Spirit Centers - Timeless Treasures
by Moushumi Chakrabarty
Snow, slush and sleet – it is a regular wintry day in Mississauga, a suburbwithin 15 minutes of its more famous neighbour, Toronto. What do a group of Indian women do on a Saturday like this?
They decide to bring in colour, texture, moods and food into their lives. Thus was born the idea of a weave or sari party. Members of our book club decided to get together, and celebrate the traditional weaves and colours of India. We all wore the saris we treasured the most, and prepared a mini presentation on the garment. As our gracious host pointed out – too often we are ignorant of the weave, the richness, and the history of the saris we take for granted.
What unfolded at the unique event was a sense of shared connections, a gladness that we are heir to such dazzling riches, and an apprehension that unless we continue to cherish and wear these creations, the art form that is an individual sari will fade away. In this day of the ubiquitous jeans and T-shirt or the power suit, the traditional sari does need some active TLC.
Each of us presented a particular weave. The Kanjeevaram, which originates from a city in Tamil Nadu, has a history of 150 years, we learnt. Designs include mythical creatures as well as symbols from nature. Some of the most common ones are the yali (a lion’s head on a bird’s body), the rudraksh (a divine bead), the kuyil kann (eye of a koel), the mayil kann (eye of a peacock) and the paneershombu (the rosewater sprinkler).
Next in line was the Pochumpalli, from a village in Andhra Pradesh in South India. Our friend informed us that these are indeed special considering the geometric patterns that typify the weave. The weavers are generally illiterate, yet their weaving of complex geometric shapes and patterns is astounding, she pointed out.
A Gujarati Patola sari, gorgeous in its red and yellow, a Baluchari from Bengal’s Bishnupur, a Kantha in brown and maroon, a gorgeous Paithani, Tanchoi and Gadhwal – all these different weaves passed before our eyes. We were mesmerised by the beauty, the sheer poetry, and richness of these saris.
There was also a Chinese connection, we learned with surprise. These days we talk about a global village. Well, in the days of yore too, three (Tan) Chinese brothers (last name Choi), travelled through a Himalayan pass right up to Surat and taught our weavers this marvellous combination of Indian and Chinese styles. Generally, floral motifs are highlighted in Tanchoi saris, according to our friend.
So, what were we actually trying to achieve by this exercise? We, who live in our adopted country – Canada, were trying to reach out past the boundaries of time and space, and touch something we cherish. Many a time we are apt to overlook our traditions and rituals simply because we are caught up in a web of ceaseless materialism and consumerism that has become a byword for our age.
We reject the lessons and stories that our grandmothers and mothers held dear, not out of disrespect, but maybe because we have less time. After all, the next sales report figures have to be higher than our colleague’s, our children have to attend extra tuitions, our next trip to the mall is all the more important because Shilpa from next door has been there and so on. We all have our priorities.
Here in this cold country with a warm heart, we grasped at the freedom to appropriate a chosen lifestyle. We took out a few hours from our busy lives to devote to the pure luxury of sampling our rich heritage. Not one of us came away with anything other than the feeling that we are fortunate to be Indian by birth and temperament.
Moushumi Chakrabarty is a journalist, author and anthologist based in Ontario, Canada. She is the author of two non-fiction books entitled Positive Thoughts for Writers (Echelon Press, USA) and Fighting for Women’s Rights - The Extraordinary Adventures of Anna Leonowens (Altitude Publishing, Canada).
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