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The saree: A Timeless Drapery 

What makes it so special?

In Indian culture, a few garments possess the unique ability to be evergreen. They stand the time of time, possessing elegance, grace and versatility. Such is the enduring charm of the saree. It has traversed centuries, embodying tradition and femininity in all ages. Although the styles and methods of draping the saree have been modified over the years, the essence of this attire remains the same. Its evolution is truly a tale that reflects the dynamic nature of Indian society, history, artistry and identity. 

The evolution of the saree 

Image source: Vintage Indian Clothing 

The saree dates back to over 5000 years ago, when it was worn as a practical dressing. Women across the Indian subcontinent found it fascinating for its simplicity and functionality. Through ancient sculptures and texts, we get an idea about how the saree was draped in that generation. It was merely a long unstitched cloth, woven around the figure. 

As humans progressed and civilization came into being, so did the saree. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this garment adjusted itself to the style and fashion of the diverse states and cultural requirements. Each region in India infused its cultural flavour into this attire, resulting in a rich tapestry of styles. 

Throughout history, the saree has moved from its utilitarian roots to become a wearing of fashion and identity. Whether royalty or commoner, all sections of women dress up in sarees for weddings, social ceremonies and other rituals. Even after several changes passed down through generations, the saree retains its timeless charm.  

Image 2source: Vintage Indian Clothing 

The colonial era brought in major changes in the previously humble outfit. Artists faced several challenges in the making due to the introduction of newer techniques and weaving equipment. Indigenous textiles were not encouraged by the British, who deemed them as inferior. However, it endured the strict regimen and emerged as a symbol of cultural resistance in the face of hegemony. 

Post independence, we observe a renewed sense of pride and artistic innovation. Designers began experimenting with colours, patterns, styles and embellishments. The emergence of Bollywood brought the saree into the global spotlight. Actresses showcasing newer designs and saree trends would encourage their fans to purchase the same. 

The saree and Indian art: An intertwined equation

Image source: Suumaya Weaves

The saree and Indian art share a deeply intertwined relationship, each influencing the other. It serves as a medium for creative and artistic expression. Indian art forms usually inspire the designs, motifs and colours that make up these sarees.    

One of the most prominent ways in which Indian art is showcased through sarees is in handloom weaving techniques. Traditional sarees such as Banarasi, Paithani and Kanjivaram are renowned for their artistic craftsmanship. Their motifs are inspired by Mughal miniatures, temple carvings and nature.

Indian art forms such as painting, sculptures and embroidery serve as a source of inspiration for many saree designers. The vibrant colours and intricate detailing found in the Ajanta and Ellora caves are replicated as hand-painted motifs in designer sarees. Similar patterns are seen in the borders of a majority of meenakari sarees. 

Further, the attire itself is celebrated as a “canvas for artistic expression”. Contemporary artists and designers collaborate frequently with weavers to create limited edition pieces. The saree highlights hand painted designs, embroidery, tie dye and block printing. Not only does this liaison showcase the versatility of the cloth but also promotes different forms of traditional Indian art. 

The saree today 

Image source: Design&Create

The saree continues to evolve in contemporary times. It withstands the changing trends and tastes, lifestyles and demands of modern Indian women. Designers infuse traditional craftsmanship with contemporary aesthetics to create a saree that resonates with the cosmopolitan era. The lines between traditional Indian art and contemporary fashion have been blurred. 

From the Bandhani sarees in Gujarat to the Kanjivaram sarees in Tamil Nadu, these sarees have emerged as a canvas of artistic expression. Banarasi sarees were specially designed during the Mughal times for brides on their special day. The Zoroastrian community has a distinct method of draping their sarees, known as Garas, on a Parsi woman. The Gara is embroidered heavily, paying special attention to specific details on the borders of the saree, which makes it stand out. 

Today, the saree has transcended boundaries and has today become a part of global fashion. We have noticed several models walking runways in Paris, New York and London among others. This goes to show the extent of appreciation of this humble creation of Indian culture that captivates audiences with its timeless elegance. International designers draw inspiration from the intricate detailing, silhouette and drapery techniques.  

Digital platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have enabled local designers and artisans to display their work to a global audience, thereby encouraging and empowering them with their handiwork. Sarees and Indian art have found new avenues of expression through digital media and fashion. Even local artists are experimenting with the exchange of traditional artistic designs with modern trends. 

Image source: Triveni Times 

In essence…

The evolution of the saree is a testament to the enduring legacy of Indian craftsmanship, creative expression and cultural heritage. It has woven itself into the fabric of Indian society in several different religions and cultures. This attire is established as a symbol of elegance, tradition, innovation and femininity. From handloom traditions to contemporary fashion designs, the saree continues to display beauty and diversity on the global scale. 

To learn more about art forms, download the Rooftop app from Google Play or App Store to stay updated on our upcoming art events and workshops. Stay tuned to rooftop blogs and follow us on @rooftop_app

By Freya Bulsara

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