Saris by the Millions
By Awake! correspondent in India
OVER 300 million women wear it. People around the world admire it. And, just imagine, one size fits all! Yes, it is the graceful sari of India. “The sari is the most feminine dress I’ve seen,” said Eva from Germany on her first visit to India. She found the sari’s simple elegance a refreshing change from the standard women’s wear in Western lands. Yet, remarkably, a sari is just a six-yard [5.5 m] piece of cloth with no seams, zippers, buttons, hooks, or snaps!
A Dress for All Occasions
The beautiful sari is not simply for formal occasions. Women here view it as all-purpose clothing, finding it both versatile and practical. One has only to watch the Indian woman in her daily routine to appreciate this point.
She begins her morning chores in her older ‘house sari.’ She will fetch water, cook, sweep the house, hand wash the laundry, care for the garden, tend to children and animals, and perform all her other tasks in this floor-length garment. But isn’t she terribly uncomfortable doing all that work in such an outfit?
“This presents no problem,” explains Rani, a mother of two. “I can easily lift up the pleated part of my sari a few inches and tuck it in at the waist. Then if a visitor comes, I can quickly let it down and be presentable enough to answer the door. I find it very practical.”
Not to be overlooked is the pallav, or pallu, which is the end portion of the sari, commonly worn hanging gracefully over the shoulder. It can be pulled around the shoulders for warmth and modesty or used as a head covering. And in a pinch, the pallav, which is always handy because it is part of the dress, doubles as a pot holder or a hand towel, although one must recognize the potential danger of using it near the stove.
When leaving her home, an Indian woman customarily changes into a fresh, clean sari. Her appearance in public, even if only for shopping in the local market, is neat and womanly. And as a passenger on a bicycle or scooter, she can ride sidesaddle through crowded city streets. When night comes, she will also sleep in a sari.
Not all women in India wear saris, however. Religion, culture, and regional preference are factors affecting the type of clothing they wear. Rani, for example, spent her early years in dresses and skirts as a typical schoolgirl and adopted the sari only as she approached adulthood. “Once I started wearing saris, it was expected that I would continue to wear them all the time,” she says. “I have not worn a dress or a skirt since then.” She even manages a game of badminton with her son by simply pulling up her skirt a little for easier movement.
No End to Variety
Saris come in great variety of material, color, and style. They may be made of simple handloomed cotton, sleek polyester, or printed silk. They may be in florals, stripes, checks, plaids, geometrics—every imaginable design. While some may be plain and conservative, wedding saris, often in deep reds and lavishly embroidered with gold thread, are particularly beautiful.
Indian women who can afford it delight in buying and collecting a variety of colorful saris. ‘I have 65,’ boasts the wife of a prosperous Indian soni (jeweler). In sharp contrast with her, though, are hundreds of thousands of poor women for whom clothing is a luxury. These may have only one sari, or at best two, worn until it is threadbare and torn. Replacing it is an economic burden to their families.
Somewhere in between is the average woman who must carefully budget a very limited family income. Much of her wardrobe will consist of saris given her at the time of her wedding. The more elaborate saris usually lie neatly folded in a drawer or locked in a trunk with the family’s other valuables, reserved for special occasions.
Thinking of Wearing One?
“I would really like to see my wife in a sari,” expressed one husband in a Western country. He reflects the view of many men who appreciate the femininity of the dress. And it is an exciting change for a woman who has only admired them in pictures to wear one herself. Why not wear a sari on some special occasion?
Saris are readily available from the Indian communities in many large cities. But if there are no sari shops where you live, lightweight material purchased from a regular fabric store can be used. The cloth must be at least six yards [5.5 m] long and no less than 45 inches [1.1 m] wide. An extra inch or two in width would be good if you are tall, as that will give you more to tuck in around the waist when forming the skirt. Any color or pattern that suits your fancy will do, but a border along the edges is especially attractive.
Only two other items are needed: an ankle-length half-slip or petticoat with a drawstring waist, and a choli, a short, fitted blouse. Both should be of a color that matches the sari. Since the choli reveals a portion of the midriff, chasteness would dictate that the blouse not be too short or cut too low at the neckline. You might like to try making your own choli. Otherwise, use any blouse or top with a round neck and sleeves that are not too loose.
Once you have on your choli and half-slip (drawstring tight at the waist but not uncomfortable), you are ready to begin learning the art of wrapping a sari. A female Indian friend would be a big help, but you might ask any girlfriend to assist. Don’t be frightened by the volume of material. With a full-length mirror, a little patience, and plenty of time, you will soon learn to do it. Follow the illustrations provided here as a guide. And if you are not pleased after the first try, start again from the beginning. For finishing touches, add some complementary jewelry, as Indian women do.
Then check the mirror to appreciate your transformation fully. Spend some time in your new attire to feel at ease. And don’t be surprised if compliments come your way. After all, you have wrapped yourself in one of the most feminine garments in the world—the graceful and versatile sari.
[Box/Pictures on page 23]
The Art of Wrapping the Sari
1. Starting at your right, tuck the sari in the waistline of the half-slip and work across the front and back all around the waist. Be sure the material hangs straight and the hemline is even.
2. Take the free end of the sari loosely around you and bring the extra material to the front.
3. Using the end portion of the sari, make a number of even folds lengthwise to form the pallav.
4. Drape the pallav over your left shoulder, down to the calf or lower. Secure the pallav to your choli with a safety pin.
5. Pull the sari around you until it fits snugly in the back and the remaining material is in front.
6. Working from right to left, form even pleats until all the material is used up. Make sure the pleats hang evenly.
7. Fold the entire section of pleats to the left. Tuck the pleats in at the waist, slightly off center to the left. Fasten the pleats to the half-slip with a safety pin.
8. The results are worth the practice.