Dyeing a saree with parijat

The parijat or coral jasmine (also known as prajakta, harsingar, shiuli, shefali, xewali etc) is ubiquitous to Indian landscapes and especially in the autumn the flowers are strewn everywhere in the early morning.


Sarala Devi’s diary (late 19th/early 20th century) records the dyeing of sarees as well as refreshing old sarees by dyeing with shiuli flowers. The dye was also used to colour ritual garments and monks robes yellow (often garments would be unbleached cotton and the like I think and materials like turmeric or parijat would give the needed auspicious yellow).

On to a recent experiment with an old saree that had a few faint yellow stains.

Luckily for me there are a fair few parijat trees where I live and they are in full bloom. The initial part of collecting the fallen flowers in the morning  is the only laborious part of the flower dyeing.  I forgot to measure the quantity of flowers before and after drying (bad scientist) but suffice it to say that it took a few mornings of painstaking collection, brushing away debris and adding to the drying lot to dye just the one saree.

The drying was easy given we have had dry, hot days of late.

Ideally, the stalks should be separated and used for dyeing but I took the lazier route of using the whole flower. The dried flowers were boiled in water (again no measurement, andaaze se) – the process is very sensory given the delicate but heady fragrance of the flowers.  The resulting dye liquor was a deep orange (best exhibited in a wine glass:)). No doubt a stronger and more fast colour can be obtained with mordants but this sufficed for my purpose. A second extraction yielded a pale yellow which I used for smaller items like kerchiefs and threads.

The saree before with stains – it’s a simple Bengal tant (bought right after a viewing of Umbartha:)). And post a 30 minute soaking in the deep orange first dye liquor and through rinsing to remove excess dye. The final colour is a “parijat yellow” that falls more on the buttercup/primrose spectrum than the stronger turmeric/mango yellows.  Happily a faint fragrance remains on the fabric.

The colour fastness is apparently medium so I am expecting a bit of fade with use. But for now I am happy with the results and look forward to wearing the saree!

Posted in dye, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, natural dye, parijat, Personal, Sari, shiuli | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The 1910 saree

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Details of a studio portrait of the youngest daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar, Princess Sudhira. Taken in 1910.

Though Gayatri Devi is the most well known, Cooch Behar royalty that preceded her had a distinctive style and you often see a lot in play in their attire that later became the norm.

For example, the saree here is draped much like the present 6 yard saree, even though around 1910 the Bengal drape was quite common in the state.  The saree itself is a light fabric, I am inclined to think a fine muslin but I might be wrong. Around this period you often see sarees (of the very expensive sort) that are beaded/embroidered.  I don’t know the exact term but chiffon gowns in this period often feature beading.  As was common in the early part of the 20th century, the pallu is pinned at the shoulder and draped over the head in some of the portraits, though at least one showcases the Princess’ fashionably short hair.

The blouse has Edwardian details like the lapel like feature as well as the sleeve detail (though the border suggests Indian fabric).  Jewellery is fairly minimal, though the ear danglers are very shall we say “statement”.


Posted in 1910s, 20th century, Accessories, Bengal, British Raj, Dress Reform, Early 20th Century, fashion, Hairstyles, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian royalty, Indian Women, Photography, Royalty, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, sari history, Studio Portraits, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage sari, vintage women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

1980s Indian wear for men

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Though Indian attire has not been common for men, especially the middle and upper classes, post Independence, it is pretty much de rigeur for male politicians.  Usually this is varying permutations and combinations of the kurta/achkan/jacket/dhoti with regional variants (e.g. regional headgear) on visits to states. Each Prime Minister nevertheless has his own individuality – or rather items of clothing that become associated with his persona – be it Nehru’s achkan, Shastri’s dhoti, VP Singh’s fur cap or Modi’s jacket.

Much of this template for male politicians is present in Rajiv Gandhi’s clothing from the mid 80s onwards when he became Prime Minister. Many elements expectedly drew from or found their way into Indian styles of the time. This included the bandhgala of pic 2 as formal wear and the more casual kurta pyjama (as opposed to the chudidar), often worn with sports shoes.

Regional elements are often added to attire by politicians when visiting a state. However, two distinct elements, the shawl with a Bengal drape (pics 3 and 4) and the South Indian angasvastram (pics 5 and 6) were often worn by Mr Gandhi, reflecting the decade of Festival of India which brought together several regional elements as “ethnic chic”.

