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The art of draping a sari

Maheen Khan
Fashion designer, Mayasir

The Bangladeshi woman has a complete sense of identity with the sari. This has clearly made her resist changing her style of dressing and inadvertently provided continuity in weaving traditions in many parts of Bangladesh and elsewhere.

The sari represents a culture in which the woven and textured surface patterns are still considered more appropriate in terms of aesthetics and climate, but is also an act of greater purity and simplicity. It is to the earliest deltaic Ganges civilizations that the existence of sari drapes is manifested.

In ancient times weavers were taken from one kingdom to another as part of the dowry in marriage or given as the prize of conquest. They carried a sapling of knowledge wherever they went, adding to the wealth of their newfound land.

Our very own Dhakai weavers are the descendents of the Persian masters who were brought in to create workshops of incredible magical weaves with our local resources. The sari has a unifying feature despite the many different draping styles in the different parts of the region.

The urban wearing style is a post-1870's phenomenon. The inception of this concept is described in length in Chitra Debi's marvellous book from the 1970s.

It is said that Satyendranath (elder brother of Rabindranath) Tagore's wife, Gyanodanandini went with her civil servant husband to Bombay around the 1870s and adopted the Parsi way of wearing the sari as at that time the local Bengali way was not considered elegant enough for outdoor wear.

On her return to Calcutta we find that this style now known as the “Thakur Barir” was adopted by all the ladies of the “Bari”, that was the Thakur home, and other high society ladies. The drape was referred to as the “Thakur Bari Sari.”

Gyanodanandini took it upon herself to teach this style of wearing the sari with a petticoat and blouse layered with tailored jackets for formal occasions. It attracted many high society women of the time.

It is evident that parallel to this event other ladies of the courts were also experimenting sophisticated ways of wearing the drape and as a result the sari went through various stages of resembling the hobble skirt and the gown. At one stage the end piece was too short to cover the head, hence a tiara was worn with flowing backcloth.

Just north of Rangpur in Bangladesh was the independent princely state of Cooch Behar. This kingdom produced two of the greatest style icons of our history. Maharani Gayatri Devi and her mother Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch Behar.

The Anglicized Suniti Devi, who spent her summers in England and was highly influenced by English fashion, preferred to wear a scarf over her head. Suniti Devi's sister Sucharu Devi, also an Indian Maharani, was seen at the Delhi Durbar in 1903 in a style that mirrors modern urban sari drapes in Bangladesh. The Bengali ladies of leisure distinctly and undoubtedly echoed Gyanodanandini's way of taking the anchal (end piece) over the left shoulder. It is the precursor to the modern sari drape that is in practice today.

In rural Bangladesh, however, women continue to drape saris in simple yet practical wraps which allows the wearer to be just as flexible and versatile as the urban style, although not considered very chic by city ladies. It is known as the “ek payche sari”, a single wrap style.

To achieve this drape, wrap clockwise in a single wrap and tie a knot at the right side of the waist. Bring the free end piece to the left side of the waist and tuck in. Then take the free end piece over the shoulder, overhead and to front under the right arm and across the waist clockwise and tuck the end-piece into the left side of the waist. Variation of this style was worn without the blouse and petticoat for umpteen years and can be traced back to ancient times.

Today, over a hundred years after the introduction by Gyanodanandini Thakur, we continue to wear urban wrap saris almost in identical styles across the borders and all over Bangladesh. This is executed with a single wrap across the petticoat followed by seven or eight central pleats and then one more clockwise wrapping across the chest and over the left shoulder.

It sounds simple but in reality it needs quite a bit of tucks and nips to adjust to the preferences of the wearer. I must add that the beauty of the sari is personified to a great extent by the wearer. It is an elegant piece of garment and must be carried with cultivated style, refined polish and a dash of élan.

The saris used for the shoot are silk muslin, pure silk chiffon, silk khadi and a variety of hand-spun silk also known as endi silk. The prints and the embellished patterns of embroidery are inspired by French chintz, Persian fantasy floral designs and Oriental figurines.

The designs are engineered on the borders, ground and end pieces to concur forms with emphasis that may easily swathe the body. The colours are vibrant, eclectic and in jewel tones. The sari drapes were fashioned in simple modern styles and complemented by haltered, sleeveless and cap-sleeved blouses that are trend setting and all the rage now.

Model: Peya
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Make up: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe: Maheen Khan



The art of draping a sari

The evolution of saris dates back to the early civilizations of Bengal. The sari is an unstitched garment that has a unique history in South Asia. It is worn by people of diverse cultures in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Sari has symbolic and illustrative representations. On many occasions they are not simply worn for fashion but clearly suggest ritualistic, ceremonial observance. The weave and structure of a sari lie between its inner and outer end-pieces and its two borders, which provide drape, strength and weight while the body enhances it with added styling. All the elements are applied to manoeuvre the interesting forms of the sari when it is worn.


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