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Indian Lifestyle & Tearoom

The Sari

By Leiselle Maraj Saturday, May 26 2012
Trinidad Newsday

One of the perks of attending a Hindu secondary school was being able to learn to tie a sari. After watching, with fascination and some envy, East Indian movie stars and the everyday Indian woman effortlessly wear saris, I was eager and excited when one of my school friends offered to teach me to wrap one for myself.


My attempts to do it myself as a young child while playing dress-up failed miserably as my sheets (the only material I found which was long enough to attempt it) would either be wound too tight on my body or fall off. I was shocked to find out how easy it was to not only wrap one, but also create the pleats to the front which always puzzled my younger self’s mind.

For the many who were not lucky enough to attend a Hindu school or have a close friend who knows all about sari tying, House of Jaipur’s Dhisha Moorjani hosted her first sari tying workshop earlier this week at the showroom, O’Connor Street, Woodbrook.

The sari or saree was brought to Trinidad and Tobago when Indentured labourers from South India first came to the island after the abolishment of slavery. However the sari has existed for thousands of years and can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation which flourished during 2800-1800 BC. The word ‘‘sari’’ is derived from the Sanskrit word, Sati, which means ‘‘strip of cloth’’. That is exactly what a sari is, a strip of unstitched cloth from which a blouse or ‘‘choli’’ is also obtained. The blouse and a petticoat is worn under the sari which is usually 5.5 metres by 1.2 metres in width and length.

Moorjani explained the art of sari tying has not been passed down to many women of the newer generations so the workshop would assist in filling this gap. “It is about empowering yourself with knowledge. Many saris are made like a skirt with the pleats already made and one zips it up and throws the shawl over the shoulder, but learning to tie one is much more empowering. It is not difficult and with a little practice, it does not take long to do,” she said. The process, with practice, takes ten minutes to complete.

There are ten steps involved in getting from wearing a blouse and petticoat to wrapping, tucking, pleating with your fingers then draping the end with the design, known as the pallu, over the shoulder.

Saris are worn all over India and the draping technique may vary according to the region. Moorjani said however, the technique has changed very little over the years.

“The fabrics have changed because in the olden days they used hand woven fabric as compared to machine woven which was much more expensive. However, machine woven fabrics are able to fall the same way as the hand woven fabric and are similar except for the weight,” she said.

Saris are made with a large variety of fabrics and can go from the very simple cotton and casual to the very intricate bridal saris.

“You find for the bridal saris, there is a lot more stone work and embroidery so it is heavier. The person wearing it may feel a little more uncomfortable because she is not used to it. Wrapping a bridal sari will be more difficult because making the pleats with your fingers will be tricky but it’s just about practicing and understanding and working with the fabric,” she said.

Sari draping, Moorjani said, is similar to styling your hair. “You can have a bad sari day. Sometimes it is easy and you are done in no time but some days it is not so good.

“The pleats may not be sitting right or it takes a while to get it right. It is just about your personal mood at the time,” she said.

Unlike Western fashion, the sari does not go out of style but may be adapted to the times or the occasion. “Because of the classic nature of the garment I could wear my mother’s or grandmother’s saris. It is always fashionable,” Moorjani said.

“With Bollywood, there are fashion designers who altered the traditional blouse to give the halter, sleeveless, tube and spaghetti strap tops. The blouse is probably the fashion part in the sari. It changes according to personal tastes,”she explained.

While it may not be practical to wear a sari everyday in Trinidad as it is done in India, Moorjani believes it can be worn for different occasions including non-Indian events. “It can be a difference to Western wear. You do not have to restrict it to Indian events because it is appreciated everywhere. It represents the grace of a woman. It identifies her as an Indian woman but again, you do not have to be Indian to wear it.

“Especially in a country like Trinidad where everyone appreciates each other’s culture. Everyone lights deyas at Divali and Christmas trees at Christmas so why not wear a sari,” she said.

Moorjani intends on hosting more workshops in the near future. “The response to this workshop has been phenomenal and I think it is something that could be conducted on an ongoing basis. Not only will I be able to teach but also be there to answer questions that may come up,” she said.

Moorjani was also delighted at the number of non-Indians signing up for the workshop.

“We have a passion for appreciating and enjoying each other cultures. I am glad that I could help this process,”she said.