the Saree Stories of India- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

So much depends on a saree, the six-yard-long fabric that has been a symbol of indigenous identity and sartorial elegance. The ongoing exhibition at Delhi’s Aga Khan Hall titled ‘Sarees of India’ brings home this point. Organised by the Delhi Crafts Council and now in its 24th edition, the annual exhibition and sale is an ode to the apparel that is part of women’s wardrobes in India and is also a tribute to the weavers who make them.

Featuring an assortment of homegrown clothing brands from different parts of the country, the hall is a celebration of texture and colour. “We try to carefully pick out artists and labels every year, making sure that the attendees get a chance to engage with the maximum variety of sarees made in India”, says Purnima Rai, one of the organisers of the exhibition.

Rai believes that the saree is a special garment without a parallel in the world. “It can accommodate a great amount of craft. It is like a canvas on which weavers and printers can work their magic”, she says.  From Chanderi to Bandhani and Assamese to Sambalpuri, this year’s exhibition brings together an array of handwoven sarees that are a testament to how the piece of clothing has been an aesthetic and cultural marker of geographical regions.

Avni Earthcraft from Uttarakhand has a collection of sarees woven from linen, silk and wool which is entirely coloured with natural dyes. “Uttarakhand is known for its abundance of herbs and flowers, and all our dyes are extracted from the flora within the state”, says Mithesh, a designer with the label. The blue in their sarees is extracted from their in-house indigo plantation in Pithoragarh. With a community of over 2,000 local artisans, the label is working towards ecological sustainability and ethical fashion.

The Mulberry Tree from Assam, another stall with a captivating collection, presents sarees woven from mulberry, muga and eri silk. On display is an intricately patterned Muga silk saree that is a celebration of craft and the natural golden colour of Muga silk, silk exclusive to the state. The exhibition also features a section entirely dedicated to Khadi sarees, presented in collaboration with the Centre for Excellence in Khadi based out of NIFT, Delhi.

Latha Gopalakrishnan from Kerala was awarded the ‘Sutrakar Samman’ for this year at the inauguration of the exhibition, for excellence in weaving traditional sarees of Kerala. The prize is a recognition for craftsmanship awarded annually and was instituted by the Council 16 years ago. Latha is a weaver of ‘Kasavu’ sarees, a traditional Kerala saree made of cotton. “It feels good to be called to the capital city and given an award for the work we do. We have been weaving sarees for years now, but this exposure and recognition gives us new confidence”, she says, acknowledging the collective efforts that go into the work she does with her group—the Chendamangalam Handloom Cooperative Society. Five other members of the society accompanied her to Delhi and they all showed up in black Kasavu sarees made by them.

Rai feels that sarees are seeing a renewed interest nowadays, especially among young women, although as an attire for select occasions. “People approach sarees differently. On the one hand, it is a daily wear for the majority of women in the country, for whom it can be a towel or a cloth to carry children, and on the other, it can be an exquisite fabric that is a display of artistry. A saree is all these things and that is the beauty of it”, she says.

‘Sarees of India’ is on at Aga Khan Hall, Mandi House, till September 23.

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