Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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In Fashion…The sexy sari

The sari is the sexiest piece of attire that the world can ever dream of. It is a sensuous six yards of sheer sublimity. Graceful and elegant, the sari often boosts the beauty of a woman, glorifying her curves in a sweet, delectable way. It is seldom vulgar, though the cholis that go with it can tease and taunt the male gaze.

Interestingly, the sari has survived time, shaken and stirred though it may have been by the march of fashion. It is one garment that refuses to say die. Certainly in India, and, what is more, the sari is fast turning into a symbol of couture, sought by stylists and stealers of limelight.

Mandira Bedi in a Satya Paul sari
British beauty and actress, Elizabeth Hurley, would have -- by the time this column appears -- gone through her Indian wedding with businessman Arun Nayar in a blushing pink sari, designed, I am told, by New Delhi based Tarun Tahiliani. She also told her guests, mostly Western celebrities, to attend the ceremonies in Rajasthan in pink saris.

There have been several occasions when British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, has been seen in a sari, and, what I have observed from photographs, she wears it with remarkable finesse. This is a great achievement for a Western woman brought up on shorts, skirts and jeans.

In fact, this Indian six-yard wonder has gone beyond 10 Downing Street and the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur. Hollywood stars like Madonna, Naomi Campbell and Goldie Hawn have been wrapping themselves in a sari. Made of humble cotton or rich silk or saucy synthetics, the sari appears to be enthralling a diverse group of women.

"Foreigners are today open to wearing a sari. In New York or London, many can be seen comfortably draping a sari, especially at Indian weddings and parties," says Meera Mahadevia, a textile designer. "It is very popular in the US and Europe though high sales have also been reported from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa”.

Meera launched her first ever sari collection in New Delhi early this year. The collection at the Ogaan boutique features a wide range of expertly designed saris in blend of various fabrics, including georgettes, tussars and brocades embellished with heavy zari work, intricate embroidery and printed motifs. This line depicts overwhelming Indian heritage and styles that have been so prominent in the designer’s accessories for the past 20 years.

Actress Celina Jaitley – who grew up watching her grandmother and mother dressed in utterly exquisite saris and has in her wardrobe a couple of “Kanthas” almost a 100 years old and handed down by her great-grandmother – also established her signature line of saris some weeks ago. Called Celina Jashn brand, the prices of these saris vary from Rs 8,000 to Rs 1.5 lakhs. She calls each piece “exclusive couture”, and with a taste in sari that is genuine and profound, rather than fancy and frivolous, Celina may well turn out to be distinctive in this field.

Satya Paul is yet another specialist on sari. His stylists, Puneet Nanda and Chiara Nath, have created unique prints in myriad hues. Their latest on show is a medley of designs inspired by India’s most popular sport, cricket. To coincide with the World Cup, the duo have styled a number of saris whose motifs seem to resemble the seams of a cricket ball, the signatures of cricketers, the crest and flags of participating nations and so on. Modelled by Mandira Bedi, the saris vibrate with life.

Indeed, the sari is evolving. I have seen a sari with a pocket for a purse or a cell-phone. There are mini saris that start below the navel and end above the knee. At one point of time, actress Saira Banu experimented with such minis in her films.

In fact, the sari has always lent itself to such experimentation: if its length ranges from five yards to nine yards, the sari has, since time immemorial, been worn in a hundred different ways. The “Madisaru” of the conservative Tamil woman to the Andhra’s “Nivi”, the Marathi’s “Kache”, the Kannadiga’s “Kodugu” and to the tribal tie have all been part of the sari’s eternal attraction that dates thousands of years.

Sari, a Sanskrit derivative of “Sati” – which means a strip of cloth – can be traced to the Indus Valley Civilisation, which flourished between 2800 and 1800 BC. A picture shows a man in a sari, and historians say that it was a unisex garment till about the 14th century. The Tamil epic “Silappadhikaram” and Banabhatta’s “Kadambari” describe women in fine drapery, and this is widely believed to be sari.

Such evolution is nothing short of magical, and as time goes by, the sari is bound to enchant us with still more surprises.

(Webposted March 6 2007)