History & Culture

Draping yards of heritage

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Textile doyen Sabitha Radhakrishna on the culture, livelihood, fashion and politics surrounding the sari

“South Indian weddings seems to have lost their charm. Earlier, women of all age groups would dazzle in beautiful Kanjeevarams in vibrant colours. But today, in the name of innovation, a lot has been compromised on design, colour and motifs. What I see is bizzare design and too much glitter. Unless we safeguard it, we are likely to lose Kanjeevaram completely,” said Sabitha Radhakrishna, scholar and textile revivalist.

Draping yards of heritage

In her talk titled, ‘The Romance of the Indian Sari’, at the inauguration of Taneira’s second edition of the trunk show of curated handloom cotton and silk saris past week, she threw some light on how the sari, the un-stitched garment of India, evolved over many centuries and survived a whole millennium, overcoming social, cultural and economical changes. “The Korvai technique — where the border, pallav and body are woven separately and joined together in the loom — makes Kanjeevarams so unique.”

“A few years ago, I was sad that the sari may fade into oblivion as less and less women opted for it. But thanks to the surge in its revival, taken up by many people in recent times, the sari is back in vogue, thereby saving our weavers whose lives depend entirely on this unique art,” Radhakrishna said.

Draping yards of heritage

Artist Ravi Varma immortalised the sari in his paintings of women and he had done extensive research on it by travelling across the country, which is evident in his work. “The film world, Bollywood especially, contributed to sari styles and trends. While Shabana Azmi prefered understated handlooms, Rekha sparkled in South Indian silks and even her neckline was such a rage. Sri Devi made an impact by wearing lovely cotton saris in English Vinglish,” said Radhakrishna , adding, “Indira Gandhi played a major role in popularising handloom cottons of India.”

Talking about the political connotations of textiles, she said that “the handspun yarn used in the indigenously manufactured fabric, Khadi, played a significant role during the colonial period and the fabric itself came to be known as the freedom cloth. But today this fabric has been refined and evolved into a high-end product and naturally the cost has gone up too.”

The textile and weaving traditions of each region, each state, is distinctive; just like how their customs, cuisine and traditions vary. “We have such intricate handwoven saris — they are our national pride. Patola, Vichitrapuri, Koraput, Bomkai, Benares, Paithani, Chanderi, Kota and Maheswari saris are a few examples.

Draping yards of heritage

The Chinese inspired Parisi Ghara saris involve intricate hand embroidery on exquisite silk. The long-drawn process of Ajrak dye is done with such finesse that the sari, if reversed, coincides with the pattern and colour on the upper side. The surface ornamental work in Bandini displays ultimate artistic work with precision.”

In South India, Rukmini Devi Arundale’s contribution to textile is immense. “She set up a weaving centre in 1937 to weave dance costumes at Kalakshetra and developed distinctive designs, which cannot be reproduced today as there are no weavers who can replicate such weaving patterns,” said Radhakrishna. “Taneira’s trunk show has fairly represented handloom saris of India, in a manner that appeals to the younger generation,” she noted.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 3:53:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/sabitha-radhakrishna-on-saving-of-heriatage-weaving-culture/article24198931.ece

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