Pic 1 is the Gandhi cap, long worn in India but rarely seen in present times.

Rajiv Gandhi: 20 August 1944 – 21 May 1991.

Pics Source: X.

On the 1980s go here.


Posted in 1980s, 20th century, clothing, Culture, fashion, Indian Dress, Indian History, Indian men, indian style, late 20th century, Photography, Politicians, Politics, shawls, Vintage Dress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Indian Summer

I have been away from wordpress for so so long. Travel meant I couldn’t sit down and write a long post. So a collation of several posts on the Indian summer that I did on tumblr.

First up the most ubiquitous of summer (and spring) flowers, the jasmine.

In the east it is highly esteemed, and the Indian women braid it into their hair when they receive it from their lovers, inasmuch as it promises long affection. [X].

Excerpt on the jasmine. The kunda is a spring flower and varieties of jasmine bloom through spring and summer in the subcontinent.

And though symbolic of a romantic bond nothing at all to stop one from a solo enjoyment of its flowers in the hair:)

Artwork: 1. Deepal Kilewala, 2. Rohini, 3. Vilas Chormale.

The bougainvillea is an import, nevertheless ubiquitous as summer blooms.

The bougainvillea girls enter in a flock, like dragonflies at noon. Their sudden laughter peals over me. Warm salt waves that take the breath and pull you to drowning. They float through the musty dark of the store, glittery dustmotes on a ray of light. The Mistress of Spices, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. 

Pics: 1. DOT, Daizy and Tapushi 2. Peach, photographed by me 3. via tilfi 4. Via parama_g

Summer flowers and staying cool in Sanskrit poetry.


A crest of double jasmine nestles in her braid, fresh after bathing;
A necklace made of trumpet flowers pours coolness on her breast’
an acacia blossom, delicate of tip, adorns each ear
The summer offers its insignia
to a woman’s every limb. Madhusila [X]

Pics: 1. Laxmi Chhaya wearing jasmine 2.  bridal photography by Anbu Jawahar (flowers in pic not the Indian trumpet flower but suggestive of trumpet flowers) 3. detail from a Hemen Majumdar painting 4. Still from Kumki.

The fruit of the season, the ubiquitous mango. It’s blossoms appear in spring poetry and the fruiting tree in art and sculpture.

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In Sanskrit, mango has 63 names. Some of them are as follows : Kamashar, Madhavdruma, Bhrungubheeshta, Seedhurasa, Vasantdoota, Atisaurabha, Madirasav. [X]

The most common words in two ancient languages are: amra in Sanskrit and manga in Tamil……. Most languages have words for mango derived from amra or manga. [X]

Pics: 1. Salabhanjika at Sanchi where the tree is a mango tree 2. Detail from a miniature painting with a fruiting mango tree 3. Detail from a Kumaril Swamy painting 4. Snagging a Mango (2017), Aditi Raychoudhury.

And the jackfruit.


This is April.
The jackfruit tree that shines
like slashed gold at the touch of a chisel,
and the honey-mango tree that always tempts the hand
to carve a toy boat from its trunk,
will be shaking now
with, blossom, with fruit. [G. Sankara Kurup via X]

Though this artwork is related to Deepavali, the jackfruit is also a summer fruit.

Pic: 18th century miniature painting.

And lastly, my personal favourite. Summertime is jamun time. (wiki on jamun). But do not eat it with mangoes says the Sushruta Samhita:).

The luminescent beauty of Lord Krishna’s dark skin is compared to the shiny black fruit; just as a woman’s round, beautiful eyes is often poetically referred to as ‘jamuns’. The God of clouds – Lord Megha incarnated on earth as the jamun and that is why the colour of the fruit is like the stormy monsoon clouds. [X].

Pics: illustration of the jamun tree, Raag Megh Malhar, Jamun Kheer by kharakapas. 

Posted in 18th century, 1930s, 1940s, 20th century, Ancient India, Art, contemporary fashion, costumes in art, Culture, fashion, Flora, Flowers, Flowers in Literature, India, Indian Aesthetics, indian art, Indian Costume, Indian Flora and Fauna, Indian Literature, Indian Women, miniature paintings, Paintings, Seasons, Women, women in art | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Folk Jewellery of Pakistan

Folk jewellery of Pakistan, 1973 PIA Calendar. The link for the last postcard is unavailable but from the bandhani dupatta and mirrorwork suggests Sindh.  For pics 1 to 3, the captions are as follows:

1. The punjangla has a ring for every finger attached to a bracelet. It is popular with brides all over Pakistan.

2. Women of the Kalash valley wear the kapas, an ornamental head dress adorned with shells, beads and bells. The silver necklace is tied high on the throat and worn with rows of beads.

