No matter how you spell it, sari or Ssaree, still dominates the choice of dresses for Sri Lankan women. Whether she is a Sinhalese, a Tamil, a Muslim, or a Burgher, for a formal event she will wear a sari. A sari is an unstitched cloth about six yards in length. According to Buddhist and Jain literature, the word ‘sari’ is an evolution from the Prakrit word ‘Sattika’.
Some of the ancient Tamil poetry such as Silappadhikaram and Kadambari by Banabhatta describes women in Indian saris. Robert Knox in his book ‘An Historical Relation of Ceylon’ (1681), describes women who wore saris during the King’s Era, “Govi women were distinguished by the wearing of their cloth which they wore to their heels, one end of which cloth the women fling over their shoulders, and with the very end carelessly cover their breasts.”
The sari is popular in many other Asian countries too such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. Nowadays, women wear saris in a range of different styles, which have evolved from the original style due to various influences from diverse cultures. In Sri Lanka, the two popular ways of draping the sari is the Indian style and the Kandyan style.
The Kandyan style, which is also known as ‘osariya’, is mostly popular in the hill country region of Kandy. The traditional Kandyan consists of a full blouse, which covers the midriff completely, and is partially tucked in at the front. However, modern intermingling of styles has led to most wearers baring the midriff. The final tail of the sari is neatly pleated rather than free flowing.
This is rather similar to the pleated decoration used in the Indian style. Though local preferences play a role, most women decide on style depending on personal preference or what is perceived to be most suitable for their figure. There are even the ‘made-up osariyas’ where one can just fit and fold the pieces together with minimum hassle.
My first encounter with a sari is seeing my mother, who is a schoolteacher, wearing saris to school. When I was a child, most of the days my first sight in the morning was, her draping a sari. Not only had my mother, also my grandmother, who was employed at the Education department wore a Kandyan to work. Both of them were experts in wearing their own style of sari. I grew up in an environment where all the ladies close to my heart wore saris very often. The rainbow colours of saris have always fascinated me. So, just as most little girls, I also was used to wear Amma’s saris when no one was at home, which has been a secret to everybody to date.
My first very own experience of wearing a sari was when one of our family friends decided that I was good enough to be her bridesmaid when I was 14. After graduating, I was appointed as a teacher. My mother, who owns the biggest collection of saris out of all the people I know, agreed to lend me some of her saris. Therefore, the trouble I had to undergo in preparing saris to wear was a minimum.
For me, a teacher is someone who wears a sari. Despite that belief, my appointment as a primary teacher in an international school did not require me to wear saris to school. Still, I wanted to wear, which I did for the first few weeks and gave up due to a mixture of personal reasons. Time passed by, when one fine day again I decided to wear saris. With that decision, many things around me changed; mostly the attitudes of people. Whatever we say, people still have an admiration on women who wear saris. The number of men, who used to mutter various things to my ear when I am on the road, was decreased in a notable number. In offices, I got preference among others, and people went out of their way to get things done for me, something that never happened in those same places when I was in trousers.
Many women choose other casual dresses over the sari because of the convenience. But the sari still continues to maintain its charm among women. They are becoming so captivating day by day that it is hard to eschew from them. For many traditional women saris are their one of the most prized possessions. They have become a staple attire of women’s wardrobe.
But, for many women with busy lifestyles, running around with a sari is no easy task. However, a sari brings out the curves and lines of a woman that fascinates the people around us. A sari can make anybody look gorgeous. Whatever is your size or height, the sari is there to make any woman more feminine.
People might say, ‘We are modern thinkers’ but from the bottom of their hearts they still like the woman who is wrapped in six yards.