An Indian Wedding – Part 2
To Sari or not to Sari……. what does a western lady wear to an Indian Wedding? Before we embarked on our journey to Southern India I found this description of a sari and wondered …can we pull it off?
‘Sari is an Indian women’s statement to the world. What is a typical Indian sari like??? The sari can be a shimmering silk, or fine cotton or an elegant chiffon material. It can have the most intricate embroidery with silk threads or even silver and gold threads. The colours can be vibrantly bright or subdued pastels. There are saris to match every mood and every occasion and to suit every budget. The sari is an ageless charm since it is not cut or tailored for a particular size. This garment can fit every size and if worn properly can accentuate or conceal. This supremely graceful attire can also be worn in several ways and its manner of wearing as well as its colour and texture are indicative of the status, age, occupation, region and religion of a woman.’
Saris are worn by Indian women on a daily basis. It’s as normal for them as wearing jeans is for us. They go about their daily lives perfectly comfortable with their colourful sari wrapped elegantly around them. They shop, they work, they cook, they ride motorcycles (side saddle while cradling babies in some instances), and we even spotted a young lady playing tennis while wearing a sari! For us, of course, it was a daunting prospect. How do you put it on, how do you make sure it does not fall off, how do you do simple things like walk or go up stairs or get in and out of cars? We discovered that it is surprisingly easy to wear and once securely in place there is little chance of it disintegrating around you.
After being assured that it was perfectly appropriate for us to wear traditional clothing for the wedding we switched to serious shopping mode in search of the perfect outfits for the occasion.
A dazzling display of saris hit our senses at every shop we visited. One good thing about saris is that one size fits all – it consists of a rectangular piece of material which can range between five and a half metres and eight metres in an endless, wonderful choice of fabrics, designs and colours.
The word ‘Sari’ is derived from Sanskrit which means ‘strip of cloth’ and which was corrupted to ‘Sari’ in Hindi. One end of the fabric is called the ‘pallu’ which is the bit that hangs over the shoulder and which normally is more elaborately decorated than the rest of the material. Two long decorative borders run the length of the sari. The other, plain end of the fabric is cut off and used to make a matching blouse, which is called the ‘choli’. ‘Blouse’ is a bit of a misnomer as it is really just a very short crop top which is tailored to fit extremely tightly. The experts informed us that to check if it fits properly one applies the ‘one finger test’ i.e. if you can get one finger in between the blouse and your body then it fits ok – if there is too much room then, sorry, its back to the tailor to make it fit tighter. Another alternative is to buy a blouse separately and match a sari with it. This is in fact what I opted for after falling for a gorgeous, heavily beaded and mirrored top.
The sari is worn over a matching underskirt into which the bulk of the material is tucked as it is wrapped around you. At the front of the garment several elegant pleats are created by hand and are also tucked into the waistband. The rest is wrapped around your body in such a way that it flows elegantly around you.
In theory it looks easy! You start by wrapping the plain end of the sari once around your waist, tucking it in securing to the underskirt as you go along. Once this is in place you drape the ‘pallu’ end over the left shoulder and calculate how much material you need to show it off and to drape around the midriff – the fabric is wrapped around you and the pallu is then pleated, draped and pinned over the shoulder. You are now left with several metres of fabric which needs to be pleated and tucked into the waistband and pinned into place. Having observed ourselves being draped while trying on and choosing our outfits, we decided to have a go on our own before the wedding. We were concerned that we would not be able to get it right on the big day and thought that we might as well practice. Well let me tell you it is not as easy as it looks and our first attempt ended in disaster! No amount of wrapping, pleating or draping worked until we ended up with a most inelegant sari which hung in the wrong places and came loose at ease!
We really needn’t have worried because on the day the ladies all had help with their outfits and with amazing ease and dexterity we were tucked and pinned and draped in no time.
Of course no outfit is complete without accessories.
Our dressers were most disappointed that we did not have any chunky gold necklaces with us to jazz up our outfits. However, we had invested in another favourite Indian form of jewellery – bangles! Bangles are an essential item of grooming amongst Indian women – the more the better. In the bazaars and shops all over India you can buy bangles of every colour, every size and every material. Minimal is definitely not their style! Up to twenty or thirty bangles worn on each wrist is very common.
Shoes were a bit of a dilemma as there was no way we were going to wear high heels while trailing endless metres of material around. They needed to be easily removable as you were not able to step close to the ‘Mandap’ (which is where the wedding ceremony takes place) while wearing shoes and as guests were expected to periodically participate in the ceremony it meant that, unless you wanted to be bare footed the whole time, comfortable, slip on shoes were a must. But not to worry – the Indians have a lovely array of beautifully decorated shoes which were perfect for the occasion.
And finally to complete the outfit we needed handbags! We were of the opinion that our western handbags would not go at all with all the traditional items and searched for something a bit more in keeping. We needn’t have bothered because the Indians ladies were wearing western style handbags, no doubt finding their own impractical as they are very small – albeit stunningly elaborate.
So all in all we were comfortably at ease wearing our traditional Indian saris – so much so that we wore them again on our return to Malta – a much more successful attempt this time, although not as expertly draped as they were by our Indian sisters.
The photograph was taken inside Suraiya’s, a workshop set up to teach women the ancient crafts of weaving. This venture serves not only to keep the traditional crafts alive but also to educate and employ women. All fabric produced here is woven by hand using traditional techniques. This lady is painstakingly preparing a loom with the design for a fabric – a task that could entail several months work depending on the complexity of the pattern. Suraiya’s is run by 80 year old Suraiya Hassan Bose and has earned a reputation for recreating old patterns by literally reconstructing them tread by tread.