3. The ghulbali, a heavy head ornament, is worn by women of the Powindahs, a nomadic tribe in the North West Frontier Province.


Posted in 1970s, 2017 posts, Culture, fashion, Folk, Jewellery, late 20th century, Pakistan, Tribal, Vintage, vintage jewellery, vintage style | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brief Notes from Japan


サリーの女 (Maiden in a sari), 1983. From the Museum publication on the artist Akino Fuku (秋野不矩)).

While in Japan I made a visit to the Akino Fuku Museum in Hamamatsu, Japan. While my favourite work of hers was not on display (the paintings are rotated, insert crying icon), it was still wonderful to be there and see her works..  I did get to see one of the artworks I featured on the blog as well as other rangoli paintings.  You can’t gauge works from pcs at all, e.g. I didn’t realise Fuku’s canvasses are pretty large.

The sari is so similar to a Santiniketan silk I once owned that I am inclined to think this is a similar silk.

Getting to the museum takes some planning as it is a little out of the way so only for those really interested!

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I also dropped by at the kimono/furisode show at the Nishijin Textile Centre, Kyoto. The show is about 10 minutes, free and held every hour at the Centre. If you do visit, factor the show in since it is quite charming. Plus you can see the weavers at work.

The blue kimono in the solo pic has a shuttle motif on the obi (sash) as part of Nishijin 550 (550th anniversary since the area began to be recognised as Nishijin)

The highlight for me was the History Room which displays textiles held by the Centre as well as pattern books and the like that date back to the Meiji era and even earlier. As with our textiles, you can see both continuity and change in the motifs, colours, patterns and the like (my favourite was the 20s/30s).

The rest of the Centre is given over to the gift shop as well as rental kimonos.

Posted in 1980s, 2017 posts, Art, Asia, clothing, Costume, costumes in art, Culture, East Asia, fashion, India, Indian Costume, Indian Women, Japan, Japanese art, Japanese Costume, Paintings, Personal, Vintage, vintage art, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On instagram


To insta or not….

I have to confess I am a tumblr and wordpress fan and steer clear of facebook, twitter, insta etc. Still despite not having a personal facebook account I do maintain a page there for folk who find tumblr user unfriendly (!!). The page mainly links to wordpress posts.

A reader suggested nearly six months ago that I look at instagram and procrastinating me finally got around to it.  There isn’t anything on it that is not already here but if you are on it and would like to follow link below:


On instagram I had a couple of comments from life_in_a_saree regarding my Sparsh post, the post has been updated to reflect her comments (scroll to the end for comments).


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Sparsh (1980) deconstructed

Just 4 years separate Kadambari and Sparsh but the former is firmly rooted in 70s styles while Sparsh gives a glimpse of the styles of the early 80s with barely a hint of the 70s.  So let’s look at what the actors (mostly Shabana Azmi) wore.  A heads up – given the DVD quality some of the screen captures are a little murky.

Since Ms Azmi plays a widow most of her wardrobe is quite subdued.  Her friend played by Sudha Chopra on the other hand is a little flamboyant while the men flirt with Indian “jholawala” styles now and then.

Since the early part of this decade was very “ethnic chic:, Ms Azmi wears a lot of handlooms. A lot of these are quite specific to the time and not seen as often now. You could say that the kind of handlooms in style also change with each decade.

The plain sari.  The oatmeal coloured sari is probably some kind of raw/matka silk. Here it is teamed with an ikat blouse.  The peach colour sari is probably a satin, teamed with a khann blouse. These  in a way precede the plain satins of Arth, Silsila, Masoom etc.

The time period of the movie seems to be autumn/winter so you see a lot of the little appliqued jackets from Gujarat in the film.


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The silk sari.  For a couple of social engagements Ms Azmi wears silks.  The id-ig of these proved to be the hardest. The white and black Kanjeevaram is pretty straightforward.  The red and yellow I think is a Banarasi sort (one her character buys for the “feel”) though they lack the characteristic “bootis” on the body of the saree.  In the third black and white sari, the motifs are a little unclear so it could be a Balucheri or a “South” silk (probably Chettinad, also the temple border suggests the south).  This could be a cotton but the drape and movement seemed like silk to me. Then a couple of printed silks in earth tones. And last an elaborate border saree in white, red and green which I found hard to id (probably a Kanjeevaram). Almost all have very broad borders, as do many of the other sarees worn in the film.


