Stop by at Artisans Centre, Kala Ghoda, for a glorious glimpse of the past through an exhibition of saris. For over four decades, Chimy Nanjappa and Pavithra Muddaya from Bangalore have endeavoured to revive ancient crafts, preserve family heirlooms and revitalise tradition

It is one thing to spot a tag on a sari that explains the technique of its weave, it's quite another to drape a family heirloom, a grandma's memory or a forgotten generation's story over your shoulder. Ironically, it was during overseas visits, over four decades ago, that 83-year-old Bangalore-resident Chimy Nanjappa first recognised the immeasurable value in every fold of an antique sari that was otherwise destined to be discarded.

Recalling the birth of the enterprise that she became a part of in the '70s, Chimy's daughter Pavithra Muddaya shares, "My mother used to work for the Cauvery Arts and Crafts Emporium. When she represented the Handloom and Handicrafts Export Corporation at fairs overseas,  around 1965, it occurred to her that if foreigners could appreciate the beads of culture that are woven into these garments, shouldn't one get Indians to recognise their immense value too?"

Chimmy's grand daughter, Vipra now helps Pavithra Muddaya at Vimor.
Pics/Satish Badiger

That's when Nanjappa began experimenting with techniques that breathed new life into antique garments. "She'd find creative ways to restore and revive old saris and, eventually, she started selling them -- just a small stock of painstakingly restored garments -- literally out of a box at our home," recalls Pavithra.

Incidentally, their traditional sari store, Vimor, gets its name from the Indonesian word for Pavithra (pure). "We started restoring temple saris -- saris that people would donate to temples -- which would be auctioned off eventually. We'd touch up these antiques by patching up a torn border or concealing damaged embroidery and metal stains, all the time ensuring that we stayed true to the traditional style."

However, sourcing such garments became something of a challenge in due course, Pavithra tells us. She points out that the saris typically boasted of a very traditional aspect, a feature that was representative of a specific period, for instance, peacock and rudraksh-bead motifs. "Some saris even had the donor's name embroidered on the pallus," Pavithra says, as she explains why they decided to replicate and revive the old weaves. "We felt there was a need to encourage weavers to retain the old techniques and and they required a steady income.
We also felt it was important to instill a sense of cultural pride to show the weavers that what they're creating is more than just a piece of apparel and that they're contributing to safeguarding a valuable piece of our heritage."

The collection to be exhibited in Mumbai includes only hand-woven saris with very intricate, traditional South Indian weaves. "We'll be showcasing revival pieces that resemble garments one may find at museums today," Pavithra smiles. "There will be reproductions of temple saris and Cubbonpet, Ganduberunda, Lakshadeepa, Surte, Adike and Ghine saris, in cotton and silk, with prices starting from Rs 1000 onwards. Heavier saris will be priced Rs 12,000 onwards."

"Years of documenting and studying these garments have earned Pavithra a reputation as a textile expert," says Radhi Parekh of Artisans Centre, whose family's association with Vimor spans back two generations. "Since I was a child, we always made a stop at Vimor whenever we were in Bangalore," Radhi recalls.

"The workshop is a small space inside their home," Radhi shares, telling us how charmed she was by the framed images of motifs that adorned the walls of the modest space. "Each image bore a description explaining the root and significance of the motif," Radhi describes, excited to be able to present the products of such passion to this city.

"People trust us with their great-grandmothers' saris, so we really have to ensure that each garment, each weave, receives due respect," she adds. "When we sell saris like those we usually include the ancestor's story," Pavithra points out.

The Revival collection displayed in Mumbai won't include these naturally, but what you will get with each purchase  is an analysis of the weave, a small account of the region the style hails from and a sense of satisfaction for having played your part in the preservation of our tremendous heritage. Vimor's Heirloom Saris, From My Grandmother's Cupboard, will be on display  from December 1 to 3.
At: Artisans Centre, 52/56, Dr VB Gandhi Marg, behind Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda.
Call: 22672290 / 22673040