Diwali~ The Quintessential Festival

Throughout India, it is one of the most favoured festivals and is celebrated with much fervour. Beautifully lighted up homes, prettily dressed up people, aromas of mouth-watering delicacies, sparkles and crackles from the fireworks are few things that are part and parcel of this festival.

Like every other festival, Diwali also has its own significance and purpose. Diwali is observed to celebrate the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. In Hindu mythology, the reason for celebrating Diwali festival varies from region to region across India. Several events are associated with Diwali such as the killing of Narakshura by Lord Krishna’s wife Satyabhama, the homecoming of Lord Rama after 14 years in exile, the birth of goddess Lakshmi and celebration of the return of Pandavas from 12 years of banishment as result of defeat to Kauravas. These mythical and historical reasons undeniably indicate that Diwali is a festival of happiness.
Diwali usually falls on the new-moon (Amavasai) night and that is why the earthen oil lamps and fireworks have their significant role to play on this occasion. Temples and marketplaces are lavishly decorated with lights, a few days before Diwali, as a gesture of welcoming this great Hindu festival. . The fireworks prominently bring the festive mood even before the festival’s arrival. The multi-colored, impressive fireworks come in wide assortment to please all age groups. Despite the growing environmental concerns and safety issues, fireworks still continue to be an integral part of the Diwali celebration.

Diwali and sweets are inseparable. Without enjoying some delicious sweets, the celebration of this jubilant festival wouldn’t be complete. The spirit of Diwali is in sharing and spreading happiness. Exchanging gifts and sharing homemade delicacies with friends and neighbors brings a sense of exuberance.

The day begins, in most households with the traditional oil bath (Gangasnanam) and getting dressed up in new clothes bought specially for this occasion. The rest of day is usually spent feasting on the various delicacies and visiting friends and relatives.

Despite the many mythological stories and reasons attached to the festival, spending time with friends and family and rejoicing in the togetherness is essentially what the festival denotes today!!

Wish you all a happy and safe Diwali!

Silk for the little princess

Pure silk with fine golden zari will always have its special place in the hearts of South Indian women. Be it a festival or a function, a typical south Indian woman will first reach out for a silk sari. No other fabric epitomizes luxury and elegance - both at the same time, as silk does.

While women get beautifully draped in their rich silk sari, little girls dress up in ‘Pattu Pavadai’.

‘Pattu Pavadai’ meaning silk skirt in Tamil is the traditional dress in south India for small girls. The ‘Pavadai’ is tied on the waist and flares out till the ankle. Usually, the golden zari patch borders the flare of the bell-shaped skirt. Teamed up with a contrasting silk blouse it, pavadais make an ideal traditional outfit for little girls.
Slightly older girls in their teen years, wear ‘Davani’ which is often called as half-sari. This is draped over the pavadai like a saree.

In recent times, ‘Pattu pavadai’ comes in myriad colors and designs that is exclusive for little girls. With the designs of fairy tale characters such as Cinderella and Snow White intricately woven in silk, the ‘pavadai’ not only looks attractive but also adds an element of fun for the kids to wear.

Another trend in ‘Pattu Pavadai’ is having the skirt made in Kanchivaram silk and the blouse stitched in contrasting silk colours. Gleaming golden embroidery punctuated with lavish gem stonework in the silk skirt and blouse makes the little ones look like princesses.

The first pattu pavadai a girl receives is from her maternal grandparents’ usually on the occasion of her naming ceremony or in some families, the first birthday. The one she receives when she is on the threshold of womanhood is probably her last one. From here she moves on to wearing sarees.

The ‘Davani’, makes an easier transition to saree as she reaches womanhood.

The long forgotten traditional pavadais and ‘davanis’ is now gaining a lot of popularity. With some western twists to the blouses, pavadais even make great party wear for little girls.


Navarathri and its significance


Come Navarathri and it’s that time of the year to bring out the ‘golu’ dolls in the house, in most Tamil homes. During Navarathri, most traditional Tamil households arrange and display dolls of Gods and Goddesses, celestial beings, martyrs, saints, mortals, animals, and other such dolls on successive steps, (to a maximum of nine steps) in a sequential order.

From the top, on the first step, idols of God's are placed. The arrangement of idols continues for the next three successive steps. On the fourth, fifth and sixth steps are placed saints, siddhars and dolls of holy men or women who have dedicated their lives to the service of God or people who have led exemplary lives in their devotion to God. This also includes dolls of noble men like freedom fighters, philanthropists' and social workers who have led a significant life. On the seventh, eighth and ninth steps are placed dolls of ordinary human beings playing their role in everyday life, like vendors, fruit sellers and farmers. Then the last steps are for the animals and crawling creatures that are also a part of life.

