In Search of the Zoroastrians

Sarees- Parsi Clothing- Part 1














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The ladies used to wear such sarees and colors.
 

 
In the older days, mostly all parsis dressed like above.
 

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Hand Embroidered Parsi Gara

 

 

Chinese silk fabrics known as garas. A variety of silk was used such as gaaj, paaj, crepe and ghat. The embroidery depicted the lifestyles of the days, scenes of royalty, market places, river fishing, flowers and birds. Motifs of Chinese pagodas and characters were also used symbolising the artist's signature.

The old garas could not be washed and had to be handled very carefully. The fabric would shred and the colours made of vegetable dyes would run. The garas were stored in intricately carved teak chests, with pepper corns tied in muslin cloth and sandalwood sticks, to keep away insects and moths that fed on the natural silk. Unused, the garas could deteriorate.

Making a hand embroidered gara takes from 2 months to 8 months on an average, depending on the complexity and density of the design. The workmanship is most vital as the embroidery is so closely done, that the background colour surfaces as an outline.

With the use of silk threads and synthetic fast colours that can be washed, garas are somewhat easier to maintain. Even so, the best way to store a gara is to wrap each one separately in white muslin and place it flat. They must not be hung. Silks, and particularly garas must never be stored in plastic. Buying a new gara is like purchasing jewelry which can be handed down to the next generation as an heirloom. When well looked after and properly stored, a gara can last about 300 years.

 

 
Gara embroidery sarees, originally considered to be Parsi family heirlooms, became rare collector’s items because of their intricate work and exorbitant prices

The most striking and beautiful examples of ancient Chinese embroidery can be discovered on the gara,the famous Pari sari of the last century. The Chinese gara a six-yard long sari worn earlier by Parsi women.A gara is an item which is expensive.

The gara’s history is as colourful as the garment is to behold. The gara was probably introduced in India by Parsi traders in the 19th century who used to travel to China to trade. Originally, it was an item that was normally a labour of love created by the Chinese. Patronized by the Parsi and worn for weddings and Navjote (a ceremony for young Parsi boys and girls in the Zoroastrian faith) ceremonies it is treasured and worn by girls of all ages and is today considered a rare fashion item worth possessing.

The original Chinese garas were considered quite buky to wear as saris since they had embroidered borders on all four sides. The most favoured colour was purple or violet. Several years after the introduction of the gara in India, craftsmen in Surat in Gujrat managed to duplicate the embroidery. But the Surat gara is identified by its net and French knots which the Chinese ones did not have. Besides violet, the colours popular were wine red, navy blue, white or off white with white embroidery in twisted cotton thread. At times, gold threads were also used.

Because of the visual beauty of the rich and intricate work, always hand done, it could take up to nine months to complete each gara. Decades ago a gara was a must in a bride’s trousseau. Since the embroidery is specialized and intricate every few days, the craftsmen have to be given a simpler sari to break the monotony of the hard work so that they can return refreshed to the complicated motifs. A craftsman specializes in a particular motif-like flower, tree, house, figure etc. so that there is uniformity in the workmanship.

Although the motifs are hand embroidered, the finish is superb on the right side as well as the wrong. Each gara has its own story in the form of pictures embroidered across the length of the sari. The popular motifs are trees, flowers leaves, birds, figures, houses, bridges, each coming alive with the help of vivid colours and stitches. There are distinct scenes of Chinese life-pagodas, shrines, boatment, river banks, soldiers and cranes. The embroidery is very close to each other and the more intericate the design the more expensive the gara becomes. There also are several types of garas with quaint names like kanda and papeta gaga which literally means onions and potatoes that resembled large pink and yellow polka dots, where the pink denotes onions and yellow the potatoes. The karolia or spider design is actually a flower. The chakla/chakli motif (male/female sparrow) and the more(peacock) are some of the other variations. There are still some Parsis who do not wear a peacock design as they consider it inauspicious.

A gara could either be fully embroidered or have a border with embroidery sprinkled all over or just partially embroidered. The popular stitches are the crewel, stem and long and short stitch and the French knot. The popular choice of thread is off-white. Pastels are also favoured. As many as 20-30 different shades of a colour are used in one design, with perfect blending to give it the effect of a painting. The texture of the thread could be either cotton or silk although the latter is more effective. The border of a gara is the cynosure of all eyes in most cases. It expands into the pallav of the sari which is draped in front when worn in the Parsi style.
Because of the beauty and grandeur of the gara jewellery is never worn with it
 

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