Inheriting six yards of elegance: Keepers of the sari tradition give a glimpse of their prized possessions

A sari never fails to amaze. A family heirloom remains the most fashionable and go-to garment for the younger generation that treasures, cherishes and takes immense pride in draping in one, be it a Banarasi Tanchoi or a cotton Taant sari. FPJ writer talks to a few keepers of the sari tradition from across the country

Shillpi A SinghUpdated: Saturday, December 04, 2021, 08:58 PM IST

Vandana Bharadwaj | Singer | Khadi cotton

Her love for saris and singing are among the many things Ghaziabad-based singer Vandana Bhardwaj has proudly inherited from her mother, Padma Bhushan Sharda Sinha. Vandana made her playback debut with Mora re anganwa, written by poet Vidyapati in the National Award-winning movie, Mithila Makhaan. “It was sung by my mother in her Maithili LP record album, Shradhanjali. My brother, Anshuman, and I have inherited music from her, and that’s our pride, legacy and also responsibility,” she shares. Sharda gifted one of her mother’s khadi cotton saris to her daughter, Vandana, to celebrate her transition to motherhood. “My mother has an exquisite collection of saris from all over the country. You name it, she has it. She gifted grandma’s sari to me when my daughter, Anusha, was born in 2009. The sari carried her warmth and love; even though she wasn’t physically present around my daughter, she was there when I wore it on that occasion,” says Vandana.

The lovely cotton sari is red with yellow dots and a green border with zari stripes and needs utmost care to stay hale and hearty so that Anusha gets to wear it one day. “I take out the sari in summer break when I go to Patna. I spread it on the clothesline for half an hour so that it gets its share of sunshine and air and keep it in the shade for half an hour before packing it again. I wash it in mild detergent and iron it before wearing it,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Anusha has already set aside heirloom saris from Sharda’s wardrobe for herself. “She’s inherited her grandma’s love for saris, and rightly so because sari is an elegant, comfortable attire, worn on all occasions, and by women in all age groups,” adds Vandana.

Nidhi Banthia Mehta | Entrepreneur |Banarasi silk

Jaipur-based entrepreneur, danseuse and motivational speaker Nidhi Banthia Mehta was named in Niti Aayog’s ‘Top 100 Women Transforming India’ and is a proud recipient of the Women’s Economic Forum Award, but the tag she loves to flaunt the most is that of a sari lover. “To me, it’s a symbol of sensual elegance and classic formal or casual wear appropriate for any occasion,” states the founder of BollyBeatz.

Nidhi has inherited these heirloom saris from her mother and grandmothers, making it an enviable collection. Her favourite is a Banarasi silk sari; the colour and golden thread work add to its beauty. “It was a part of my mother’s wedding trousseau and I received it as part of mine in 2001. It’s a precious Banarasi gold thread woven sari, which once belonged to my grandmother, and she gave my mother, who gifted it to me. I remember my grandmother every time I wear it,” she avers. Another one that is her favourite is a rust orange silk sari with pure gold threadwork, again an heirloom.

Nidhi takes great care to ensure this sari’s longevity so that she can pass it on to her daughter one day. “I sun it every six months, change the fold and store it flat as my mother did,” she explains.

Vandana Ritolia | Homemaker |Gharchola silk

Whenever Bengaluru-based Vandana Ritolia feels homesick, she quickly drapes herself in the purple Gharchola sari that once belonged to her grandmother and mother. “I can feel their love and warmth every time I adorn myself in this sari,” says Vandana, who received the heirloom at her wedding.

Gharchola is made of two words, ‘ghar’ (home) and ‘chola’ (clothing), she explains. It translates to ‘home apparel’ or the outfit worn at home but has a complex contextual meaning. Here, ‘ghar’ refers to the bride’s new home and ‘chola’ contextually means her wedding sari. “In Marwaris, it is a staple part of the wedding trousseau. Since it is wedding apparel, it is usually red/maroon and green/yellow colours. Gharchola is distinguishable by its typical grid pattern, a variant of the popular Bandhani sari,” she adds.

She’s inherited a few from her late mother-in-law as well, and that makes it an arduous task to follow the rigorous routine of monthly airing to prevent it from getting spoiled and dry-cleaning before packing it off in the wardrobe.

