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Finding beauty in the ordinary

Every Kanjivaram sari, with its exquisite designs, has a fascinating story to tell. Centuries old motifs, popular to this day, have typically been inspired by exquisite temple art or drawn from Mother Nature. But the weaver’s restless eye, his endless quest for creative expression, has led to his exploring more than these obvious sources of beauty. Many Kanjivaram motifs have originated from objects of household use – kitchenware and implements used for worship, for example – translated into pleasing abstract designs in the hands of skilled weavers.

Take for instance, the pai, Tamil for the humble palmyra mat that was an essential household item in the days before western style furniture came into use. Used for seating during meals, sleeping, worship, study and meditation, the indispensable pai came in different sizes and colors. Its tight, criss-cross weave was adopted by Kanjivaram artisans as a geometrical motif known as paimadi.

A must-have for nearly all auspicious functions is the panneer shombhu, the onion shaped container with a gracefully tapering neck topped by a sprinkler that is used to delicately splash rosewater during sacred rituals or to welcome guests on special occasions like weddings. Often beautifully carved in silver, this pretty object finds expression on Kanjivaram saris as arrow shaped motifs. A row of panneer shombhu motifs on a sari border sharply demarcates it from the body. Tiny zari motifs scattered sparingly across the body of a sari glint like pinpoints of light.

And then, there’s the sittai pencil, which as you may have guessed, is nothing more than a sharpened pencil. On a Kanjivaram sari pallu, this most ordinary of objects is expressed as a serrated motif facing sideways, a large, dramatic design. One can only wonder at the power of the creative mind that visualized this arresting design in a child’s writing tool!

To stay ahead of the competition and attract contemporary buyers who enjoy experimentation, Kanjivaram sari weavers and stores constantly stretch creative limits. Sometimes classical motifs are tweaked into exciting, new ones – the asymmetrical rising border, typically with temple motifs, is a startling departure from convention. Two-toned ‘half-and-half ‘ saris when draped and pleated across the body tantalise the eye with their shifting shades.

In a movie mad nation, a sprinkle of stardust always makes for a great marketing tool. And hence the Palum Pazhamum (“Milk and Fruit”) motif, inspired by the 1961 film bearing the same title. In the film, screen diva Saroja Devi famously sported a sari that featured neither milk nor fruit but was distinguished by bright, contrasting checks on its pallu. Ever since, it has been a popular trousseau choice in Tamil Nadu for the traditional post-wedding ritual in which newlyweds partake of sweetened milk and fruits.

Find saris with these beautiful designs at Sarangi.

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