The Flower Post

Mimi, on your birthday, tell me what should I buy?
A red sari, a silken blouse, a purple petticoat, and a shiuli‘s shade, its flowers dropping, when the night draws to a close. Selected Poems of Buddhadeva Bose

Getting up early in the morning we would go to the inner garden to collect fallen shiuli flowers. The dried flowers were soaked in water, which was then used to dye clothes. The Many Worlds of Sarala Devi: A Diary

The parijat (arisen from the sea) is a sacred tree in India and the subject of many myths, including the story of the churning of the ocean where it appears as one of two trees obtained by the churning (the other being the Kalpavriksha). The characteristic cream petalled, orange stalk flower of the tree is known by various names in India, including prajakta, harsingar, pavazha malli, shefalika and shiuli. Its colour, its night blooming, its scent and the like is a recurring motif in Indian literature.

The parijat is a flower that is collected after it has fallen to the ground. Apart from being strung into garlands, it is also used as a dye, either alone or in admixture with other natural dyes. The colours range from egg yolk yellow to orange.

In the extract from Sarala Devi’s diary, it is a household dye that was often used to colour new saris or “freshen up” old saris.

Images: pic 1 from Char Adhyay, X, X

Extras: Info on the parijat; How to make a parijat rangoli.

wp4Unlike jasmine, the prajakta is not really strung and worn on the hair due to its fragility.  This painting with a prajakta gajra and mang tikka is specially done for me by a friend. So many thanks to Arati Phadke for conceptualising and making this painting! Also note the pearl detail on sari and jewellery:)

Khada Dupatta of the Deccan

The six-yard khada dupatta required a whole nine yards of the heaviest gold borders to include both elaborate edges or pallows, with a particular order of gota masala stitched just so. The gala, the baghli, the aasteen, borders around neck, armholes and arms had to match the one attached to the chowhashia dupatta, a heavy fabric of gold checks, specially woven in Paithan and Banaras. On her wedding day, for the first time, a girl wore a kurti choli with the khada dupatta. The choli, her only undergarment, all handstitched and knotted in front with gorgeously bordered sleeves, over which came the sleeveless kurti with a heavily worked round neckline, provocatively slit in front. The Banaras brocade pyjama was colour coordinated with the kurti choli. The Untold Charminar, Syeda Imam

There seem to be more than a few fusion sari/dhoti sari (X, X, X) ensembles of late – though a lot of them look less sari and more modern take on the Deccani or Hyderabadi khada dupatta. The khada dupatta is as long as a sari but requires a base of a long sleeved tunic or kurti and the pyjama. The way the dupatta is draped seems to vary though a few versions look like the sari drape on the upper part. Lighter, gauzy versions of the dupatta like in pic 3 were also prevalent.

A youtube tutorial on how to drape a khada dupatta, note that the drape differs a bit from today’s pictures.

Pics: Hyderabad girl, Raja Deen Dayal, Chunnu Begum in 1915, Mahal-e-Mubarak in 1915, Soha Ali Khan (link has info on the khada dupatta) and Sonakshi Sinha.

This is possibly the version for a young girl which had a shorter dupatta and was worn with a cap.


The navaratna (nine gems) consists of the marakata (emerald), vajra (diamond), mukta (pearl), pushyaraga (topaz), manika (ruby), vidruma (coral), vaidurya (cat’s eye), nila (sapphire), and gomedaka (garnet),  Generally this is set in order in a grid as in pic 1 and each stone corresponds to a planet.  Although the stones can be combined in several different ways as in pics 2 and 3 (late 19th cent.). Regardless of arrangement, it is however usually a piece of jewellery worn to protect the wearer from planetary influences.

Sircar states that the concept of the importance of the number of gems* in India originates with the triratna of Buddhists. The practice of using Navratna in jewellery according to him originates in the late medieval period which is when it is recommended for appeasing the planets.

Regardless of whether or not one believes in the astrology, to the best of my knowledge the use of the navratna in jewellery is specific to the subcontinent.

*the term gems can be applied to actual gems as well as ideas or people, e.g. the nine gems of the Gupta court.

The Cape Post

I had done a piece on capes in the 1960s. Doris and eros-diakios had pointed out that they were around in the 1950s too, see for e.g. 1959’s Dhool Ka Phool.

While capes,boleros and coats are common with saris, I was specifically looking for embroidered examples, like the crewel embroidery of Kashmir seen on its shawls. Recently I spotted a cape that dates back to 1956 (pic 1). Plus in pic 2,we see a cape that was part of the Autumn collection of 1956 by the International Wool Secretariat which had pieces designed from Indian materials. So perhaps this was the start of the trend and it predates the 1960s

While the 1960s had capes, there were also a few tailored jackets and the like (like this one in 1966’s Mani Magudam).  The tailored version can also be spotted on Hema Malini in 1970’s Abhinetri. They remind me a bit of vintage dashiki jackets.

Also in the early 70s, you can spot a few variations on embroidered jackets on Indira Gandhi in the last pics. On the left it looks a bit like a truncated Kashmiri phiran, albeit with what looks like the applique work seen in Gujarat. The one on the right is likely crewel embroidery but perhaps because this is the 70s has a more relaxed vibe – a bit like a blanket jacket.

Mrs. Gandhi in fact varied her winter additions to a sari quite a bit – from fur trimmed coats to 1950s cape jackets to shawls.

wpSuchitra Style. Shrugs or cropped cardis were worn quite often with saris for winter in the 60s (X).   That’s likely a scarf around Suchitra’s neck….or could be the  pallu draped around the neck-this also prevents the pallu from being bunched up between the back and the shrug.

Dilip Kumar & Madhubala & Tarana


Dilip Kumar is 92 today (11/Dec/2014).

Watch Dilip and Madhubala being very adorable in Nain mile baawre and giving off some old-fashioned heat in Beiman Tore Nainwa in 1951’s Tarana.

This was pretty much part of the soundtrack of my college – I and my fellow vintage obsessives had a thing for Talat songs picturised on Dilip Kumar.

The Red Ribbon Post

wp1I have written a bit on how ribbons went from being youthful fashion to something worn at best by village school girls-though a lot more can be said on the subject. Indian readers of a certain age will no doubt be aware of these ribbons for schoolgirls – in shades of red, white ad black and strung from a hawker’s pole which also displayed other merchandise.

Jiaur Rahman‘s red ribbon series (~2007-2008) captures these ribbons perfectly.