Wear India on your sleeve

Jun 18, 2012, 08:29 IST | Dhara Vora

Fashion and Indian scripts have been making sweeping statements for centuries. Now, as our celebrities and designers flaunt these traditional designs across the catwalk and arclights, we are seeing a revival of sorts of Indian fonts, languages and scripts. Dhara Vora looks at this wonderful print revolution that's looking good to put India on the world map

For ages, artists all over the world have appreciated the beauty of Indian scripts and fonts. Be it David Beckham and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine sporting tattoos in Devanagari or people wearing Hare Rama Hare Krishna-printed apparel. And now, literature and fashion seem to have merged where various scripts of Indian languages have been used as inspiration on fabric.

Singer Usha Uthup wears a sari with her Bengali song printed on it

India on a weave
Actress Vidya Balan, who always seems to create a flutter with her sari chic, recently wore a Masaba Gupta sari with a Tamil script printed on it. The result was a mix of quirk and traditional, adding an interesting element to an otherwise regular sari. “I liked the colours of the sari. Being a Tam-Brahm (Tamilian Brahmin), I liked the Tamil script on it. It is also very muted and understated,” shares Balan.

Actress Vidya Balan wearing a Masaba design with Tamil script on it

Another artiste from the field of entertainment whose taste in saris always catches the eyeballs is iconic singing star, Usha Uthup. In collaboration with Kanishka Sarees from Kolkata, Uthup created a range where several songs of hers were printed in different Indian languages.

Designer Ashish printed Hare Rama Hare Krishna for the London Fashion Week in February 2012

“While travelling abroad people buy souvenirs and T-shirts such as the I Love New York tee. I felt why not use our own font to create something beautiful that is symbolic to our culture? For this, I took Nandita Raja’s (from Kanishka Sarees) help and created saris with different scripts on them. One of these has my song Kolkata Don’t Worry on it in Bengali; there’s Come To Bombay in the Devanagari script, a Tamil song, a Malayalam song and even Urdu printed on saris, salwar kameezes and shawls.

Designer Archana Kochhar’s alphabet shrug. Pic/ Rane Ashish

Wherever I have worn them, people have loved them as the font creates a sense of belonging to India, particularly when abroad. I have gifted these saris to the likes of Jane Fonda, Richard Gere, Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi and even Sonia Gandhi,” says Uthup, speaking to us from Dubai where she was set to perform. Raja from Kanishka Sarees, who specialises in block print saris says, “I had created saris with script on them almost 40 years back but people didn’t appreciate it then. However, people from all ages love wearing these saris today. We have them in Pali, Sanskrit, Malayalam and even Chinese and Japanese. Our material is exported to Japan and the US as well. Our shirts for men with scripts on it too have been well appreciated.”

Big in Japan
Fashion designer Narendra Kumar Ahmed recently created a clothing line for the Cool Japan Festival in Mumbai. For this, he used the Japanese font with a twist in his outfits, “The whole festival was about the Indo-Japan relationship. And, I felt the best way to represent it was to use the script. I got Rabindranath Tagore’s poem translated into Japanese and used it on the outfit.”

Designer Narendra Kumar Ahmed used a translated version of Tagore’s Where The Mind Is Without Fear on his collection

US-based designer Afshan Durani has created scarves and cushion covers with Persian poetry embroidered on them. Fashion designer Archana Kochhar, too, created shrugs entirely out of Hindi alphabets for one of her collections.

“Ikkat saris with verses of the Gita-Govinda were traditionally offered at Puri’s Jagannath temple. Also, commissioned Ikkat saris with love poems have been found in Odisha. Several artists have used the trend of scripts on saris before. Artist-designer Riten Majumdar has been making script prints on cloth in Bengal’s Shantiniketan, (he later moved to Delhi) for quite some time,” reiterates Rta Kapur Chishti, author of Saris of India. 

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