Sarees: A link to the motherland

We all have black and white photos in our houses of our mothers, grandmothers, maashis and pishees in sarees that in equal measures intimidate and inspire us. For those of us in the diaspora these photos along with vintage sarees are a safe deposit box of family history, draping inspiration and a search for identity — a lifetime of gathering pleats and draping the pallu.

Nina and Gopa

Amrita’s mother (on the right) with her younger sister Nina both in saris though they would not have been past their early twenties

Gopa and Rimpa1

Amrita’s mother with her as a baby – staring curiously at the camera while she smiles at her child with love
Gopa and Sweta (2)
Amrita’s mother (on the left) with her younger sister Sweta
Teen BhaiiBou (2)


Amrita’s mother (on the extreme right) and her sisters-in-law on the roof of her ancestral home just after her parents’ marriage

This post is written by Amrita Dasvarma based in Byron Bay, Australia and the photos are a stunning repository of her family story taken by her camera enthusiast father Gouranga Dasvarma.

As a little girl growing up outside of the land of my birth, the sari to me was a mystical garment – yards and yards of cloth – silks, cottons or chiffons, block-printed or bordered with intricate zari work, which my mother, with a flick of her wrist and dexterous fingers, would drape around herself in a matter of minutes.   Not a button or zipper or safety-pin in sight, just pleats and folds and voila!

For my mother, saris were a coveted garment – she tells me stories of how at age 9 or 10, while other girls were running around in skirts and dresses, she would sneak saris out of her auntie’s wardrobe and put them on, racing to her friend’s house before getting caught.  And then by the age fifteen, saris became the school uniform.  

It boggles my mind even today how much she, my grandmother, and my aunties manage to do in a sari – from bending over a boti (an old-fashioned scythe shaped cutting knife used in traditional Bengali kitchens to chop vegetables) to running after an over-crowded bus on a Kolkata street to hop on as the driver slowed down (never to a complete stop,) to tending to the needs of family members, from toddlers to elderly in-laws.  

My mother for me is my most intimate link to the land of my birth – India.  She taught me how to wear my first sari, usually when dressing up for folk dance performances or one of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance dramas – Shyama, Chitrangadha, or for Saraswati Pujo or the week-long Durga Pujo.

I love looking at old black and white photos of my mother and her sisters in their saris – they stir in me a nostalgia for a time of glamour and femininity long gone.  And it saddens me that I am more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts than in my native sari.

The #100sarisin100days and #sareenotsorry movements flooding Instagram make me think – perhaps I could put on a sari now and then – why should I be intimidated to wear my heritage as countless women have done before me, as countless women still do?  Why should I only stick to special occasions – pujas, festivals, weddings, name ceremonies, dance performances, to pull out the saris I have been gifted?  And perhaps, over time, I too will be able to throw a sari on with the grace of my mother (and without the help of safety-pins?)


Print on print done the handcrafted way

Just do you! Whatever takes your fancy. There is no right size, shape, pattern, colour or drape that looks better on you because some rule book says so.


Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

I love the feel of a light, soft cotton mulmul saree especially when it is hand block printed with lovely colours and paired with another block print flowy top. Often I knot the pallu multiple times on very light sarees so it stays in place and is easier to manage.

Also a lot of times I’ve been given (unsolicited) advice on what to wear with what and because I am on the skinny side I’ve often been told wearing loose clothes make me look shapeless. So here’s my two cents on what to wear with sarees: Whatever the hell you want to wear.

Don’t have a matching blouse? Wear it with a tee-shirt. Too hot for a tee-shirt? Wear it with a swim-suit top. Don’t like plain blouses? Wear print on print. Don’t like bright colours? Wear all the greys, browns and any colour you like. Like bright colours but worry that you look too colourful? Just wear every colour you like, all together. Hate wearing underskirts? Wear the saree with your denim shorts. Hate wearing heels? Rock your saree with your keds or motorcycle boots. Hate wearing flats? Wear your sky high heels to duck out to the supermarket.

Just do you! Whatever takes your fancy. There is no right size, shape, pattern, colour or drape that looks better on you because some rule book says so. One more time someone tells me, “Beta its great to see that you like sarees, but (I am sure you can finish the sentence) … I will genuinely throw a heavy rock at their face.

People come in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and sexual orientations, there is no rule-book that can capture the vastness of the various kinds of people and we shouldn’t limit our imaginations. Tell me what is your favourite way to break the saree wearing rules?

P.S. This saree is actually three dupattas stitched together to form a length of fabric long enough to drape with pleats around me. Like I said, no rules!


