A unique Indian creation that carries the aura of centuries within its graceful folds, the sari lends its wearer a distinct identity. It has been the fountainhead of inspiration to the Indian craftsman for millennia, with various regions in the country having their own distinct motifs, patterns, and weaves.
This book captures the range and the beauty of this wondrous creation, with visuals to match. Vijai Singh Katiyar, a designer, writes about his subject with passion. The book’s design by the author is both imaginative and evocative. The photographs of saris of different weaves from different parts of the country are colourful hymns that sing their praise — the Kanchipurams of Tamil Nadu and the cottons of the State get ample representation. Motifs, panels, and background have been chosen with care. They tell us about the sculptural and religious traditions that have been drawn on by the weavers, those wizards who for more than 4,000 years have ensured an “akshaya patra” of designs for the Indian woman to adorn herself.
The author says that “conviction in the power of design is the foundation of this work,” and its aim is “to enlist support in laying the foundation of a fresh and sustainable approach towards the weaving and wearing of saris.”
He is optimistic that “due to the scale of activity and the number of people involved — both producers as well as users — the sari is unlikely to fade away in the time to come.” He describes how “the Hindu preference for draped and uncut fabric goes back to Vedic times” and traces the evolution of the sari through various periods in Indian history, as also the cultural influences that gave rise to different motifs and techniques of weaving.
The sari became an important item of trade and income generation till machine-made cloth imported by the British dealt a severe blow to handloom. During the Freedom Movement, the sari “became a style statement of Indian women? Strong cultural tradition and nationalistic fervour have sustained sari wearing and weaving,” he points out.
Katiyar explains the balance achieved by the weaver between the border, body, and the pallav, and the harmony it brings about as Muslims are also engaged in weaving it. He goes on to talk of the traditional specialities of different regions such as the beautiful weaves of Varanasi, the intricate ikkats of Gujarat, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, the grand Paithanis of Maharashtra, and the appealing ilkals of Karnataka. He also covers the numerous styles of draping the sari. Three chapters are devoted to textile design.
The writer elucidates the steps taken by the government and individuals in reviving and encouraging handloom. The formation of various boards and institutions are outlined as also the strengths and lacunae in approach and functioning. He points out the importance of design intervention and the drawbacks when it is done in an insensitive manner. More background information about the author would have been useful. To ensure visual totality the captions are often grouped together making it hard for the reader to coordinate the word and the visual. Tightening of the text would have helped for there is quite a bit of repetition.
The cover photograph does not seem the best choice as aperitif for the feast within. Some of the images feature models dressed in revolutionary, exotic drapes more suitable for the ramp. Photographs of ordinary, modern women draped in the sari might have brought home its continuing lure more effectively. In all, a book high on visuals, of the past, present and future of a creation that has become synonymous with the personality of the Indian woman.
INDIAN SARIS — Traditions, Perspectives, Design: Vijay Singh Katiyar; Wisdom Tree, 4779/23, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002, in association with National Institute of Design, Paldi, Ahmedabad-380007.