The above is the general order of arrangement. Beside the steps, an arrangement of events like marriage ceremony or a display of a game of cricket are also present on the area marked for golu. This is the general order, though many people deviate from it to display the dolls in their own creative way, but the underlying concept remains the same.

There are many interpretations of ‘Golu,’ the most common being, symbolising the evolution of life and so the creators or Gods are placed on the topmost step. The arrangement is a representation of the hierarchy in life – starting from insects, then animals and then holy men right upto the creators or Gods.

It is also believed that the underlying idea behind ‘Golu’ or the sequence of arranging dolls in a particular order is a reminder to humankind to reach the pinnacle of truth - which is God. It is seen as a symbolic representation of the fact that ordinary human beings, through their good deeds can raise themselves to the level of saints and then merge with god.

Golu is a time to celebrate and reinforce religious sentiments in a simple yet creative fashion. It is also the time to invite and meet near and dear ones - strengthening family ties.

Navarathri celebrations last nine days and nights. Besides the Golu arrangement, all nine days are devoted to the worship of the Goddesses – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. The first three days are set aside for the worship of Goddess Durga to help us destroy all our vices and defects. The next three days are devoted to Goddess Lakshmi to whom we plead for material and spiritual wealth, while the last three days are dedicated to the worship of Goddess Saraswathi, to whom we pray for wisdom.

The goal of human beings is demonstrated through Golu in a simple yet effective way, of merging with God, whatever may be our circumstances.

Colourful Life

There seems to be a link between colours and our moods. It’s amazing how colours fill our lives with so many emotions. Feeling blue, green with envy, having a green thumb, being a black sheep, uttering a white lie, in a grey mood, once in a blue moon, being in the pink of health, bruised black and blue, are all common terms used in everyday life denoting colour as a means to convey an emotion and express feelings.

Research reveals that a subconscious judgment about a person on initial viewing is based mostly on colour. Colour can provoke a positive or negative emotion depending upon the state of mind or mood of the person. Striking colours worn by one can lead us to qualify a person as exhuberant while one dressed in dull can lead us to imagine the individual to be rather uninteresting.
Red for example creates feelings of warmth. Green is a healing colour- the colour of nature representing harmony and hope. Purple is a royal color. Wearing Purple robes by the emperors was once considered an emblem of authority and rank. Yellow is considered a harbinger of the spring season. It signifies a celebration of nature. White denotes purity and pristineness. Black on the other hand can denote something sinister while it is also attributed with elegance and sophistication.

Besides the above, there are a series, ranging from the darkest colours to the lightest hues. There are colours that are rather dull and listless, but are uplifted when used in combination with brighter ones.

Nature has provided us with an abundance of colours, right from the blue skies, the green fields, the rainbow with its range of colours, the hues set by the sun in the sky when it rises and sets, the myriad colours of flowers, the various green shades of leaves and many more.

Colour preference is rather subjective. A colour which is liked by one may seem jarring to another. Therefore choosing the right colours for ourselves can create within us emotions that can be inspiring, stimulating and help raise our energy levels.

Colour is therefore a noticeable attribute of the world around us, without which life would be dull.

The RmKV 50,000 colour saree is a speciality that is imbued with almost all the colours under the sun.

So is the Hamsa Varna saree, which is the latest from RmKV.

Fashions come full circle

I was watching a Hindi movie called ‘Humjoli’on TV when I noticed that the actress on the screen playing badminton was wearing a very trendy churidar –kurta and looked quite updo date in her dressing style. But this was movie from the seventies! So, I realised fashions do come full circle. The trends we see today on churidars and salwars, are no doubt stylish but were very much in vogue in the late 1960's and early seventies.

The Anarkali churidas with kurtas reaching to the ankles seen in movies like ‘Mughal e Azam’ were back again in the hindi movie ‘Hum Aapke Hain kaun’ as flowing gowns worn by the leading lady. They are back once again toady as Anarkali styled churidars - the current trend in party wear and important occasions.
What is now known as the short kurti, popularly worn over jeans today, was once the fashion statement of the 1960's. They were worn over churidars, with long flowing dupattas, quite evident in the movies of that era. The Patiala salwars which was the rage of the 1980’s was popularised once again in the 2000 era. In a number of scenes in the movie ‘Jab we met’, women are seen in the Patiala salwar.

The style in the movie ‘Maine pyar kiya’ is quite similar to the 60’s style churidar. But the churidar of the ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ heroine appears to have some western influence to it, yet the the heroine manages to look traditional. It seems to be just a remake of the old ones with modifications, to give it a newer look.

Of course every generation has its own unique sense of fashion, with slight variations in the sleeves, collar, colours and prints to make it more contemporary, including the current popularity and taste of the period, but the basic style has been retained over the years.

Nothing seems to actually go out of fashion for good. The salwar kameez or churidar kameez is today the most popular dress across all states in India. Designers give it creative twists, with their profuse imagination and make it as contemporary as possible.

