DO you think the saree is on its way to becoming extinct? Increasingly, we see women preferring to dress in the Punjabi salwar-kameez/churidar-kurta, if not jeans or shorts. Even my own wardrobe is full of a motley collection of salwars and kameezes/kurtas. My sarees rusticate at the back. Since I put on weight, I stopped wearing sarees and that’s pretty much of 15 years in Goa. But lately I’ve been taking note of the saree again and what’s happening to it slowly and steadily.

First came the annual folk crafts mela of Lokotsav with its Chanderis / Maheshwaris / Paithanis / Benaras, Kashmiri and Assamese silks. Then the Directorate of Museums in Goa held Museum Week from January 9 to 14 and the centerpiece was an eye-opening exhibition of India’s collection of traditional sarees through the ages, including Goa’s Kunbi variety which we see only on festivals.

Where does one even buy a Kunbi saree if one wants to? Take heart. There’s a revival of sorts initiated by fashion icon Wendell Rodricks, and Prof Suvarna Gouri of the Goa College of Home Science decided to take it from there. She tells me of a two-year project in which they acquired a master weaver and a group of students and now they’ve got Kunbi sarees for sale. I would certainly like one, I said.

The good news is that they have a list of 7,000 women who want to promote the return of traditional sarees and including Kunbi sarees. They want to help bring back the desire in women to wear sarees and not just on special occasions like weddings and parties.

So how much is a Kunbi saree priced at? `2,000 perhaps, which is worth it considering one may not be able to find them anywhere else as tribal women themselves wear sarees only on special occasions when some organisation or another wants to showcase their way of life (one the Kunbis themselves may not envy!).

Kunbi saree designs are limited and the revival group has taken the liberty of being creative. I’m now looking forward to my Kunbi saree to show off whenever I get it! A saree is quintessential to being a woman in India and if we stop wearing and buying the country’s exquisite range, it means whole communities of weavers will have to look for alternative employment, and the magic of this beautiful attire may die bit by bit until one day it will be relegated to history. So go out, buy and wear saree, please (and tell me to wear them too).

Apart from the fascinating exhibition of India’s classical sarees at the museum, Prof Suvarna Gouri also gave a most interesting lecture on the ‘Insight into Traditional Sarees of India’’ on January 10 at the museum’s auditorium. Every nook of India offers a unique kind of saree, she noted, and there are many ways of wearing it.

Most of our sarees are woven first and dyed or embellished, particularly those of Gujarat and Rajasthan where the tie-and-dye technique is popular with bandini sarees, and a wax technique of tie-and-dying fabrics. Sarees may be woven and block printed, or roller printed like the Kashmir silk sarees. The many herbal dyes of old are being revived.

In Tamil Nadu, she recounted, sarees were made popular when royal families like the Pallavas patronised weavers. The Pallavas sent out an edict that all royal women should wear Kanchipuram sarees. Mulberry silks have an incredibly soft and enduring finish. When thinking of silks, think the thinnest mulberry silks of Mysore, muga silks of West Bengal and Assam and the tassar silks. There are also the “eri silks which only experienced masters can reel from cocoons; quality and cost depend on the number of threads per inch”.

Kasava silk sarees of Kerala are much loved and popular with women although the gold zari has given way to plastic glitter – “but there will still be real gold zari Kasava sarees in a bridal trousseau”. Then think Paithani sarees of Maharashtra, Narayan peth sarees, bangdi mor sarees, patola sarees from Patan in Gujarat.

These are “tapestry sarees” which some folk convert into interior décor for their walls! Some are inspired by the murals of the Ajanta Caves. Prof Suvarna added, “At one time in Bengal in the early 20th century, the division weavers spun the finest cotton by hand and the sheerest sarees were folded and preserved in match-boxes! A cotton jamdani saree could take three to six months to weave and cost `15,000 even though this is a cotton saree we are talking about.”

There are the Sambalpuri sarees where yarn is dyed and Sanskrit shlokas and the faces of gods and goddesses were woven in. Prof Suvarna’s talk inspires one to return to wearing sarees anew. Alas, the talk was attended by only a handful of people and mostly students from Dempo College. That’s the problem, sighed museum director Radha Bhave. They have wonderful programmes but “the audience is always a problem”. I wish somebody would do something to make the Goa State Museum a place to visit more frequently and more passionately.

COME to think of it, it’s been a long time since I’ve wandered through the museum myself. Museums offer great insights into history and I don’t know whether they study history or not these days in school. I enjoyed my history, geography, literature, and painting classes. If children get into specialisation so early in life, how then do they grow up with a good grounding of general knowledge?

Recently, I found myself talking to some students of St Xavier’s College in Mapusa. They’d come on a research project about the utility of education. I asked them how they might save themselves in a survival situation if education didn’t equip them to read, write and ask questions about past, present and future, and above all teach them how to think for themselves.

This had never struck them before. Today’s generation takes technology and science and the mod con comforts of life for granted! Think about it: If power, computers, mobile phones collapse tomorrow, where would our civilisation be? Post nuclear war, even our air, water and earth would be toxic. How would you survive then? Can such a situation arise? Of course, look around you and the childish politics of our times!

If you ask me, many of our politicians should be serving time behind bars. We have become such a double think and double talk civilisation. For example, we talk of zero-tolerance to corruption but corruption is not even under the table anymore, it’s kulam kulha all around us and we thrive on any amount of it because we’re a party to it, criminals become our godfathers / godmothers / ustads / heroes / icons. Corrupt? You feel ashamed? Nope. What’s there to be ashamed of? Everybody is corrupt and if you are not corrupt, you must be some kind of a fool. That’s the way we think nowadays.

ON that note it’s avjo, poiteverem, selamat datang, au revoir, arrivederci and vachun yeta here for now! Do visit the Goa State Museum one of these days and I agree with director Radha Bhave that the museum should become part of the art and crafts ministry with one qualified minister taking an interest in related subjects. Why can’t our ministries and departments work with enthusiastic friendliness for the larger cause of promoting quality of life?!

– Mme Butterfly


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