Shibori saree in the rice fields of Bali

To each of us in the diaspora scattered across the globe the saree is living symbol of our connection with our identities, linking us to millions of women in the past and the present. Today we feature an expat Indian, the lovely eShmruthi in her shibori saree frolicking in the spectacular rice fields of Bali …


Photos by Kannan: Say hi on instagram @kapturesbyk or on facebook 

Smruthi’s recent saree experiments started from a sudden urge to connect back to her roots. Having been born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, she moved abroad for her masters like many of us.

A dreamer and seeker by heart, she has always found herself pondering over the intricacies of life. She says, “Sometimes, the questions for why life happens in a certain way will remain unanswered but I obsess over Steve Job’s words that looking back we will all be able to connect the dots”.

Unlike many though, Shmruthi’s last five years were spent hopping between several countries including France, Belgium, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan for studies and work. She continues, “My quench for adventure and travel was fueled and I discovered a new side of me through these experiences. And somewhere along the way, as I was creating a new identity I got terrified of losing my real identity. Sarees are now my reassurance and connection to my real self, the one who grew up seeing my mom don one every day to work”.

And thus started her saree journey with a resolve to wear a saree at least once a week. She says, “My goal was to get comfortable in wearing this integral piece of my culture and be confident in owning it. I started wearing my sarees in Singapore to work, dinner with friends and of course temples”.

But the one occurrence where she surprised even herself was, when she wore a saree during her vacation in Bali. “My two passions – travel and sarees, coming together was an incredible feeling. It didn’t hurt that the pictures came out so beautiful too 😉 I am now daring enough to do this in my future travels too,” she enthuses.

Her advice for all strong, independent women living outside India who have this ache in your heart whenever they think of home is: “Give the #sareepact a chance. You will be surprised how much it will make you content and close to home. Just as it does for me!”

Connect with her on Instagram @shmruthi

Gamcha saree and Sydney autumn

Every piece in this outfit has tells a story, of the people who make it and the indigenous cultures that benefit from consumers ethically purchasing original pieces of hand-made clothing.



Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

The saree I am wearing here is a coarse, stiff, handloom-ed cotton gamcha worn with a kediyu that young Bharvad girls wear paired with a Wayuu Mochila bag.

The gamcha is a thin, coarse, traditional cotton towel from the Indian subcontinent that comes in different sizes, colour schemes and complexity of pattern based on the width of the loom. They are a staple in homes where I come from in East India, are woven locally and I find the chequered pattern endlessly fascinating.

The Bharvad are a group of people who used to lead nomadic lives herding cattle, goats and sheep in Gujarat, western India. They wear the most amazing clothes as well as jewellery, all of which is hand-crafted in designs and patterns specific to the tribe.

I don’t believe in having matching blouses and petticoats for every saree, I like to make my separates work with multiple items. For example: This kediyu is worn here as a saree blouse, is also used as a jacket as well as a top with jeans and I am actually wearing a denim skirt under the saree.

The bag in the photos is a Wayuu Mochila piece made by the indigenous women of the Wayuu Tribe from La Guajira, Colombia. Each Mochila Bag is a unique piece of art on its own and takes about a month to be hand-knitted.

Every piece in this outfit has tells a story, of the people who make it and the indigenous cultures that benefit from consumers ethically purchasing original pieces of hand-made clothing. I am looking to build a more meaningful wardrobe comprising of pieces representing a deeper connection to the earth through natural fabrics and to cultures who make their clothes through artisanal crafting and design.


Girls in messy sarees




Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

This  post is an ode to girls in messy sarees. You know girls like me whose saree love resides in a world of messy pleats, crumpled sarees, un-ironed fabric, flyaway hair, practical shoes and general awkwardness?

Honestly, I am tired of the images that I see of women in sarees as most images focus on perfectly proportioned, light skinned women posing in high heels and jewellery. Where are the images of women going about their every-day lives in the garment?

Femininity in its pinned, regulated and bourgeois form makes no sense to me.  It immobilises me, restricts me and tries to control my wayward instincts. The very things that make me who I am, comfortable in my imperfections.

The saree is one of the world’s oldest and perhaps the only surviving unstitched garment, as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. It was also originally conceived as a unisex garment that continues to be an economical and easy-to-wear option, suitable for all kinds of activities and adventures.

In spite of the limited scope for any change in the garment, it has a limitless future because of the endless options for experimentation and interpretation.

