Indian Saree…a vanishing tradition?

Wikipedia defines a saree as “a South Asian female garment[1] that consists of a drape varying from five to nine yards (4.5 metres to 8 metres) in length[2] and two to four feet (60 cm to 1.20 m) in breadth[3] that is typically wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder, baring the midriff.” To someone who’s grown up knowing the saree as the staple of an Indian woman’s wardrobe, this definition seems almost clinical although a rather succinct one. I might have gotten a little too wordy or flowery if I tried. 🙂

The word “saree” conjures up an image of me sitting on our bed back home, feet dangling off the end, watching my mom lovingly drape one of her few good sarees as she gets ready for what is probably a wedding or a once a year dinner outing. A tuck here, a tug there – it has to be just perfect! Adjust the pleats in the front, pleat and drape the other end over the left shoulder and hold it in place with a safety pin and voila! There is no intentional midriff baring although given how ubiquitous the saree was back then, I don’t think anyone chose to bare their midriff to flaunt their “assets”. Oddly to me the saree reveals just as much as it covers…the epitome of graceful femininity. Equal mention is required of the blouse (a short sleeved garment covering the arms and chest, worn underneath the draped saree) and the petticoat (a long ankle length skirt worn under the saree that offers the drape and finish a saree would otherwise lack). While the saree and petticoat are forgiving, the blouse is an indicator (like the buttons on your favorite jeans) of whether you’ve gained weight! 😉

I wore sarees 3 different ways for my wedding – the bright red nine yard for the events of the day before the wedding (this is my all time favorite because the bottom portion of it goes in between the legs and is tucked into the small of the back. Talk about ease of handling and trust me when I say there is a lot of squatting and cross legged sitting involved during the rituals and you NEED the garment to stay intact!), the turmeric yellow and more common place five yard saree for the wedding, worn like my mom did  and then the rustic orange Gujarati style which drapes the loose end over the right shoulder and in the front instead to show off the pattern better. Yes I loved every minute of it!

Fast forward to today’s day and age and you not only don’t see the saree much, it’s become more of a fashion statement than the quintessential piece of Indian tradition it originally was. Call me old school but I think the best forms of wearing the saree, without disrespecting the garment or the garment wearer, are to wear it the way it was designed to be worn. It kills me to watch the “fashion forward” variations of the chest baring, midriff baring versions that take away from the magic of this amazing masterpiece. Some things you just don’t mess with!

Which brings me back to why I picked this as my topic for today’s blog. Well, I dreamed I was wearing my favorite orange saree, hair tied up in a chignon, my favorite gold earrings and necklace. I was headed to a wedding where I saw more of my cousins dressed in traditional sarees….a sea of reds and yellows and greens, colorful bindis dotting their foreheads, joyous laughter filling the room and all was right with the world. Yes, the saree is by far my most beloved possession and I hope it comes around to it’s original form at least once during my lifetime.


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