With changing silhouettes and modern twists, Rta Kapur Chishti turns the spotlight on woven saris
The woven sari is a story of contradictions: ubiquitous yet endangered, ancient yet modern, unstitched yet innovative. And textile scholar Rta Kapur Chishti has made it her life’s mission to spread her passion for the sari. One of the steps in that journey is Saris: Tradition and Beyond, a lecture-demonstration (pegged on her 2010 book of the same name), being organised on February 2 by the Kalakshetra Foundation and sari shop Shilpi.“It will take you on a journey through the 15 states covered in the book, give you insights into what is worn where and why, and the 108 different drapes,” says Chishti.
Though there has been a renaissance of sorts, with designers going back to weavers and trying to resurrect old traditions, Chishti feels production is greatly threatened. “We are still in the stage of imitation — we want what we see in films, in the West. Originality has no value.” And, according to her, the woven sari is the most original of them all. As an unstitched, unstructured garment, it has the capability to constantly reinvent itself. Did you know the five yards of cloth can be converted into dresses, trousers and gowns — all without pins or stitches?
One of the threats that weavers are facing today is the rising popularity of embroidery. While Chishti agrees there is craft in wielding a needle and thread, she feels it can never compare with the complexity of weaving a sari. “It needs the ingenuity of a mathematical genius to weave a beautiful sari.” And despite the support of designers like Abraham & Thakore, with whom she has collaborated, Chishti fears the future. “As saris lose their everyday vitality, they’ll become rare. Value will have to be upscaled. But will people buy saris that cost over a lakh of rupees?” she wonders.
Chishti has taken her passion to save the sari into every medium she possibly can: by writing books, scripting films, founding the Sari School — which makes saris and organises workshops — and even teaming up with the Daksha Sheth Dance Company. The production, Sari, took five years to complete (2005 to 2010) and has been staged a few times (including in Chennai in 2012, as part of the World Crafts Summit), but Chishti wants to up the frequency, sponsorship permitting. “Dance is vibrant and appeals to a larger audience. I think it is the best platform to show the process of how raw material is turned into this wondrous garment,” she says.
At Kalakshetra Foundation, on February 2, from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm. Free entry. Details: 9840792782
— Surya Praphulla Kumar