17 January, 2021

The Whole Ninety-Nine Yards

What we know as the emblematic ‘­traditional’ wear is a modern yarn

The Whole Ninety-Nine Yards

A single seamless piece of clothing, conceived on the loom as a three-dimensional garment not pierced or intruded upon by the stitching needle. No one knows exactly when it was invented. It evolved, as all things do, continuously over the centuries, with each region adding its own flavour and colour to it until it became what we know or perceive today as a national garment of sorts. The deep involvement and complete sense of identity of the Indian woman with it defines the sari.

Yet, while the basic garment has resisted change, providing continuity in weaving traditions, a significant change in the style of wearing the sari came in the 19th century, when, under colonial rule, an entire set of practices had to be reinterpreted in order to facilitate the inevitable negotiations with modernity. The modern, urban sari that we are familiar with today is a result and product of this urge.

Chitra Devi’s marvellous book Thakur Barir Onder Mohal in the 1970s (translated for us from Bengali by Riten Mazumdar) gives an insight into when the modern sari got...



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