Legend of gorgeous garas


February 1, 2013

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Think of family heirlooms, and usually the first thing that comes to mind is a priceless necklace or some antique timepiece.

By Shazman Shariff | Deccan Herald

But surprisingly, in some cases, rare pieces of breathtakingly beautiful hand-embroidered sarees are treasured and valued as passionately, and are admired by future generations with a strong longing to possess it. If a granddaughter appreciates and desires to flaunt a rich hand-embroidered gara saree that belonged to her grandmother, the credit indeed goes to the craftsman for fashioning a timeless piece of art with just a needle and thread.

The rich Indian handicraft industry boosts up a huge variety of eye-catching hand embroideries. Parsi gara work, a much-admired form, is distinguished by its particular pattern and use of motifs. Earlier, this elaborate Parsi embroidery was considered an essential part of the adornment and embellishment of the bridal trousseau. Gara, a Gujarati word for saree, is a traditional saree draped in a particular style that covers the head, showing off just one ear.

Leaving just the left ear exposed soon became fashionable in the olden days, and Parsi women in turn wore only a single earring.

The fabric of a gara saree is usually hand-woven natural silk. The exquisite needlework, which may take months to complete, was once considered a privilege of the upper classes. Silk, cotton and sometimes even gold and silver threads, in as many as 20 to 30 different colours or shades within a single pattern, are used in the embroidery. Some garas, called akho-garo, have hand-embroidered work on the entire body of the saree — or at least on all the visible portions including the pallav or pallu and the exposed bottom half of the gara.

The origin of garas and how they became a part of the Indian handicraft industry dates back to the Zoroastrian migration to India. It is believed that the needle work had first originated in China almost 300 years ago. Around 19 or 20th century, the regular trade between Chinese and Parsi traders, who were settled near the coast of Gujarat, was perhaps the reason the craft was taken up by local craftsmen.

It is observed the introduction of Chinese artefacts and textiles here kindled admiration for their craftsmenship, especially the needle work. Some studies hint that local traders, impressed by needle work, got their clothes embroidered by Chinese craftsmen during their trips to the Far East. With the passage of time, Indian artisans took inspiration from their Chinese counterparts, learned and mastered the work, and modified the pattern according to their taste and traditions.

The embroidery gives a rich and intricate look, as the motifs are closely and densely woven. A close look can reveal various types of traditional patterns like trees, birds and flowers, finely and very delicately crafted with needle. These days, gara work is done with the help of machines as well, but the ones done with hands can really make one marvel at the dexterity of the craftsmen who do the job neatly.

Earlier, the original Parsi work would make use of silver and gold threads for exclusivity, but with the passage of time, various other kinds of threads like resham (satin) and artificial zari are being used to make equally beautiful borders. These days, Parsi work is no longer limited to expensive garas, but is available in different types of borders, made with eye-catching colours, which can be used for embellishing dupattas, shirts, shawls, skirts, etc.