Have you ever caught the sunlight on rumpled up silk? When you carelessly keep a saree unfolded and silently watch its splendour. Your gaze learns that the saree that has a story, it lies crumpled carrying the fragrance of the wearer. I recall the first Benarasi my Baba gifted me for my cousin’s wedding. It was a soft beige silk with gold interwoven with black silk thread. It was soft, subtle and with a vintage appeal. I wore that saree and recall the silk all over my body. It engulfed me sensuously. Wearing that saree was like an act of the drama. All my emotions played out with beige, gold and black.
For all Bengali weddings. The bride is always dressed in a Benares weave. You travel all the way to Benares with your aunt and cousins to buy the saree in which you will feel the most beautiful! Woven with the Benarasi art that stays coveted among us. For each of us, the wedding saree is always a Benarasi.
It’s a common thing when we catch someone wearing a beautiful saree for a special occasion, most often a Bengali would comment, is this your wedding Benarasi? Yes you beam with pride. This it was, the wedding benarasi saree, its poise and position weighing much above anything you desired. And you smile and tell them, that the Benarasi is packed with naphthalene balls in a muslin cloth bag that you want to retain for posterity.
I still recall, Abha Mashi or my maternal aunt who was all set to be married. The shopping had been done. The haldi or turmeric bath was over when we received the call of doom. The wedding had been stalled because the groom said Abha Mashi is loud and not petite enough to be a bride.
There was mayhem in the Bhattacharya household that day. I was too young to comprehend the angst of rejection that she faced.
I saw Abha not talk to anyone for months to come. Many years later, I saw her room door half open and I caught her glimpse against the sunlight. She was holding her to be wedding Benarasi saree against her skin… and the fading sun was catching her reflection in the mirror. Her grey hair disheveled and her eyes ignited with anger and rejection.
She put the saree down on the four poster bed and wept like a torn princess. I just saw the saree catching the sunlight and the Benarasi silk lay crumpled but beautifully preserved. She sat staring at it.
I pushed the door and she saw me look towards her. She beckoned me and held my petite adult hands, and said this is for me.”Wear it on your wedding night”. I could not refuse. I accepted that saree, for it was her pride and dignity that she preserved in it for all these years. She was now ready to give it away and let it have the meaning it was meant for. To be a young petite brides adornment. She, at last, freed it. She had come out of it. Not longing anymore for it to protect her. I accepted her Saree and helped her find closure.
My Benarasi collection in my cupboard has Abha Mashi’s saree. I keep her saree, which is also her memory with a reverence that somewhere she is looking down at me. Her anguish lies still among the unspoken stories of women rejected. I know this will stay forever with me like the constant activity in the Ghats of Benares where lies the looms that continue this saga of the creation of a dream, nurtured by women all over.
Benares is born every day with a newness that only a Benarasi lover can appreciate.
Benares Kash, a curated show brings the celebration of the holy city’s finest weaves to Mumbai. Organised by Pause for a Cause, it promises to harmoniously blend together the age old art of Benarasi weaves with today’s contemporary styles. Presenting the finest handcrafted saris, dupattas, fabrics, contemporary clothing and heritage textiles and weaves – each one lovingly designed using techniques that have been passed on through generations.
The brilliance of Benarasi textiles is something that every girl, woman and mum should enjoy and treasure.
Visit us on the 11th and 12th of October at the Coomaraswamy Hall, CSMVS, Kala Ghoda, Fort Mumbai.