What is the Sari?

Op-Ed

What is the Sari?

Chatterjee, Ashoke

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What is the sari? According to the Concise Oxford, "A length of cotton or silk draped around the body, traditionally worn as a main garment by Indian women." Ah, the perils of being concise, or being understatedly Oxford. This 'length of cotton or silk draped around the body' is surely the most magnificent garment the human imagination has ever been able to invent. Its magnificence has less to do with cost or embellishment. It has much more to do with its love of the body, its ability to bathe the wearer in colour, to move with her in a thousand ways, to alter its structure to suit her moment, to transform every woman and each of her movements into creations of art irrespective of age or of dimension. The sari doesn't stop there. It is in itself an entire civilisation, carrying artistry and craftsmanship of infinite variety --- material, texture, weave, pattern, shade, embellishment. And yet the sari is never a uniform. It offers endless possibilities of distinct identity to each wearer --- an identity of place, of community, of taste, of standing out from a mass. A sari can be a design encyclopaedia, and yet for all that, the sari is discrete. It offers its wisdom and knowledge through service to the wearer, while beckoning the scholar with its memories. A generation and more ago, the sari led the handloom movement, shaking an empire in one of the greatest design stories of all time. In the years of its...
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