Week 38: The Sari

The Sari, by Mukulika Banerjee and Daniel Miller

I'm always interested in anything from India, and I've been wanting to read this study of the cultural meaning of the sari for quite some time. When I started working at Butte College, I was happy to find it in their collection. It's a great book, really interesting. It addresses the difficulties and pleasures of mastering the art of sari-wearing (and it really is not easy), the different ways it can be used, and the meaning of the sari as a somewhat political garment which has come to represent an ideal of Indian unity.

Wearing a sari well is difficult enough that being able to do it well lends you an image of dignity and power. So women in business wear what you could call 'power saris' which project their authority. At the same time, saris are standardized into uniforms all over the country; hostesses at hotels, policewomen, and even soldiers wear them. And again, most poor women wear saris to work as cleaners and fieldworkers and for all sorts of labor.

You will most likely change your sari a few times a day, even if you are not wealthy; a worker may have one to wear at work and one for home (rather in the way that many of us have outdoor shoes and house shoes that are 'clean'), or you might change after doing something dirty. Women also often sleep in comfortable cotton saris, which must be quite a feat.

Saris are also symbols of marriage and maturity. Girls don't wear them, and there is a whole section on the popularity of the salwar kameez for teen girls. Most Indians would say that a woman is most beautiful and elegant in a sari--it is the most dignified and most feminine garment there is, instantly conferring romance and mystery. (You may notice in some Indian movies that a girl might start off in athletic or skimpy clothes, maturing into a love interest when she puts on the sari that shows her in a new light--Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is an example.)

So there was quite a lot to learn and I really enjoyed it. :)


  1. I was hoping you'd bought this so I could borrow it. Thanks for the review, I think I would like to check it out. I have a beautiful safi I would love to wear, but I do not have down the art of sari tying!
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. All you have to do is take a class at Butte College... :)


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