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The Odisha saree.  Despite varied colours and weaves the most common Odisha saree of the time was the one with a sandalwood colour base and a maroon ikat kind of border (as also the pasapalli).  In the movie the sari is teamed with a maroon ikat blouse (which is also used for the printed silks). Ms Azmi also wears a simple rust coloured sari with a black ikat border.


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The Bengal saree. A lot of 80s movies have Bengal cotton saris, usually tant.  These broad borders are no longer seen that often, indeed the tant as everyday wear (softening considerably with use) is also no longer common across middle class India.


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The South cotton.  Broad borders and vivid colours. I think these are from Andhra.


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Assorted Saris. Ms Azmi also wears a mauve applique sari, a few light printed cottons, a few Kota kind of sarees, a synthetic sari of the Vimal/Garden sort and a patola border sari in white and red (which may be a silk).


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The winter wear. The aforementioned Gujarati applique jacket (sometimes quilted) and shawls. The black and red one is probably Kutchi.


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Nightwear, blouses, hairstyles: 80s nightwear was usually the maxi (here collared), which Ms Azmi again teams with the applique jacket (the movie certainly provides ten ways to wear a crop jacket!). The blouses are close necked and V necked with elbow length sleeves. A lot of the blouses are the “matching” plain sort but there are a few discreet mix and match versions.  In most scenes Ms Azmi has a single plait but that casual knot while working reminded me of my mother.


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Sudha Chopra’s costumes: These have a upper middle class Delhi women of the 80s vibe. A lot of translucent georgettes and chiffons, a few muted silks, Punjabi suit sets but also a South (probably Chettinad) handloom witha dramatic temple border.  Also glass bangles, a short crisp haircut and immaculate nails.


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What the men wore: When they wear Indian, mostly kurtas and shawls.  A silk chudidar-kurta set for Amjad Ali Khan. And a few 70s touches as in the big collar shirts worn by the husband of Sudha Chopra’s character as well as the printed shirt of the little boy.


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There are a few sarees that are omitted but on the whole Sparsh gives a glimpse of early 80s middle class styles in India, albeit of the “arty” kind.  Apart from the costumes, as always there is a glimpse of interiors (the sunken drawing room), rough ceramic crockery of the Morbi pottery sort, outdoor places like the Chinese restaurant etc that all remind you of the way things were.

UPDATE: Some notes from life_in-a_saree via instagram on the sarees featured here.  Since she is a “handloom geek” and ids almost all her saris, her observations and corrections are pertinent and welcome!


  • Some initial thoughts on the Sparsh article, more as I read further down… The first white with black border may be a Kanjivaram or a Gadwal. The yellow and red saree is definitely a Kanjivaram, given the Petni joint where the palla begins and seppu rekku pattern in the palla. The black and white one seems to be of Tamizh origins too, with the double pet Annapakshi borders and the Korvai temples. And the last one seems to be a Benarasi to me…
  • The broad bordered Bengal cotton looks delish! I’m happy to report I do have a couple of older Dhonekhali taants that look similar… As for the South cottons, the last one with yellow broad borders looks like Chettinadu to me
  • That last Patola in the assorted sarees slideshow looks like a Pochampalli ikat silk for sure… So very pretty!
  • And Sudha Chopra’s gorgeous red silk seems to be a zero Zari Kanjivaram.


Posted in 1980s, 2017 posts, Actor, arthouse, Cinema, Costumes in Cinema, fashion, film costumes, Film Costuming, Hairstyles, handlooms, Indian Actors, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Cinema, Indian fashion, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, late 20th century, Men, retro cinema, retro fashion, Salwar Kameez, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari history, Sets, Vintage, vintage cinema, vintage costume, vintage sari, vintage style, winterwear, Working Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments



During this month the spirits of the ancestors descend on earth to be propitiated.  It is the time to worship the nine Durgas for prosperity in this life and future salvation.  The kings and their pandits set out to visit their territory.  After the monsoon the sky is clear and in the pools the lotuses are in full bloom.  The moon brightens the night, and Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi engage in their celestial dance.  In this month of Asoja, which is the like the playground of love, why leave me alone? Keshava Dasa

On the month of Asoja/Ashvin (September/October), extract from Indian Love Poetry.  This year Ashvin begins on 23 September.

