Monday, August 8, 2011

A Mesmerizing Saree

The Dastakar Nature Fair is back in town and, as always, we visit, resolving not to buy too much. So, full of uplifting determination, we slowly walked past the little stalls from different states.

I always like to visit this fair, for though it is commercially oriented, many of the stalls are manned by original craftspeople and one can pay them directly for their creations. It is also interesting to be able to talk to them and ask whatever we wish to about their work. As this fair focusses primarily on textiles, is of particular interest to me as I am always intrigued by colours, weaves and patterns.

Trouble loomed as we approached the Chhattisgarh stall, which displayed an array of beautiful tussar silk sarees, a dull grain-gold in colour, overlaid with simple but effective geometric patterns in beautiful natural dyes. I impulsively shortlisted a muted natural green, pink and gold saree for myself. Three stalls down, thirty more to go!

We moved on and I also shortlisted a saree in a Maharashtra stall - a traditional Vidarbha saree, in off white with small red woven motifs and a temple design (making it suitably auspicious).

We then proceeded towards the north eastern states, which have some of the most skilled weavers and then to Himachal Pradesh, which, mercifully, was selling a variety of organic beans and honey. There was no real decision making to be done here; we quickly gathered a few bottles and walked on.

Spent the next many minutes happily buying gifts for the family and all was well until we reached Orissa. I always get stuck at Orissa because I find their creations irresistible. I have been buying Oriya sarees consistently each year for many years now and sometimes the stall owners recognize me and start beaming when I approach. This time my roving eye spotted nothing, partly because I had firmly decided that I would get something different, things that I had already shortlisted in my mind. But I suppose it was fate! Or perhaps my husband's unerring eagle eyes - amongst the row of sarees that had been awarded a 'master craftsman' title (and that were frightfully expensive), there lurked a traditional saree in red and white checks.

I had seen it but not given it much thought as I already had a saree with this red and white pattern (and in fact, so had two of my friends). But my husband just wanted to see it - and so it was brought out and displayed - just a very traditional saree, the weaver said in a matter of fact way. Not a new design. But as it was unfolded, it seemed to us breathtakingly beautiful. It was an ikat saree, exquisitely, intricately and strikingly woven in red, white and black and shades in between. There were the enchanting Oriya animals woven all through the saree - rows of tiny glowing fish (in luminescent lemon) at the borders, spotted deer, peacocks and particularly woozly elephants and ducks at the pallu (one end). I looked at the saree, it looked back at me and glimmered.

Resolutely we walked out into the fresh air to look at the other stalls, but the saree had occupied a small space inside me. "Red and white checks!" my mind said disapprovingly, "And large ones at that! And look at all those shades of black - too dark! Too dark! You'll look terrible." But my spirit whispered something entirely different. My husband seemed equally mesmerized. Inevitably, we returned to buy it. I still had a little money left - which meant I could buy another saree! But, I was so completely content and somehow enveloped in this one that I couldn't think about any others.

So, instead, we ate some organic green pepper bhajjis (large green peppers coated in gram flour and fried) and went home.

Note: I have learnt since then that this is a saktapar wedding saree, named because of the checkerboard pattern. A board game of the same name is traditionally played by the bride and groom after the wedding. This is considered to be an auspicious pattern.
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