Chikankari, Chanderi, Kota, Koraput, Paithani, The Vichitrapuri, Bandhini... Phew. That is an exhausting list of names of, wait for it, saris. But for Sabita Radhakrishna, an author, playwright and a member of the Crafts Council of India, those were not merely names of the different kinds of saris available in India, but a reflection of her passion towards the six-yard fabric.
In the city to present a talk on the Romance of the Indian Sari organised by Apparao Galleries recently, Sabita traced the genesis of the sari and took the audience through its various avatars throughout the years, starting from its humble khadi avatar to its modern day interpretations by various designers like Wendell Rodricks, Sabyasachi and others.
She also gave the enraptured audience little tidbits behind the tradition of each type of sari. For example, an intricate Patola sari, worn primarily by the Parsis, can cost anywhere between `1 lakh to `7 lakh and can take up to seven months to finish. And did we, the audience, know that the yarn for the Puttapaka sari, woven in interior Karnataka, is actually soaked in oil before being woven?
“In Odisha, too, you have a very traditional sari, worn by the tribals called the Vichitrapuri. It is a fine example of a double Ikat sari,” explained Sabita, pointing to the LCD screen as we craned our necks to catch a sight of the intricately woven, multicoloured sari that she spoke so highly about. “See those checks there?” she pointed. “Traditions say that newly married brides and grooms would play chess on the sari which also doubled up as a bridal sari. Of course, it is up to our imagination whether it was chess or something else they chose to play,” she said to hushed giggles in the audience.
Sabita also touched on the history of the Chanderi (originated in Madhya Pradesh and patronised by maharanis of the Rajput areas) and the Chikankari (apparently popularised by the union of a Murshidabad princess and an Awadhi Nawab) while talking about the finer points of Kerala’s Kasavu sari. The humble Benaras silk also got a mention – the body of Buddha was said to have been wrapped in a Benaras muslin, while the Korvai technique of Tamil Nadu’s glamourous Kanjivarams were a hot topic.
“We always think of saris as something that will always stay on, but its people who keep re-inventing it, they are the ones who make sure it stays on,” said Sabita. “We should have at least two days in a week to wear saris,” she added to rigourous nodding from the audience. National Sari Day, anyone?