Varying from the ethnic look to the trendy party style, the salwar kameez has come to suit all occasions. It is just as authentic to the Indian women as the saree.

Handloom and its importance

Handlooms bring to our mind an image of the father of our nation spinning yarn and making cloth. We have a come a long way since then, with the invention of the powerlooms, yet handloom products are an integral industry catering to a niche market.

As we all know Kanchipuram is synonymous with silk and silk sarees. Silk sarees in Kanchipuram are all products of the handloom. These sarees are famous for their softness, durability and are suitable for all climates.

Handloom silk sarees are woven with silken threads along with the metallic threads of gold and silver. Artisans work on it to produce a unique creation on the borders, the pallav and the body of the saree. In a typical Kanchipuram silk saree, the border, body and pallav are woven separately and then interlocked together.

These sarees are an effort of labour. It is a traditional art where the weavers having aquired the skills from their ancestors, pass it on to the next generation.


These handloom silk sarees are given their due importance on all festive occasions and marriages all over India.

The disadvantage of the handloom is the limited scope of designs. Certain motifs and floral creations are standard and creativity is limited to the extent possible. Yet within these limits the artisits manage to create a work of art that is exquisite and everlasting.

Today of course a range of handloom cotton sarees are also manufactured which are just as well known as the silks.

Over the years, power looms have taken over and the introduction of synthetic materials and other cotton mixed varieties of fabrics, used for a range of products, have become popular due to its durability and easily maintainable texture. Production on powerlooms is also a lot easier than handlooms.

The power loom sector produces more than 60% of cloth in India today, while the rest 40% is still handloom. Traditional looms are still utilised in large numbers due to the preference of silks and certain varieties of cotton.

Although, handloom and power loom caters to altogether different classes of consumers, in India there is still a large demand for handloom sarees and products and will continue to be so as long as traditions are upheld.


Bandhani –the art of tie and dye

Bandhani designs are among the everlasting fashions that people from every generation adore. Be it sarees, scarves, or dupattas, this is one simple format that never goes out of fashion. Bandhani is one of the oldest known methods of tie-dyeing and is still widely practiced due to its popularity.

I always thought Bandhani was far too expensive, until I realized the painstaking efforts that go into the making of the material. It dawned on me that it is well worth it.

Bandhani is native to the artisans of Gujarat, particularly Bhuj, Mandvi, Khavda, Bara, Anjar and some other parts of Gujarat which are main centres of production of tie-dye material. I had this opportunity to meet the artists and see how it was all done. I found a number of people, particularly women, working at it the whole day. A lot of women are employed to create self-sustaining organizations of skilled workers.

The term Bandhani comes from the Hindi word “bandhan” which means tying up. The process of tieing and dyeing the material is quite simple but laborious and time consuming. The cloth to be tied and dyed is spread on a wooden table and the desired designs are marked on it. The portions marked are picked and tied up at intervals depending on the design. The entire cloth is then dyed. The portions that are tied do not soak the colours and remain in their original colour - thus creating the pattern as desired.

The patterns are made up of innumerable dots which display a motif or some design when spread out. When two colours are involved, the lighter colour is dipped in the die first and then the cloth is dipped in the darker one. After the process of tying and dyeing, the cloth is washed with soft water and the knots removed.

The material used for tie and dye are usually cotton, silk and georgette. The materials absorb the colours and produce the desired effects of Bandhani as required.

Bandhani creations involve laborious efforts. Some of the revenue would surely reach the artisans who create this wondrous art.


Bride in a Banarasi

I was part of the North Indian wedding procession which was being led by the groom on a ghodi (horse) while the rest of the marriage retinue followed him on foot. The face of the groom was not visible being totally covered with strings of flowers hanging from his turban to his chin. I followed the party to the marriage mandap to be be received by the bride's side with mangal arthi. The bride stood with the jay mala in her hand resplendent in a Banarasi saree waiting to garland the groom. I quite missed the rest of the ceremony as I gazed at the bride. My gaze turned from her bedecked face to her bridal attire. In shimmering red, the Banarasi saree she was wearing was extremely beautiful and without a doubt - exquisite.

Among Indians, Banarasi sarees are synonymous with weddings or celebrations. These sarees are considered auspicious and sacred. For centuries they have been an inevitable part of an Indian bride’s trousseau.

As the city of Varanasi which is also known as Benaras, is noted for the production of these sarees, these sarees take the name from its origins. Historically Banarasi sarees have been present in India since the Mughal era. A lot of Mughal influence is visible in the motifs used on the sarees. Weaving of brocades with intricate designs using gold and silver threads is the speciality of Banarasi sarees.

