Handwoven Textiles worn with Powerful Elegance - Indira Gandhi
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A “look” that gets stamped in visual recall or one that instantly propels curiosity and salience is seldom just a function of a garment. Iconic style assimilates a few definitive details--the style of hair, the walk, a signature accessory and the person’s instinctive use of them as tools of communication. Indira Gandhi put all these to great use, yet her saris stand out in memory and documentation.
Hundred years after she was born, 33 years after she passed away with 65 per cent of the current Indian population born after her death, the saris, remain legendary.
Symbols of swadeshi in post Independent India, a fine representation of handwoven textiles which she wore with powerful elegance, Gandhi’s saris find admirers among people of different persuasions.
Those who think of her as the first female leader to challenge political patriarchy, those who believe she was the nemesis of Indian democracy and even those who cannot be bothered either with history or politics but find cause and glamour in the handloom sari.
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Gandhi wore her saris with authority yet kept traditional versatility alive--draped Gujarati style with the seedha pallu sometimes, at other times to cover her head or wrapped around her shoulders and tie-twirled inside long jackets when she travelled abroad.
The knee-length seedha pallu worn Parsi style especially after she married Feroze Gandhi fashioned many of her appearances.
The Rudraksh beads were a constant; the white cotton blouse with short or long sleeves another charming detail of her “look”.
Unlike her daughter in law, Sonia, also a tasteful sari wearer and collector who favours woven Ikats above all other handlooms, Gandhi’s choice was eclectic. She wore embroidered garas, printed cottons, khadis, raw silks, temple bordered weaves, Ikats and Kashmiri needle work saris. She would choose saris from the region she travelled to dressing in local styles to connect with people from all classes and denominations to the temple bordered cotton in dull rust and brown that she wore when she was assassinated.
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Given that vast repertoire, yet in a relatable way it manages to ignite a sense of Gandhi’s style which remarkably continues to live on through Priyanka Vadra when she wears one of her grandmother’s checked Chettinads or when Varun Gandhi’s bride Yamini wore a restored pink khadi sari for her wedding. The latter was hand spun and woven by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for his daughter Indira when he was in prison during India’s freedom struggle.
What Gandhi wore in the late Seventies and Eighties represents a significant time in the history of craft and design in India.
Rooted in socialist and feminist ideologies, the crafts movement pioneered by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya took handlooms and crafts to giant expositions in the West. It is well known that many of Gandhi’s saris of that time were hand-picked by her friend and handloom exponent Pupul Jayakar, who with Gandhi’s support, galvanised the crafts sector.
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