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Power dressing: Exhibition-cum-sale of Indira Gandhi inspired saris

Symbols of swadeshi in post-Independent India, Gandhi’s saris find admirers among a cross section of people.

art and culture Updated: Nov 25, 2017 13:47 IST
Shefalee Vasudev
Shefalee Vasudev
Hindustan Times
Indira Gandhi,sari,Makvika Singh
The former Prime Minister wore embroidered garas, printed cottons, khadis, raw silks, temple-bordered weaves, Ikats and Kashmiri needle work saris.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTOS.)

A “look” that gets stamped in visual recall or one that instantly propels curiosity and salience is seldom just a function of a garment. Iconic style assimilates a few definitive details--the style of hair, the walk, a signature accessory and the person’s instinctive use of them as tools of communication.

Indira Gandhi put all these to great use, yet her saris stand out in memory and documentation.

Hundred years after she was born, 33 years after she passed away with 65 per cent of the current Indian population born after her death, the saris, remain legendary.

Symbols of swadeshi in post Independent India, a fine representation of handwoven textiles which she wore with powerful elegance, Gandhi’s saris find admirers among people of different persuasions. Those who think of her as the first female leader to challenge political patriarchy, those who believe she was the nemesis of Indian democracy and even those who cant be bothered either with history or politics but find cause and glamour in the handloom sari.

Gandhi wore her saris with authority yet kept traditional versatility alive--draped Gujarati style with the seedha pallu sometimes, at other times to cover her head or wrapped around her shoulders and tie-twirled inside long jackets when she travelled abroad. The knee-length seedha pallu worn Parsi style especially after she married Feroze Gandhi fashioned many of her appearances. The Rudraksh beads were a constant; the white cotton blouse with short or long sleeves another charming detail of her “look”.

Thats why Seminar editor Malvika Singh and fashion guru Prasad Bidappa’s collection of 108 (a Rudraksh rosary has as many beads) Indira Gandhi inspired saris is a novel way to commemorate her birth centenary. The first in a series of saris inspired by the personal collections of women who wore saris frim the diverse printed and dyeing traditions of India, they are currently on exhibition and display at Vayu design store in Bikaner House in New Delhi.

Gandhi inspired saris are divided between Banarasi silks and South Indian cottons. They have been created from 14 patterns in colour palettes that reminisce yet tweak derivations from her wardrobe. So while a maroon and ochre cotton Chettinad provokes an instant connect or a borderless Banarasi with scattered silver butis is something sari lovers may recall seeing on Priyanka Vadra, the colour scheme for a shocking pink Tanchoi has clearly been reimagined. All saris including the Banarasis were woven in Bengaluru in association with textile expert Parvathi Muddaya of Vimor. “We changed the colours in the weft to create this variety,” says Singh who curated the selection based on photographic records, memory and other archives. Growing up as teenager in the Sixties, she says for her Gandhi was a towering icon in handlooms.

The saris in the collection have been created from 14 patterns in colour palettes that reminisce yet tweak derivations from Gandhi’s wardrobe. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTOS.)

Unlike her daughter in law, Sonia, also a tasteful sari wearer and collector who favours woven Ikats above all other handlooms, Gandhi’s choice was eclectic. She wore embroidered garas, printed cottons, khadis, raw silks, temple bordered weaves, Ikats and Kashmiri needle work saris. “She would choose saris from the region she travelled to dressing in local styles to connect with people from all classes and denominations ,” says Pramod Kumar KG of Eka Archives, also the co curator of the ongoing archival exhibition at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust in Delhi. The temple bordered cotton in dull rust and brown that she wore when she was assassinated is a part of these archives. “We found hundreds of photographs of her in Ikats and humble printed cottons. Of course for her official trips abroad, she chose fine silks,” adds Kumar.

Given that vast repertoire, this collection is very limited in its interpretative variety. Yet in a relatable way it manages to ignite a sense of Gandhi’s style which remarkably continues to live on through Priyanka Vadra when she wears one of her grandmother’s checked Chettinads or when Varun Gandhi’s bride Yamini wore a restored pink khadi sari for her wedding. The latter was hand spun and woven by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for his daughter Indira when he was in prison during India’s freedom struggle.

Singh’s collection also includes a richly textured, deep maroon silk representation of the puja sari Gandhi was draped in when she was cremated.

Besides Kumar, Radhi Parekh, the founder of Mumbai’s Artisan Gallery feels that the time is right for such a memorialising collection. “We are seeing a resurgence of interest in iconic saris and such exhibitions could prompt young women to seek the best of India’s timeless saris,” she says.

Parekh brings up other reasons. “What Gandhi wore in the late Seventies and Eighties represents a significant time in the history of craft and design in India. Rooted in socialist and feminist ideologies, the crafts movement pioneered by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya took handlooms and crafts to giant expositions in the West,” says Parekh. “It is well known that many of Gandhi’s saris of that time were hand-picked by her friend and handloom exponent Pupul Jayakar, who with Gandhi’s support, galvanised the crafts sector,” she adds.

Each sari from Singh’s collection (priced between Rs 7000-Rs 55,000) is wrapped in a piece of mulmul with a vyjantimala (wooden rosary) alongside and comes in a black box with a black and white photo of Gandhi on top.

WHAT: Exhibition-cum-sale of saris inspired by Indira Gandhi’s collection.

WHEN: 11am-7pm, Nov 25.

WHERE: Vayu, the Design Store, Bikaner House.


First Published: Nov 24, 2017 16:56 IST