I know its been a shamefully long time since I’ve posted. That’s what happens with four countries, one new job, countless people to see and things to do….all in less than two months. But since settling in to my new location, I now have the time to have a bit of a breath, and some writing time over a cup of chai. Please enjoy this latest posting…
Another summer, another stealthy hot country. While last year I was bearing the Vietnamese sun, this year I find myself struggling against the Indian humidity. It two showers a day hot, no need for eye liner as it will just run away, and my hair is a constant matted sweated lump. Yes these days I look about as attractive as I feel. But as I eat my homemade curd and mango breakfast, looking down at the bustling rural street below, I am captivated at how beautiful and ‘together’ looking the women of my new town are. No matter the heat factor, they walk with a feminine grace, looking as classy as if they were heading to temple or a special dinner. In fact, I can see they have just come back from the market.
I think this is part because of one four letter word, starting with ‘s’…get your mind outta the gutter, I’m talking about sari. This traditional Indian dress is still the daily wear for the majority of women, well, in this region of West Bengal anyways. It’s the type of fashion that combines necessity with style, of need (cool) with want (pretty).
This dress has been gracing the beautiful women of India for nearly 5000 years. The cloth can be silk or cotton, adorned with as many prints and colours as your wild imagination can dream up. While you would think that seeing everyone wearing the same thing would be mundane, or boring, but because West Bengalis are not afraid of a lil splash of lemon yellow or emerald green, your eyes are constantly adjusting to variety of cloths and colours. You can cross a thousand saris and never see one repeated.
A brief run down:
First layer, the choli. This is a halter style top, with options of short cap sleeves, long sleeves, and ‘scandalous’ tank top straps. A droop in the front to reveal the colar bone offers a seductive, but not revealing touch. This is typically a solid colour, which may nor may not match the rest of the outfit.
Second layer, the lehenga. Now this is kinda optional. If the sari fabric is see through, then you should layer a light, long skirt underneath. No need to see the whole show, am I right?
Third layer, the sari. Sari is derived from Sanskrit to mean ‘strip of cloth’…though it can be nearly 9 meters long, so ‘strip’ may not do it justice. But because of the fabric and the loose fitting, 9 meters can feel as light as a feather. There will typically be a pallu, which is a special patterned adornment, and how you wrap you sari should also be to show this pallu off (its usually so nice, you wouldn’t want to hide it). Taking the sari, wrapping it around your bottom lehenga, you throw the remaining fabric over your left shoulder. With that much fabric, the remaining hang over your shoulder should nearly reach the floor.
And voila! The very very basics of sari.
I must admit, I was a bit confused about the concepts of conservative dress when I first arrive. Curious to know why revealing a mid-drift is considered to be acceptable, where anything above the knee cap unthinkable. But the word according to wiki says that in Indian tradition…”the navel of the Supreme Being is considered to be the source of life and creativity, hence the midriff is to be left bare by the sari”…hmmm, I supposed that does make sense.
There are many other elements to Indian dress and accessorizing, all with their own double meanings and rich history. Even the sari has a much richer, and more detailed story than I am offering here.…But I have a lot of time coming up in this place, so more will come in time. Its time for daily shower number one. I leave you with the following images of this absolutely gorgeous, traditional fashion.
References: the locals of West Bengal,
(how to wrap), http://indianfashionshaggy.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/indian-saree-style/ (blue),