With Deepavali just around the corner, we’re bound to see lots of girls in dazzling sarees. It’s often said no one looks more beautiful than a girl in saree – a sentiment shared by men and women alike. It shows off the female figure, yet it is modest and elegant.
You don’t always get the chance to wear a saree. Unlike the yesteryears, sarees are now usually reserved for special occasions. This is why girls like Michelle Tawa and Aniza Latiff get really excited whenever there’s a chance to don their sarees.
“Sarees are such beautiful garments that aren’t worn often, so I get really excited when weddings and Deepavali open houses happen! It’s the only time my sister and I ever get to wear it. Best part is that it comes in so many styles and colours, which gets me all excited when choosing one!”
“Sarees are worn for any Indian weddings, Deepavali, Thaipusam, other Indian festivals and even for Indian girls who are going to the temple. They are really difficult for me to tie and it also depends on the type of material used. There are many types of sarees and different ways of tying them. I think that it’s a traditional costume that we have to pass onto future generations… and also teach them how to tie!”
As a piece of cultural and personal memory
Like all ethnic costumes, sarees are representations of an ethnic group’s cultural heritage. Legend has it that the first saree was made based on a weaver’s imagination of an Indian lady: with tumbling hair, multi-coloured temperament, tears that sparkle, and her soft and fleeting touch.
Thus, the saree was born – a long, flowy, and smooth piece of cloth that is draped fittingly around a lady.
For Melanie Abraham, Kashmira Ravichandran, and Doria Elizabeth Au Raj, the saree is also a piece of personal memory. Sarees are like keepsakes, and sometimes even family heirlooms.
“I love wearing sarees because it is such a beautiful traditional outfit and you can wear it however you want. It has so many unique patterns and every saree are different in their own way. This particular saree is my grandmother’s. My grandmother is 80 years old. Thus, not only are they beautiful and unique, sarees can be handed down from one generation to the next provided you take good care of them.”
“I think sarees are so beautiful and personal. It is something you can tailor to your own style and pass down through generations. I have a saree at home that is made from the cloth of my grandmother’s saree and I think that’s really special because a piece of her is carried on but with a more current vibe added to it. My grandmother passed away when I was really young so the fact that I could make something wearable and traditional out of her saree cloth is what makes it even more special to me.”
While Kashmira didn’t inherit any sarees from her family members, wearing a saree will always remind her of her late mother:
“I wore my first saree at 14 for a family portrait. It was our first ever family portrait when my mum was diagnosed with cancer and she helped me tie it. She had always helped me tie it. When I lost her, I didn’t know how to tie a saree even though I loved wearing them.”
“In 2015, I had my university ball… a year after I lost mum. For months, I practised and had my best friend in university helped me. It was funny that I was learning how to tie a saree from my friend and not my mom. And it wasn’t perfect – not like how my mum would tie it. I’m not that good but I’m getting there. On the night of the ball, I danced so much and was constantly worried that it might fall off. Unfortunately, it did *laughs* because someone stepped on my pleats on the dance floor and Chad (below), my friend, saved me from the embarrassment and helped me tuck everything back in.”
As a fashion statement
Each saree is unique – no two designs are the same. The most luxurious sarees are handwoven, which can cost up to thousands of ringgit. The different designs and colours allow fashionistas to play around with it, matching petticoats with different saree designs and accessories as well.
Naddy Rahman loves to play around with the versatility of the saree, pairing it with different accessories and choosing vibrant colours to stand out in the crowd.
“My experience wearing this saree has got to be one of the funnest moments I’ve had. It’s so much fun to play around with the accessories that goes with it too. Plus, I didn’t really have a hard time wearing it as it was tailor made and instant. Because the traditional sarees are a bit complicated to wear. Picked a really vibrant colour to be a little bit different!”
Not just for Indian girls
Malaysian girls of other races have also taken a liking to this traditional Indian costume. Jade Ng and Ireena Zain, who both love traditional wear, make it a point to have at least a piece of clothing that’s representative of each race.
“Growing up, I’ve always had the traditional clothes of all the different races in Malaysia but I’ve never owned a saree. I only got my first saree 2 years ago! I guess I never got one before because I never had an occasion for it. So now every time I get invited to a wedding or a Diwali open house, I jump at the opportunity to wrap my saree!
I didn’t know how to tie a saree, so there’s this aunty who comes to clean at my friend’s house and also owns a bridal shop with her daughter. She knew how to tie sarees really well so she helped us out.”
“I’ve always loved traditional clothing of all kinds, and coming from a multiracial country, I’ve made it a point to have at least one from the 3 main races here. I do like how elegant sarees look but there’s always the problem of tying that large piece of cloth and magically turning it into a saree.
On one of the occasions in my church, I wore a saree and I thought to myself, “This time I don’t have any Indian friends at home to help me tie my saree. It’s okay, I’ve worn it before, I can manage”. I ended up going to church with a saree that looks like it was tied like a ‘sarong’, and, it’s falling apart as I walk further!! I had to drag one of my Indian friends to the ladies toilet and begged her to re-tie my saree for me. To all ladies who can tie a perfect saree, RESPECT! As for me, I am still learning.”
Juliet Syn Li (below) received her saree in the form of a birthday gift.
“The saree itself was a birthday gift from one of my best friends. It was only my second time wearing a saree so I had to get a friend to help me tie it and not only that, it took several pins to keep it in place. There are a few ways to tie one but I chose a style that allowed me to cover my belly. When I attended the wedding, people seemed surprised to see a Chinese girl in saree but I feel like if you live in this country you should be used to this by now. I felt very elegant in it though it made going to the bathroom such a hassle.”
However, with more and more girls like Jade, Ireena, and Juliet being so receptive towards the culture of others, we believe that we’re very close to achieving perfect harmony.
Its ability to evolve
Geetha Anbalagan (below) believes there is a reason why some young Indian girls dislike wearing sarees…
“This particular saree was cheap and it was experimental. I didn’t bother sewing an overpriced blouse for it and stopped doing that for my other sarees too. I bought an RM8 crop top and my skilled mother tied the saree for me.
The reason why a lot of younger people don’t particularly like wearing sarees are could be because we’re so insistent on the saree being very traditional. Sarees are so versatile so I try to wear it in many different “styles”. But every time I do, people ask me why am I so exposed and inappropriate, how my short hair doesn’t go with it, etc.”
“I’m not the biggest fan of culture or tradition but if we want it to continue, we need to be okay with it evolving. People should be allowed to experiment and make it their own; tie it short, tie it loose, tie it exposed, as long as they’re comfortable!
Sarees can be tricky to tie, not the best outfit to be in to answer nature’s call, and doesn’t provide the best mobility, but make it your own and it can be an exciting piece of clothing”
Share your saree stories with us!
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Words by Esther Chung.
Photo credits: Michelle Tawa, Aniza Latiff, Doria Elizabeth Au Raj, Melanie Abraham, Kashmira Ravichandran, Naddy Rahman, Juliet Syn Li, Jade Ng, Ireena Zain and Geetha Anbalagan.
Want something a little less fancy and a little more casual for your Deepavali celebrations? Click here for some great ideas!