#100sareepact: how the Indian sari landed the spotlight again

Ally Matthan (left) and Anju Maudgal promised to wear saris 100 times this year and “share stories about them”
Image courtesy: 100sareepact.com

The recent #100sareepact made by many women is a testimony to the various textile, design, weaving and embroidering traditions of India.

Travel tales emerge from many aspects. With rapid urbanisation and modernity comes the worry of leaving behind traditions that were beautiful and can make their mark in a contemporary world.

Similar to the Victorian corset or the kimono that are now often a part of fetish or ritual dressing, the Indian sari is now in the spotlight. And it is thanks to two women with an enduring love for the six-yards drape: Ally Matthan, a perfumer and Anju Maudgal, a communications expert from Bangalore. The two are busy professionals whose friendship was cemented by a pact they made – the #100sareepact. They promised to wear saris 100 times this year and “share stories about them”. Anju began on 1 March, 2015 and Ally followed the next day.

It’s now a social movement of sorts with their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts bringing women across India and abroad to wear saris, photograph themselves and share stories. Knockoffs on the #100sareepact across social media have mushroomed with more women wearing saris and sharing their sari sagas. Critics call it a fetishism of an ancient drape but its followers are only too happy. From heirlooms, granny’s precious saris that came from across the border in Pakistan, cherished gifts or how the suit can be replaced in the corporate boardroom with the sari, women are sharing sari stories with their groups.

The duo recommend sari trails as, “Rich in learning about  local culture and people, living habits, food and stories that have inspired their textiles” during travels. From Chinese motifs, Mughal influences, Persian designs and weaves and textiles, homespun handlooms, the stories are the stuff of interesting travels. It’s no surprise that many saris are named after cities and the towns and villages they are woven.

Let’s take a look:

Assam: Textile and weaving historians heap praise of the delicate weave of thread work and silk work of textiles from Assam. Nothing beats the elegance of the mekhla chader muga silk saris from Assam that are treasured as family heirlooms by many.

Bengal: From Bangladesh and home grown West Bengal come the rich motifs, weaves and gossamer muslins. Tangail, Dhanekhali, Baluchari, Murshidabad silks, intricate Kantha work saris, Koriyal, Garad, Tanchoi are some of the famous drapes.

Odisha: The state’s sartorial pride is in the deep hues and singular patterns and fabric of its saris. Sonepuri, Bomkai, Pasapali, Maniabandha, Sambhalpuri, Berhampuri, Vichitrapuri are popular saris.

Andhra Pradesh & Telangana: If the European conquerors made a beeline for Machilipatnam and its indigo farmers it’s due to the rich textile and weaving heritage of Andhra. From the light Venkatagiri, the dazzling silk and cotton duo weave of the Gadwal, Uppada, Puttapakka, Persian inspired motifs of the Kalamkari saris, Narayanpet, the state’s saris are woven into the history of its people.

Tamil Nadu: Given the grand inspirations of its towering temples and performing arts, the state’s saris pay homage to its grand sculptural inspiration. From Kanchipuram, Dharmawaram, Arani, Madurai and Coimbatore came the gorgeous silks and gold and silver threadwork. Ahimsa silks are made of plant fibre in Kanchipuram for those who prefer to wear mindful silks. Designs and motifs include temple towers (gopuram borders), rudraksha, annapakshi, mayur and many more.

Kerala & Karnataka: Nothing fussy but elegant in its simplicity is the Kerala kasavu. A handwoven white cotton sari with a dazzling gold thread border, it has lent to many modern printing designs in modern days, but the pristine beauty of its original is timeless. Mysore silks and crepes are neighbouring Karnataka’s famous saris.

Maharashtra, Gujarat & Rajasthan: Check out the bright silks of Paithani town near Aurangabad in Maharashtra; the gossamer lehariya in brilliant colours, bandhej and tie and dye from Jaipur and lace like Kota saris from Rajasthan; the panetar sari in gajja silk  is a must for Hindu and Jain brides in Gujarat with intricate borders with garden verdure and hunting scenes.

Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh: Fancy boutiques and sari shops across India are catering to the love of India women for the floating beauty of Chanderi silks and cotton, Maheshwari and tussar and Kosa silks.

Uttar Pradesh: Brides cannot resist the rich, intricate weaving traditions of Benarasi, Jamawar,   Tanchoi, Lucknawi chikankari saris.

Punjab: The land that gave Indian women the salwar kameez has not been able to resist the sari. The traditional Phulkari designs have made their way into chiffon and crepe saris.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Sudha is a senior commissioning editor with Lonely Planet India.