I first started wearing sarees in my early teens. My mother would host a haldi-kumkum function for the ladies of the colony during Navratri. I was deputed to assist her in shopping for, packaging the giveaways, receiving guests and serving them. Over the years, I graduated from pavadai (Southern lehenga) to pavadai-dhavani (Southern choli-odhni-lehenga ensemble) finally ending up in a podavai (saree).
Of all the special ‘days’ at college, traditional day was one of the highlights. People arrived in bullock carts and on camels. Costumes ranged from the colourful exotic Meghalaya gear to Kerala mundus to heavy Rajasthani ghagaras. But I stuck to the relatively staid sarees, experimenting only with the style – handpaints, blockprints etc.
At b-school, we were expected to wear sarees for presentations. I borrowed heavily from my mother’s collection of printed silks and starched cottons. Incidentally, I was the first one in my batch to break that norm by wearing trousers to a presentations and eventually, interviews. At work, I wore a saree on a couple of occasions, dailywear fabrics in sensible but classy prints or embroidery. But the commute and the long hours took their toll and I fell into the more practical option of western wear and salwar-kameezes.
My mid-twenties were a flurry of engagements, mehendi functions, sangeet ceremonies, wedding nuptials and receptions. Since the earliest of these were of relatives, mostly in Chennai or further South, my dressing mirrored the local norms. Everyone wore kanjeevaram sarees, embellished according to the closeness to the wedding couple. That’s when my mother began ‘collecting’ for me.
On the weekend, I attended the wedding of my yoga teacher’s daughter. It gave me a chance to dig into my well-preserved saree stack, carefully collected across a few years. This is what I chose:
Pink kanjeevaram saree with peacock & tree buttis
It’s a rich pink somewhere between the flash of fuchsia and the somberness of maroon. There are peacock and leaf buttis embroidered in gold zari over the entire saree.
Kanjeevaram: The buttis and the border
The magnificent palluv
The saree palluv is a waterfall of gold zari embroidery, echoed in pattern and style on the border. The blouse is a matching fabric with sleeves of gold zari. It was stitched a few years ago, in the ‘typical’ saree blouse fashion. I’m considering getting it altered by shortening the sleeves to just the zari. I rather like the idea of modern styles for the saree blouse. But with a traditional kanjeevaram saree, the richness of the fabric and the zari makes it a pity to skimp cloth on a strappy blouse.
Matching blouse (fabric came attached to saree)
At family weddings, there’s enormous pressure to conform to locally acceptable (read Chennai) norms. But this wedding happened in Mumbai and was of a friend, which meant I had a lot more freedom – over colour, jewelery and presentation.I was hugely relieved to not have to ‘drip with gold jewellery’ as the average Indian wedding seems to demand. Gold looks awful on me, never mind what I’d look like with patches of the colour (and metal) over me. I also don’t like the idea of walking around advertising high-value possessions.
Black-silver enamel and pearl minakari earrings
Minakari came to my rescue. I love the intricacy, and colours of this Rajashtani design. It’s not terribly expensive so is practical to wear in a city. This set is in the rather unconventional (for Indianwear) colour of black. The heart-shapes are bordered with silvery enamel and edged with pearls. I figured it would be just right to offset the rich pink of my saree.
Black raw silk clutch and black enamels/pearl minakari set
I used black for the rest of my accessories too. My clutch was a Cottage Emporium raw silk one borrowed from my mother. Footwear was a pair of strappy black Catwalk sandals. Incidentally, if you are new to saree-wearing, one important tip is to put on your footwear before donning the saree. That way you get the height of the pleats, folds and palluv just right.
And on my wrist, a black men’s watch from Titan (I’m told it’s inspired by a Rado design). This watch belongs to my father but I stole it from his wardrobe ages ago. I like how the big masculine design looks on wrist and I like to say that it’s a metaphor for how a slender, female arm can bear the burden of time just as well as a man can. 🙂
Black men's watch from Titan
Diva in Kanjeevaram
I like to wear my saree well-pleated and neatly pinned up to avoid any accidents. I spent the better part of an hour getting the pleats on this one right, not just the ones at my waist but on and over my shoulder too. Usually I pin the pleats at the back of the palluv a little under my shoulder. The tricky bit is that when the front is covered just right, it results in the palluv turning the wrong way at the back and showing the underside instead of the gorgeous upper design. So I pinned it (in my usual way) at the back, making the topmost fold broader than the others, to ensure that it wouldn’t fold. And in the front, I refolded the pleats again to fall just right and pinned under the shoulder at the same place in the front. I still need to polish this technique (as you can see, it currently results in the palluv standing up a little floppily over the shoulder) but I think this is definitely the way to go for future saree occasions.
In addition to all of these, here are a few touches of my own personal style. Firstly my hair, freshly cut the day before. I think the short, bouncy style really embodies me and I’ve sported various versions over the past four years. It adds a modern touch to the traditional ensemble. Then there’s the tattoo. I envisaged just such an occasion, being able to show a flash of a roaring dragon tattoo against the demureness of a saree. What do you think? Did I succeed in bringing Divadom to the saree too?
- Pink kanjeevaram saree: Kanchipuram (the birthplace of the kanjeevaram saree)
- Black strappy sandals: Catwalk
- Black raw silk clutch: Cottage Emporium
- Black and pearl minakari set: Janpath market, New Delhi
- Black men’s watch: Titan
* Cross-posted to Divadom.