Avipsha Thakur | Founder, Bunavat |Taant Sari

Avipsha Thakur, handloom evangelist and founder of a for-profit social enterprise called Bunavat, works with handloom weavers from across the country to make traditional, sustainable and forgotten weaves more accessible to urban women. Still, one sari worth its weight in gold is a white heirloom Taant sari that once belonged to her maternal grandmother. “I saw my mother, a medical professional, wear a few of my grandmother’s white saris on community visits. This sari stayed with my mother, and after my grandmother passed away in 2009, I got this sari from her as a memory of my grandmother, and I drape it on the days I miss her the most,” Avipsha recounts.

The handwoven, soft, Bengal Taant is white with woven indigo borders, a staple in most Bengali households among grandmothers. “All my memories of my grandmother are in crisp, ironed, well-pleated white Bengal Taant saris with pretty borders. She didn’t like any work on the body; it had to be plain white. Blue, brown and dark bottle-green were her favourite shades for the borders,” says Avipsha, about her grandmother, whom she lovingly called Dani.

Losing her was one of the most painful experiences in Avipsha’s life. Her grandmother was married off at a young age and she couldn’t continue school, but that didn’t stop her from learning. “She was an avid reader. Every afternoon after completing household chores, when most people would take a nap, she would be reading. After she changed into a fresh white sari in the evening, she would make a bun (she had few greys, fewer than what I have now), put on the sindoor and a red bindi. A worthy companion to her very liberal and visionary husband. Extremely upright, sharp-tongued, disciplined and fearless. I spent more time with her than anyone else; she raised me. My strong opinion about women rights and empowerment were shaped by her,” recounts Avipsha.

Her fondest memory is that of wiping the face after every meal on her grandmother’s soft Taant saris. “To be wrapped in her sari makes me feel loved, just like my childhood days. I wear it with a lot of care, the sentiments attached to it makes it priceless. Although it can be hand washed at home, I have dry cleaned it a couple of times,” she adds.

According to her, a sari signifies freedom as it is the most fluid, gender-neutral and non-discriminatory piece of garment. “I am always amazed by the numerous possibilities the sari has to offer. It is an integral part of my life and my go-to garment. I have grown up seeing women in my family draping them every day. I have draped a sari with equal ease in my college life, in my corporate career and even today, working in the creative space,” she signs off.

Ayesha Thatte | Student | Banarasi Tanchoi

Ayesha with grandmother

Ayesha with grandmother |

Ayesha Thatte, 21, wore a sari for the first time at her mother, Richa Aniruddh’s, 42nd sari-themed birthday party, and since then, it has been her go-to garment for every occasion. “It was sweltering hot, so I chose a black cotton sari for the occasion. I wore a sari again at my school farewell party the next year. I look for an excuse to drape myself in a sari,” says Ayesha, with child-like innocence.

The young college-goer loves saris because they are elegant, comfortable and flattering to all body types. “Unlike western formal attire that seems dull coloured and boring, saris are vibrant,” she adds.

Her eyes twinkle as she raves about her mother and aaji (grandmother), Sunita Thatte’s, wardrobe in Jhansi. “My aaji has some of the most exquisite saris in her collection. She gifted me an orange Banarasi Tanchoi. It is a family heirloom and one of my most prized possessions. She knows my love for saris and makes sure to gift one on my birthday and Diwali.”

Ayesha twinning with her mother in a sari gifted by her grandmother

Ayesha twinning with her mother in a sari gifted by her grandmother |

Sunita, who first wore a sari when she was 13-years-old for a family function, has kept aside many saris from her collection, including her wedding sari for Ayesha. “The age-old saris in my collection that I have inherited from my elders are a legacy that I want to hand over to my granddaughter. It is heartening to see how she values and cherishes that treasure trove. I am sure she will preserve every sari because they are precious for her as well,” says the septuagenarian.

From one generation to the next, tastes in saris have also been carried over. “These saris are a reflection of my aaji and mother’s gorgeous tastes that I appreciate a lot and I am honoured to inherit them. I love all of my mother’s saris, especially the yellow Banarasi silk sari gifted to her by folk singer Malini Awasthi, and that’s what I want next,” says Ayesha.

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