At midnight, on the 15th of August, India received its Independence. The tryst with this destiny was fraught with rebellions, blood, famines, world wars and most importantly, stealing away our identity as a country of intricate artistry. India was always the country of precious gems, fine muslin, vibrant silks, poetry, literature, and much more. From fine Kashmiri pashmina shawls with delicate embroidery, delicate gotta-patti on Rajputi poshaks, the Banarasi work on Kadhwa Silk, the bold Chanderi, the nine-yard Nauvari saree and the luxurious Kanjivaram silk, India is a testament to talent, hard work, patience and an appreciation of beauty. This frangibility is only one of the few examples of the exquisiteness and chutzpah in our country for centuries. There is indeed so much to learn and be proud of, Indian artistry is an education within itself, and there is strength in becoming a part of this culture.
From sarees to lehengas and dupattas, the Indian wear for women is all about maximalism; even the humble khadi boasts about its handspun goodness. There is indulgence in even the minimalist items we create; however, it’s the drapers of elegance that we must talk about today, for they have taken our culture on a global platform and given it an identity of grace, strength, and empowerment. Indian history is a testament to the shakti, the feminine power that reigns supreme over us, protects our heritage, and promotes it on the most illustrious platforms. Our Goddesses are venerated with sarees, and these drapes are then worn by women to be blessed with auspiciousness. The Indian women are an example of strength, and during significant parts of our history, they’ve eloquently expressed and elucidated their goals and agendas.
Savitribai Jyotirao Phule
It's a crime not to start with the pioneer of India’s feminist women; we’re talking about Savitribai Jyotirao Phule. Phule was not only a prolific writer but an educationist who demanded equal rights for everyone irrespective of caste and gender. She worked arduously towards abolishing discrimination and pushed for women’s rights. Draped in simplicity, this saree-clad woman went on to create schools for women. Despite getting married at the tender age of nine, she went on to be educated and even enrolled in teaching training programs. Her training as a teacher and headmistress gave her the power to open her schools along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule. Despite much resistance from society, they went to create a revolutionary path for women; the understanding of giving women the right to progress creates a strong foundation for our country. Educating the girl child is still a challenge to this day. However, pioneers like Savitribai Phule remain an inspiration.
Bhikaiji Rustom Cama
Yet another revolutionary is Bhikaiji Rustom Cama. Madam Cama was born into an affluent Parsi family and was married to Rustom Cama, one of the leading ladies of India’s independence movement. She wore her signature Parsi saree with a full-sleeve blouse and is often credited with designing the first flag of India, and her accolades don’t stop here. She was an ardent supporter of gender equality, heavily influenced by the Suffragette movement, and spoke heavily about women’s rights.
Fondly known as the Nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar is the jewel of our country. Always dressed in her beautiful sarees and two long braids, she was known for her simplicity and was yet born with a buttery voice that filled the hearts of many. Her accolades are so many that words fall short but to remember and commemorate her contributions, she was awarded the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan, amongst many others, including the Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honour conferred by France.
No one wears a saree as regally as Bhanurekha Ganesan, better known as Rekha. Her shimmering and luxurious silk sarees and accompanying jewellery are an inspiration for most of us. A woman with unparalleled talent and beauty, Rekha is one of the greatest movie stars of all time. From movies like Umrao Jaan, Do Anjaane, Khoobsurat and Ghar, Rekha has reinvented herself for each role, maintaining her confidence and esteem in each of them. With an envious wardrobe consisting of some of the most beautiful handwoven and carefully loomed sarees, Rekha is truly extraordinaire.
Maharani Gayatri Devi
If someone put chiffons and the shoulder-wrapped pallu on the map, it has to be Maharani Gayatri Devi. She was the Maharani Consort of Jaipur and later the Rajmata. Her grace, style and charisma are known all around the world. Maharani Gayatri Devi is the reason why chiffon sarees became popular in India; she was one of the best-dressed members of royalty and, to this day, continues to inspire women all across the country. Apart from her work in the court of Jaipur, she was also active in politics and played an essential role during the Emergency.
The saree is a popular garment in our country; while often associated with brides and glamour, the women above are a testament to making the saree an integral part of their identities. Each state represents a different work; whether it’s embroidery or a type of fabric, such is the diversity of a saree. However, behind these sarees and the iconic women who wear them are the weavers working tirelessly to create these weaves. India is where our grandmothers and mothers pass things down to the generation, including sarees, lehengas and dupattas. Working their perfect magic, our weavers are the backbone of our country, and their talents have put India on the world map. Whether it's khadi or a luxurious Banarasi, the range of talent our artisans possesses is worth an applaud. Just like they weave thread to thread, our country is weaved with love, history, heritage and, of course, the contributions made by our powerful women.
The 75th Independence of our nation is a proud moment. We are proof that a populous and diverse nation can come together to uphold democracy and all of its fundamental rights and duties.
Author: Uma Shekhawat