So here I am, in these photos in all my messy glory  wearing a slinky saree in a tropical rainforest walk.  Wore this chiffon bandhani beauty with a Guns n Roses tee-shirt and chunky brogues for a mini hike to the top of a stunning waterfall in one of the many national parks in Sydney.

Speckled with tiny dots, textured with crinkled crease of fabric, dyed with vivid dramatic colors; bandhani or tie and dye from Gujarat and Rajasthan is a stunning sight to behold.

Diverse patterns are created by the distinctive technique of tie and dye, pinching and resist tying of the fabric before dyeing. The tied areas indicating the patterns remain undyed creating dotted outlines of forms.

It takes talented crafts people to make these stunning fabrics and I have to admit I am quite the bandhani admirer (read hoarder).

Reclaiming the saree

It is fun to try new things along with the tried and tested, mixing and matching patterns and accessories that are unexpected or weaves in colours that clash or figuring out our own ways to drape.

It is time we reclaimed the saree, made it our own and joined its revival party in our own way..



Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

My first memory of wearing a saree is as a toddler, wearing a stripey floral mish mash of patterns. I am pretty sure there is photographic evidence floating about in one of the old albums.

As a child I was tremendously fascinated by my Mother, especially when she was in a saree at her dressing table. The lovely handloom-ed silks she prefers, the maroon lipstick she likes and the magic she made draping the six yards around herself.

The neatly laundered beauties in the cupboard smelling faintly of pot-pourri and naphthalene beckoned constantly  to me. I remember draping them around myself imagining I was a rebellious princess, warrior queen or Goddess. Durga puja has always been the time of the year when I would be awed by the sight of wonderful taants, jamdanis and balucharis.

I loved wearing a saree as a young girl and felt super special in its folds, somehow knowing that I had the keys to a centuries old club for women. I believed then as I believe now, sarees have a bit of magic in them.

As much as I like to romanticise the garment, I think it is time that we stopped seeing a saree as a costume and start viewing it as something to be enjoyed and experimented with. It is about being inspired by the past, how our grandmothers or mothers wore them but making it our own.

It is fun to try new things along with the tried and tested, mixing and matching patterns and accessories  that are unexpected or weaves in colours that clash or figuring out our own ways to drape. Throw our all notions of right and wrong and revel in being who we are, in my case a little disheveled, with messy pleats and definitely not perfect.

It is not about being different or trying hard to be quirky but about being free to think for ourselves and our own interpretation of the whole six or nine yards beyond the dos and don’ts. I think I could wear the Saree every single day of my life and still be able to interpret it in new ways.

I love wearing traditional Kanjeevarams with gold borders and the the mention of them always brings an image of Rekha, to my mind. In these photos I deviated from my messy norm to get  my pleats right and wore the saree properly albeit wrapped around a denim mini underskirt. I skipped in it around one of my favourite little lanes filled with a mad frenzy of plants along the stoops.

Clearly, I don’t need an occasion to wear something pretty, I’d rather wear it to play with cute kitties.

Not your sati savitri

Being Sati Savitri is overrated, I’d rather drink some beer and have some fun.

This post is hopefully the start of a community where saree loving women from all over the world can have a little space to call their own.








Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

This blog is a quest to find what the six yards of fabric means to women at home in the Indian sub-continent and abroad. A saree isn’t just something one wears on special occassions and then forgets, it is a living embodiment of tens of thousands of years of culture, of resistance, it is a celebration of womanhood, our strength and more importantly our imperfections.

To me there is a lot of meaning behind the fact that the saree is one of the few truly free size garments, one doesn’t have to fit any beauty standards to feel absolutely breathtaking.

My name is Tanaya, I live in Sydney and I am an avid saree collector as well as wearer. However, I wear my sarees mostly with things that I’ve been told are a no no. In these photos, I am wearing a vintage taant cotton silk that belonged to my grandmother with ripped jeans and a panda tee-shirt.

I almost never wear petticoats (under skirt) with my sarees, I prefer denim, shorts, skirts and full length pants and I don’t like matching blouses. It started with me not being willing to wait on a beautiful garment just because I didn’t have the matching top and bottom to go with it.

As time went by I got more and more happy with experimenting and now I wear my sarees with pretty much anything I can lay my hands on and wear them out and about everywhere, I really mean EVERYWHERE. In these photos, we were walking about on a warm afternoon drinking beers before going to a pub, playing Cards Against Humanity, drinking some more and enjoying a live band.

I believe there is no place or occasion to wear something that has survived centuries, it can and should be worn anywhere we want to. So my friends, lets wear sarees, be nasty and take up space. Being Sati Savitri is overrated, I’d rather drink some beer and have some fun.