Traditional Banarasi silk brocade sarees are subtle and pale in colour, while later ones produced were bright and radiant. For occasions such as weddings and important events, the bright varieties are usually the preferred choice among women. Woven with a contrasting border with intricate embroidery in gold and silver, these sarees provide a metallic visual effect.

There are a variety of Banarasi saris available like zari brocades, tanchoi brocades, tissue brocades, jamavar, etc. Among the invitees there were many women in traditional Banarasi sarees in stunning hues. Each saree has its own special design in gold or silver, be it tanchoi brocade or a jamawar.

Wedding ceremony over, I left the mandap, filled with images of the bride in her bridal finery and of course her lovely saree. Surely, Banarasi sarees are one among the Indian sarees that have retained their charm for centuries.


Dancing to the tune of Bharatanatyam

My 8 yr old niece had her arangetram recently. I was amazed at the dexterity of the artiste and wondered at the meticulous details and planning that had gone into the child’s performance.

Arangetram or Rangapravesham is a dancer’s debut performance. It is here that the student blossoms into an artist and receives the first appreciation for all the painstaking efforts taken to become a full fledged dancer.

Arangetram can be performed only after the artist has completed the entire course of dance or Margam. Margam is a complete course of Bharatanatyam dances that are performed in a concert. The entire course is to be perfected by the artist to the satisfaction of the guru, before the actual performance on stage.

In between the performance, my niece’s guru explained the various Margam’s of the course which was very informative. Most of us enjoyed the recital but did not understand the concept behind it.

The performance began with a Pushpanjali, which means offering respect to the lord of dance with flowers and subsequently offering respect to the teacher and bowing to the audience.

How lovely it would be if she wore the costumes according to each song, I thought! A beautiful ‘Pitambara’ whenever she represented Krishna, a lovely ‘flower motif-filled’ saree for the Pushpanjali…

Coming back to reality, the actual performance begins with Alaripu where the artist displays his or her skill in footwork, head and eye movement that are a traditional part of the dance form. The Alaripu is followed by Jathiswaram with particular emphasis on intricate foot work.

Shabdam is the next stage of performance where the artist introduces Abhinaya or expression into the dance.
Shabdam is followed by Varnam. This particular recital involves performing to a theme which is elaborated with Abhinaya depending upon the Varnam chosen.

Padams are the next stage of performance after Varnam. They are performance based on songs by various composers. Yet again the artist uses a lot of facial expression and Abhinaya to express the meaning of the song. This is the time that the girl also changed her costume - to let us at the audience experience a variety of colour on stage. With the changing colour, the mood of the entire evening became much more vibrant.

The culminating piece among the events of performance is the Tillana which is a little complex. The concluding performance is the Mangalam which ends the performance, followed by Namaskaram which concludes the recital.

About the costumes

Bharatanatyam also places special importance on the jewellery and costumes of the dancers. Dancers wear costumes made of silk sarees with gold zari in colours that are bright and striking. The pleats in these costumes spread out like a Japanese fan when the dancer performs particular poses. The costume, the traditional jewellery and the hairstyle with the adornment of flowers all help in enhancing the performer’s apperance and expressions required for the dance.

No matter how many pieces of jewellery a dancer owns or how many costumes she has, the Arangetram ones are most remembered and treasured for the feeling they bring back to the dancer forever…


Charming Chikankari

Chikankari embroidery is a very delicate and intricate work from the city of Lucknow. Historically this form of embroidery came to India from Persia. The art particularly flourished during the Mughal rule and continues to be popular even today, due to its timeless grace and delicate appeal.

Chikankari embroidery is done with untwisted white cotton thread on fabric like muslin. Today of course the art is applied on all kinds of material even silk with the use of coloured threads of various types.

Chikankari is famed for around 40 types of stitches. The motifs commonly used are that of creepers, fruits and flowers. The mango motif is particularly popular. The design is etched on the fabric with design blocks dipped in indigo. Once the embroidery is completed, the fabric is washed to remove the indigo.

Some of the common stitches are:

  • Bakhiya is a herringbone stitch worked on the wrong side of the cloth and this provides a shadow effect enabling the design to be viewed on the right side.
  • Phanda and Murri are basically French knots stitches used to embroider the centre of the flowers in chikan work motifs.
  • Rahet is a stem stitch worked on the wrong side to make thick lines. This provides a raised effect.
  • Hool is a fine eyelet stitch like a button-hole stitch.
  • Zanzeera is a chain stitch which is applied to outline leaves or shapes of the petals.
  • Taipchi is a simple running stitch and often serves as a basis for further enhancement of the design.
  • Jali work or the mesh effect is created by cutting or drawing the thread.
  • Khatawa is an appliqué work similar to bakhia, which produces a flat appearance.
  • Turpai stitch produces a thin thread like stitch used to embellish specific designs.
  • Gitti is a combination of buttonhole and long satin stitch, used to make motifs which have a tiny hole in the center.

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