By Poornima Koonath :
The saree has always fascinated me. Nothing identifies a woman as being Indian so strongly as the saree – the quintessential Indian female garment. The six yard, unstitched, fluid garment over and around the body, adjusted with little tucks and pulls is one of the most graceful pictures ever. The saree is an open canvas where the designer and the weaver can let their imagination run wild. Different yarns and weaves can be experimented with to create different textures; and colours can go berserk but still create an effect that is beautiful and very much in character. Grandmothers and granddaughters can both wear the same saree with equal grace. It suits any age and occasion. The wonders the six yards of drape can do…….!!!!!
The six-yard Indian garment has emerged a clear winner on the cultural, social and political front. Sarees, especially the hand woven ones are considered important symbols of Indian identity and pride and is an important symbol of Indian culture and tradition. The Saree Diplomacy is a concept that has been doing the rounds of the political circles for a while. It is not new as wives of political leaders from different countries have worn sarees on various occasions to connect with the Indians all over the world. So it is no surprise that in Australia, who is prided to be holding the beacon of multiculturism to the world, the saree is making its presence felt both in the political and social fronts. Australian political leaders and/or their partners are now seen attending functions hosted by the Indian community wearing a saree. It is their way of acknowledging the Indian culture and heritage. At the recently held IABCA award ceremony hosted by the Gandhi Creations, Premier Mike Baird’s wife was seen donning a saree. She seemed very much at ease and looked very elegant. Kristina Kennelly, Michelle Rowland and Julie Owens are other Australian politicians who have been ambassadors of the saree diplomacy in Australia. Jodi McKay took this a step further when she addressed the NSW Parliament in a saree recently.
Rekha Bhattacharjee, Gladys Roach, Sue Advani. Aishverya Nidhi, Kumud Merani and Aruna Chandrala are other prominent members of the Indian community who are often seen in the community wearing a saree on most occasions. Rekha Battacharjee who came to Australia in 1969 has always worn a saree and the one incident that really stands out in her memory is when during a Labour Party function, the then Foreign Minister, Hon Gareth Evans stopped to admire her saree. Gladys Roach who came to Australia in the 1960s too said at the IABCA function where she was awarded the best-dressed lady that she was able to achieve in a saree what she has not been able to in Western clothes. Aruna Chandrala who is always seen in beautiful sarees of latest designs said that during Julia Gillard’s trip to India she was approached for a photograph with the ex-Prime Minister because she represented an Indian Aussie and this happened only because she was in a saree. Aishverya Nidhi fondly remembers the time when she shared the stage with none other than Cate Blanchett during STC’s production of John Birmingham’s award-winning literary work, Leviathan. As a theatre artist this was a special moment for her. Sue Advani as part of her work her work for women’s causes graces most of the occasions in a saree. The popular SBS Radio personality Kumud Merani is always seen in beautiful sarees with elegance and poise in many events in Sydney for long number of years.
The epitome of every Indian woman’s mystique is wrapped around her – the endearing saree. A woman clad in a saree has inspired poets and artists. The exquisite paintings of Raja Ravi Varma captures the beauty of a woman draped in a saree – simple yet perfectly elegant and graceful. Today sarees continue to be worn for both fashion & form. The fashion-conscious understands the versatility of the drape while the urban and rural dweller its utility. Probably the saree has survived the era of the bell-bottoms, the tights and the low rise jeans, the miniskirts, the shorts skirts and the maxis because it is the most feminine outfit ever. It undoubtedly is the most sensuous garment as it leaves a lot to one’s imagination – it conceals as much as it reveals. It is not surprising that the saree has got its due recognition even among the younger generation Indians who may not emotionally connected to India and are western in their way of thinking and dress styles. It has been noticed that these days many people who visit India, do not leave the country without taking a piece of India with them- the Saree!
At last Saree has definitely arrived and been accepted in multicultural Australia as an elegant and graceful Indian costume.