Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 6, Issue 13, Tuesday, March 29, 2011



Love for deshi saries

There is more to it than six metres of unstitched fabric. Draped in this timeless piece, Bangladeshi women find their individuality. It exudes her persona, radiates her composure and appeal, asserts her poise. The story of the sari -- the tradition -- has been one woven in time, spread over millennia. From the civilisation by the banks of the Indus River to wardrobes of fashionistas of this generation -- the sari has been the quintessential attire an essential woman can't do without.

The chemistry is easily understood: wearing it, little can go wrong. The right sari can bring grace to women of every form, from the skinniest to the most voluptuous. It is not about being a fashionista. It is not about going against fad either. What it is all about is making a statement, something that reflects the inner being, on what you wear and how you wear it.

Be what you are
The sari has evolved over time but the subtlety associated with it remains untouched. The simple weaves of Pabna biti, the comfort factor of Norshingdi cotton or the tones of Tangail handloom radiate a grace in women. These are the pieces that we find in every woman's wardrobe. Not necessarily an entire trousseau but essentially one that is not devoid of one.

Taant (handloom cotton) is favoured mostly because of its fine components -- colour, design influenced by our nature, cultural symbols and other related phenomena.

For some, the statement couldn't be any simpler. They have the right piece for the right occasion, essentially all in cotton. This is the reflection of their inner being on what they wear. At the work place and in evenings out, women often prefer to keep it simple, an implication that less is more.

But then there are women who put on their cotton on special occasions only. No Boishakh is complete without a white piece with an eclectic “paar” in brightened red. For them white also works well on 21 February as it does on the days of Puja at Shankhari Bazaar.

For these traditionalists, cotton is also the fabric of choice at work. The comfort factor governs the selection; fashion takes a back step as style comes up front. It's the whole ensemble that works like magic a bindi on the forehead, eyes drawn with kohl making them sparkle. The dark hair pulled back, neatly arranged in a bun; the long, wooden pin keeping them in place. Or a long plait, gently resting down her back while the tip reaches her waistline.

For evenings at a friend's or the monthly rendezvous at the favourite restaurant she accessorises herself, keeping the garb essentially the same. Neatly tucking the dolonchapa bloom she buys from the children selling them on the street, she puts on a nude shade on her lips and is set to make her mark.

Even for those who fail to find a comfort zone with cotton, it remains the obvious choice given the harsh summer and the pleasant winter we encounter. It is the fabric that 'breathes'. Climate also played a role in the development of the handloom industry at Tangail, Norshinghi and Pabna, although it is not limited to the products from these regions only.

Even the raw materials - the cotton thread, colour - used for their manufacture varies, as does the weaving technique. This makes the product from each of these regions bear a signature of the weavers for the wearers.

When it comes to women's attires, it has come a long way. Wearing tradition no longer equates to being orthodox, with no scope for flamboyance. For casual wear, heritage pieces like handloom cotton still rage. And yet for the adventurous, wearing the sari has taken new dimensions.

Take for instance, the gamcha sari. Ludicrous as it may seem, these are quite the rage of the season. This particular sari, however, is not for the fainthearted. One needs nerves, and a bag of charms to pull this off and those who do, do it in style.

They go crazy with the gamcha, and let imagination run wild. Teemed with a black blouse, they only need to accentuate the look with flashy, traditional jewellery the sheer bling of the bell metal adding to the assertion of the gamcha.

Others take a back seat and play it safe. Coupled with cotton, they curve out a gamcha blouse, the perfect companion. Careless and casual, as if you could not care for the world, while they stare stunned.

Batik is not our indigenous mode of dying cloth, but its base in Comilla is time honoured and batik saris have recently proved popular among the clientele. This discovery by the fashionista comes at a time when prints are all the rage in casual fashion.

The dirty white splashes that peek through the purple or lilac base, adds to the allure of batik the 'faux' print. Set against the sun radiating its summer blaze, this can be a 'cool' alternative in more ways than one. Mix and match with a teasing blouse and you are all set to send the summer sirens ringing.

The cocktail sari is a novelty in fashion that blends the Western concept of sensuous clothing revamped in Eastern forms of translucent saris. The “anchal” nestled over the left shoulder-blade, neatly pleated in folds, teases the onlookers with the semi-covered midriff, covered only by a layer of see-through muslin. The age-old glory of muslin has seen its comeback as the sari of choice for evening parties, and gala events. Wear it with an equally bold blouse, and you have the perfect show-stopper at hand.

Women crave attention, they want everything picture perfect be it the party they host or the dress they wear in it. On these special evenings muslin, because of the inherent nature of the fabric, can work magic. With little or no embellishment to further accentuate the appeal, raw organza speaks a language of its own. It speaks sensuality, breathes freshness and oozes feminine grace.

She walks in beauty
The thread bears witness to a time. Every stitch narrates the saga of the people behind these remarkable pieces. All stand alone, not only in the designs but also in their story. This is the nokshi sari.

Traditional Bangladeshi saris are possibly best known as formal wear. What gowns are for the West, saris are for Bangladeshi women. Careful selection of the fabric, mostly in silk is the first step of preparing a nokshi sari. The colour, mostly in subtle hues paves way to the selection of the thread. The patterns are consistent in their designs elaborate, ornate layouts that depict rural settings or flora and fauna. The most lavish craftwork is done on the 'anchal' that serves as the canvas for the intricate stitch-work. The resulting sari, which takes weeks and months on end to prepare, is a classy garb that speaks the language of this land. The chic nokshi saris lend elegance to the wearer. Suitable for formal gatherings, wearing this sari, women can drape a suave appeal in every fold and project an urban look a combination that can hardly ever go wrong.

The options in traditional sari-wear of Bangladesh are endless. Like the sassy jamdani a piece of art crafted through intricate, elaborate weaves made exclusively within the outskirts of Dhaka. The tradition of the jamdani goes back many centuries and its legacy has reached faraway lands. This can be worn with style, the poise comes naturally to the wearer as jamdani is the signature of eloquence.

Some adventurous minds go on to accentuate jamdanis with further embellishments, a redundancy as the fabric is best left to its primary weave. The patterns seen on jamdanis are the reflection of the weaver's imagination and just as art shouldn't be tampered with, jamdanis should remain as the weaver's dream put on thread.

If you are indeed a dare-devil and would like to project the right image on the sari you wear, Rajshahi silk or vegetable dyes can be just the option for you. Flamboyant pieces that work well for semi-formal and formal gatherings, the vivid colours of the natural dye can sport a sporty look in you. Selecting the right jewellery to go along with it is of utmost importance and once done to perfection, the look you project will be one to remember.

Wear Bangladeshi…be Bangladeshi
Although 40 years have now passed since we made a mark as an independent nation on the world map, traditional weaves of this land have a history that dates back much further. As we come across a time where cultures blend with one another, it is time to re-think our timeless saris. Influences will always play a role on how you wear these saris, but one must never compromise with the unique, ethnic appeal. Play with accessories, accentuate timelessness with the fashion of recent times but let the classics remain where they are. You owe this to your inner being, just as much as you owe it to fashion and style.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed and Zahedul I Khan
Model: Chaitee, Ruhee, Piya
Wardrobe Chaitee, Taingail Taant: Susil Bashak
Wardrobe Ruhee, Piya Muslin: LS personal and Blouse designed by Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe Ruhee white jari Muslin: LS personal
Wardrobe Piya Red appliqué silk: Kumudini
Make-up: Farzana Shakil
Location: Kumudini, Mirzapore
Photo courtesy of Vegetable dye sari worn by Tanik: Aranya


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