Traditional sari's inclusive designs

mass appeal

For all Keralites, especially women, wearing the onakkodi sari in gold and cream-white is the most important part of Onam. In Kerala, white, rather off-white, is the colour for happiness.

 The more traditional ones prefer the mundu and neryathu (dhoti and upper cloth) in the same colours, which is the original Kerala version of the sari. It’s 100 per cent cotton. The cloth is not subjected to any sort of processing, such as bleaching and dyeing. The pallu measures from 1 inch to 6-7 inches. And the body of the sari is plain. Now, the pallu goes up to 1 metre and carries designs of flowers and animals. The most important aspect of it is the kasavu, known in other parts of India as zari.

 They come in two types — the copper-coated or artificial kasavu (priced at Rs 600 or so), and the silver or pure kasavu, priced from Rs 6,000 onwards. “It’s only the pure kasavu that has the tendency to wrinkle when it comes in touch with water. Of course, a good ironing works it out,” states a brochure on Kerala saris. The mundum-neryathum sari now comes with broad borders and the latest has tassles on neryathu. In Malayalee weddings, once the bride becomes a part of the groom’s family, she is presented with this two-piece sari.

It is worn in the same fashion of a sari, but without pleats in the front. Daily-wear mundus may have a thin, gold-striped border or coloured borders. The demand for the set mundu among Keralites is growing. Used primarily during festivals, the mundu set is available in sandalwood or white colour, with silk or coloured borders. Though initially intended as a ceremonial dress, it is now worn by both young and old on all occasions.

The most famous of Kerala saris are the ones made in the town of Balaramapuram in South Kerala. The weavers of Balaramapuram were the court weavers for the Varma kings of Kerala. The other important variety is the Kasargod saris, made in the town of Kasargod in northern Kerala. An interesting information about the process of creating Kasragod saris is that, while weaving the cotton thread, a special starch paste is applied on the yarn, which makes it long-lasting. It takes a week to weave a Kasaragod sari.

Time has brought changes now, and the kasavu sari is given a modern spin using embroidery and appliqué work. In fact, even the tribal Warli paintings of Maharashtra are used. There is Bengali artiste,  Piyal Bhattacharya, who has taken to modernising the cream and gold with variations from other states. In his words, “On the first sari I painted ‘Parvati Kalyanam’ from the traditional murals of Tamil Nadu. Then I moved on to Bengali Pattachitra designs, after which I started embroidery and painting on them.

My karigars are in Kolkata, and they take a minimum of two to three months to complete a sari.” The six yards or more of cream-and-gold Kerala sari, once an embodiment of classic simplicity, is getting elevated to a different genre for the Gen Y.

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