Parsi garas, characterised by intricate needle work on them, date back to the 1800’s.
According to research findings, three brothers of the Kaikhushroo Joshi family of Surat were sponsored by baron Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy to go to China to learn the art of making gara silk brocades. The Joshi brothers went to China in 1856 and the fashion of wearing Chinese-style embroidered textiles and saris spread among rich Indian women. Their textiles used the technique of weaving fine silk and zari brocades with motifs which were considered auspicious in China. So, six metres of silk from China came back with traditional Chinese embroidery on the border and the pallu, and the gara was born.
These saris were a labour of love and were stored in intricately carved teak chests. They were handed down from one generation to the next, with pride. Unfortunately, over the years, as fashion changed, garas were discarded and slowly the art of making gara saris began to vanish.
In the 1980’s, Parsi fashion designer Naju Dever’s love for the revival of the gara was kindled when she tried to salvage a sari for a friend. It was then that Naju, an expert embroiderer, seriously considered devoting her efforts to resuscitate this dying art. Fortunately, there is a revival today, but the embroideries done here cannot match the intricate design, fineness of execution or subtlety of colours of the old Chinese-embroidered garas. The original Chinese garas were considered quite bulky to wear as they had embroidered borders on all four sides. The most favoured colour was purple or violet. Several years after the introduction of the gara in India, craftsmen in Surat in Gujarat managed to duplicate the embroidery. But the Surat gara is identified by its net and French knots which the Chinese ones did not have. Besides violet, the other colours that were popular were wine red, navy blue, white or off-white. At times, gold threads were also used. Unfortunately, colour fastness of fabric and threads was dubious, thereby spoiling the garment. To overcome this problem, Naju changed the fabric to synthetic silk.
Gradually, other gara enthusiasts also took up the task of reviving this art and we now have the new Parsi gara, a crepe silk saree completely covered with Chinese-style embroidery. A good gara saree can cost as much as Rs 1,50,000 as it takes over six months for 12 women to make it.