The festival of Dussehra/NavaratriVijayadashami celebrates the nine aspects of Durga and is also often dedicated to the trinity of goddesses, Durga/Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

Painting from India: Art and Culture, 1300-1900. I think this is the 17th-18th century Telangana wall painting style that harks back to Vijayanagara but can’t be sure as the picture lacks a caption.

The saris are in the kaccha style and like many late medieval paintings the goddesses have different skin hues.

Posted in 17th century, 18th century, 2017 posts, Art, Costume, costumes in art, Culture, Deccan, Goddess, historical costume, India, Indian Aesthetics, indian art, Indian Costume, indian festivals, Indian Literature, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, Literature, Sari, sari drape, South India | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Brahmika drape


I had an anon question on tumblr as an earlier question on wordpress that I will answer here together as they are kind of related.

1. I saw an early 19th century painting which showed women in a blouse and sari. I always thought blouse was introduced by Jnanadanandini Devi?

I think some sort of blouse (and possibly a kind of petticoat given ghaghra cholis and related outfits) was always around. Even Ajanta paintings have a few examples.  This early 19th century painting is an example of it too:

But I think a formal kind of blouse, often influenced by prevailing Victorian fashion, and the petticoat worn with a sari did come in with the 1870s both in Western India and in Bengal. A few books of the time and later refer to shops selling “jackets”, which term seems distinct from the choli.

The early 20th century Dhurandhar painting right on top shows differing blouse styles, from the indigenous choli to the modified choli with puff sleeves as well as more elaborate versions which are obviously Victorian in origin suggesting a variety of styles after the 1870s.

In summary I think the sari blouse was around but not essential. Especially in the hotter areas of India where a sari sufficed. From the 1870s onwards, however, it became an essential part of attire for educated women and then all women.

2. Several months back I had a query regarding Jnandanandini Devi’s introduction of the Brahmika (Brahmo woman) drape from Sari Sisters. The query was on the  difference between the Brahmika drape and Classical Bengal drape and whether the only difference was in the pleats on the shoulders.

At the time I assumed that there wasn’t much difference between earlier sari drapes in Bengal and the Brahmika saree. But the question stayed in my mind and I had some time this weekend to poke around a bit.  Not much came up. Though everyone agrees that the Brahmika drape was novel and inspired by the Parsi/Gujarati drape that Jnanadanandini saw in then Bombay, the exact nature of the earlier drape is not clear. Instead there is more emphasis on the introduction of accessories like the blouse, petticoat, hair net etc, which assisted in making the saree a dress for a bhadra (respectable) woman. Nevertheless there was some change since there are many remarks both on the untidiness of draping as well as the immodesty of previous drapes.

The only clear reference I got was in Rochona Majumdar’s book (Marriage and Modernity) where she mentions that the traditional style is the pallu (end of the sari) wrapped around the waist or hanging in front rather than the pleats of the Brahmika saree.  As it happens there aren’t too many pre 1870 pics that I could find except these.


Rabindranatha Tagore’s mother on the left (presumably an older style, though it isn’t clear to me if the pallu is tucked around the waist and also on the shoulder).  On the right a milkmaid of the 1840s, this drape has some resemblance to the Brahmika style but has no pleats and is simply wound around.


The Parsi/Gujarati style is seen above which is the seedha (straight) pallu style with the sari being secured on the right shoulder.


The Brahmika/Bengal styles are above. The style arranges the saree border in a way that mimics the seedha pallu (more evident in the left pic of girls in 1904*) but the pallu is eventually thrown over and secured at the left shoulder. So it does appear that the sari sisters were right in that process of pleating and arranging the sari in the upper part was probably different for the Brahmika saree (though some of the modern Bengal saree drape tutorials have a bit of a pleat arrangement in the bottom part too. Further the loose end can be thrown over the right shoulder).

As always feel free to comment/inbox and do let me know if Bengal has more draping styles or if there are differences I missed.

*1904, courtesy Geraldine Forbes.

Posted in 1870s, 19th century, 2017 posts, Bengal, British Raj, Colonial, costumes in art, Dress Reform, Early 19th century, fashion, historical costume, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Late 19th century, regional styles, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, sari history, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments