the most of your feminine curves. The trick lies in how you drape it".

Fashion designers have, on their part, deconstructed the saree from time to time — occasionally turning it into a pre-stitched garment, or else into a kimono-styled outfit... and even into silhouettes of butterflies and flowers. But ultimately, it is the conventional pleats-in-front and pallu-over-left-shoulder style that prevails.


Says Divya Gorkha, a saree designer: "There are many innovative ways of wearing your saree. You can show off your blouse by draping the pallu like a dupatta around your neck. Alternatively, you can drape the pallu around your arms, rather than the shoulder. Some people also combine an interesting dupatta with the saree for added effect".

Adds Rina Dhaka, another designer: "I prefer to wear my saree the regular way with a tiny blouse to show off my waist. But then, there are many other things you can do. You can bare your shoulders, or just one shoulder, your back... whatever you choose, depending upon the fabric and your style".

These options draw inspiration from some of the saree-draping traditions prevalent in different regions of the country. For example, Gujaratis tend to display the pallu as it comes down the shoulder from the back, whereas Malayalee women wear their saree (mundu) in two parts. One part covers the hips and legs, while the other is draped around the torso.

Tamilians and Maharashtrians tend to wear nav-vari (nine-yard) saree, tucked between their legs and fastened in the waist at the back. The pallu rises from behind, cutting diagonally across the upper body, and settles around the lower abdomen. "No other garment flatters the female form as a nav-vari", says Chandra.

Then there are Coorgi women who drape their saree around the bust like a sarong, while in the hilly tracts of Assam, the mekhla chadar comes in three parts. One is meant for the lower body, another serves as a blouse and the third, for wrapping around the torso.

"Whatever style you choose, you can never go wrong with the saree," assures Pranavi Khullar, who has recently authored a book on saree. "But when you want to make a design statement, be careful about the borders. For that is what defines a saree’s aesthetics and character".

Like wearing styles, saree borders command a heritage, specific to a region. The brocade borders of Banarasi sarees is most popular for its intricate interwining of floral and foliage motifs in shades of red, orange and yellow. "The raised effect of the silk fabric is what gives a brocade border its special charm and quality," informs Rakesh Rathore, the latter half of the Abraham &Rathore label.

In Bengal, the Dhakai saree holds prominence in wedding ceremonies and is distinctive for the extra weft pattern taken separately to create the border. In the Jamdani variant, there is a pattern running through the weft while in the Tangail, a design is created in every alternate weft thread.

Borders of Kanjeevaram silks are more dramatic with typical temple motifs, elephants and peacocks, as well as eye-catching stripes, checks and floral butis. The body, border and pallu of such sarees are woven separately and interlocked afterwards in such a manner that they constitute a composite whole.

Yet another popular variety is the Pasapalli saree of Orissa with its ikat patterns in white, red and black. "These sarees have a single warp weaving technique at the borders," Rathore points out. "The same saree in Gujarat is marked by its double patterning technique where the warp and weft threads are tie-dyed and meet at various points".

However, going by the prevailing trends, bold motifs and prints are losing out in popularity to narrow borders with basic geometric and floral woven patterns. "After all, the smaller the border, the more intricate the design," explains Chandra. — MF