evolution: one fold at a time
On one side of Disney, Aladdin adventures his way through the deserts of Arabia, finds his way in and out of the most outrageous escapades and fights Jafar, while on the other, Jasmine braids her hair, dreams sugary dreams and sings love songs to the moon. And not only Aladdin no, this is how it is with every cartoon, every fairy tale and all truth be told-every little girl.
Of when exactly the fascination begins, very few members of this oh so gentler gender can be certain but perhaps it is too early on to remember or too innate a sentiment to pin point time and date. Indeed, while boys run around and play with cars and hope to be sporting legends or batman or superman whoever, girls…well they sit tight, cook imaginary food and host Barbie weddings (all the while thinking of their own big day).
Unlike other childhood fancies though, the lure of being wed and everything that accompanies with only increases greatly with age. The prospect of marriage becomes all the more realistic and although starry-eyed dreams of grand weddings remain unscathed, transformation lies in that the options at hand change from miniature furniture and clothing to current fashion trends, glittering markets and feasible ceremonies and functions.
However, as pressing as the other aspects of wedding ceremonies may be (undoubtedly food for us lot), perhaps the most thought-over element for any bride is her look…and hence her attire. Be it the pristine white gown, the rural African 'zambia' or the embellished sari, a bride's outfit is a matter of much deliberation by friends and family for months and shops on end. It is thus no wonder, that wedding saris hold such a significant, almost revered, position in any girl's life and as the wedding season embraces us this winter, we decided to take a trip down memory lane in tribute to the larger-than-life history riddled with transitions that ‘biyer shari’ has commanded.
First stop: two generations earlier. An era uninfluenced by Hindi serials, this was a period where variety was anything but ample- no glitzy hindi-named sari shops, no designer labels, no mannequins. As mentions 73 year old Mahmuda Khanum, back in her day wedding saris had a completely different appeal. Emphasis lay on light benarasi materials and surprisingly maroon was not the colour in dominance. “My wedding sari, or most saris in that time frame for that matter, was not as embellished as the ones preferred today. Over a range of colours such as magenta, red, orange, green and violet, most saris boasted design and decoration on the par and aachol, with occasional flower or kalka motifs spread throughout the body.” Be the working scarce, the zari and chumki embellishments of that time frame reigned supreme in terms of quality, what with being dipped in actual silver or gold polish before being woven on. It is no wonder that bridal saris from two or three generations ago last till today so much more as works of art than pieces of clothing. When asked where it was bought from, she mentions that as did most reasonably well-off families then, her sari too was purchased from Kolkata. “They may not have been so embellished or gorgeous, but quality and comfort were definitely more catered for before. I cannot imagine being literally weighed down by my sari at my wedding ceremony!” she adds almost in defence.
Moving on…the post independence period in Bangladesh. By the late 1970s and early 80s, fashion had made just as drastic changes as government and politics. Gone was the importance of comfort and in came the age of heavy katan and brocade benarasi. In conversation with Mrs Salma Parvin, she notes that by the time of her wedding in early 1981, the sparsely worked, more sophisticated designs of the previous generation had been completely ousted and replaced by saris weighing much more in terms of both mass and embellishment. “It was a time when maroon and red had become religion and most notably with regard to design was the fact that saris in this period were so heavily embellished that hardly any areas were left bare.” Although the ever-green floral motifs still had their stand, it is about this time that geometric designs also came into being. Variety had not been availed either with respect to method and material of embellishment, perhaps the only change lying in the slight deterioration of quality. On the up side, the markets of Dhaka had improved significantly with more shops and options available, but the Indian and Pakistani sari appeal had anything but died down (not that it has today either for all the outlets we have.)
But fashion moves in circles. As Salma prepares for the wedding of her oldest daughter, she mentions that (thankfully) lighter materials are back in demand together with more liberations in colour. Current trends are highlighted in crepe georgette, chiffon, net and georgette and the colour scheme ranges from varying shades in blues, greens and pinks to the soothing tones of golden, off-white and cream.
This is also perhaps the most happening age in terms of embellishment with one or a combination of beads, zari, zardosi, stitch, stones or spring to choose from. In less popular demand, although its appeal increases by the day, many Bangladeshi brides today are also opting for jamdani saris. These saris go the full way if being unique counts and they fall no distance behind in terms of design either.
Notably too, matching dupattas are an important feature of the current fashion period. Although dupattas were used from generation previous, they have come a long way from the red and golden ‘ornas’ to ones in perfect congruence with the actual sari.
So there we have the changes. They have weighed more than the bride or they have been light enough for comfort, they have been elegantly(and sparsely) embellished or completely covered in design, they have been necessarily red or conversely any other colour the bride prefers. They have enjoyed revolutionary transformations...the only similarity immutable throughout ages lying in their significance. Whatever colour whatever material, a wedding sari will always be the most cherished outfit by a distance and probably the only one with such an insurmounatble amount of emotion attached to it. It will be shown to posterity and preserved for more eons more than the bride's lifetime.
By Subhi Shama Reehu
Photo: Zahidul I Khan, Munem Wasif
Make-up & Styling: Farzana Shakil Hair and Beauty Salon