India’s varied traditions and rituals define its unique cultural identity. But one aspect that remains a constant through this mixed bag of cultures is the sari.
Though each region has its own style of weaving and draping, women across cultures have adorned this unstitched garment that helps people carve an identity for themselves based on their geographical location and being Indian at the same time.
Soha Parekh’s book titled, Saris-Splendour in Threads discusses the beauty in variety of the sari, charting the different saris of different regions of the country and also simultaneously talks about various socio-cultural as well as economic influences on the sari.
Talking about the beginning of her love for saris, Parekh says, “As a youngster, when you watch your mother drape a beautiful sari, you try and emulate it. My mother is the person who instilled the love for saris in me. Also, I am from Ahmedabad, which is a big centre for textiles.”
Draped in history
Interspersed with stunning photographs, the book begins with the history and some legends associated with the sari such as the art of Chikankari embroidery being passed on to Lucknow by a mysterious traveller.
The author goes on to discuss various cultural references of the sari through art and poetry, especially through ancient temple sculptures as seen at sites like Hampi. Indian royalty has been a patron of various arts through ages, and the sari has occupied a special place in the hearts of Indian Maharanis and princesses.
The author gives an interesting take on how women from royal houses have always been messengers of the beauty of the sari to the western world, with several of them preferring the chiffons and silks from France. The present generation, Radhikaraje Gaekwad of the Royal family of Vadodara is working for the cause of traditional Indian saris such as the Chanderi saris.
Women draped in differently styled saris have always been a subject of interest with painters including Raja Ravi Varma and Savalram Laxman Haldankar immortalising them through their paintings of earthy beauties draped in saris.
Apart from the representation of saris in art and dance, the author also talks about Bollywood being an influence on the styles of saris, albeit in a small section. Quiz her about this; Parekh says that due to the limited space available she wanted to discuss more about the types of saris rather than the influences.
Portraits of women from different fields, ranging from industrialists to an actress make for impressive review. The book goes on to provide a section-wise insight into the past and the present of saris of West and Central India, East, North and South India (it missed out on the North-East, though the map in the beginning lists Assam as a region covered in the book).
The book mixes both technical details (weaving) and the idea behind the design of popular motifs in saris. The research took the author through several books and regions of India, “I tried my hand at the loom in Kanchipuram. It is very difficult and beautiful.”
Saris Splendour in Threads, Soha Parekh, Redpepper Books, Rs 2,700. Available at leading bookstores