Saris: Relishable Wraps

BY: JAHNAVA DEVI

Sep 29, USA (SUN) — Of all the garments available to be worn on the planet today, what could be more delightful than the elegant sari? This ageless swath of fabric is structurally simple: a rectangle, nothing more. But what painter has a canvas more perfectly able to take on depth of color, composition and texture than this simple fabric block?

Historical depictions of the sari in our modern archives date back to about 100 B.C. A North Indian terracotta artifact (Shunga period, 200 - 50 B.C.) depicts a woman wearing a sari tightly wound in the kachcha style. In more modern times, sari wear has seen the introduction of the petticoat, which is thought to have been influenced by the Muslim ghaghra, and the tailored choli.

In fact, Saris have been worn since time immemorial by women in Vedic culture, who emulate the Queen of Vrindavan Herself. We strive to express even a small degree of the chaste and shy beauty exhibited by Srimati Radharani as we wrap up in these perfect pieces of apparel.

    "After Her midday bath, Radharani takes another bath in the nectar of bodily luster, and She puts on the garment of shyness, which is exactly like a black silk sari.

    Purport: Over and above the other baths, the bath taken in the afternoon is taken in the nectar of full beauty. This nectar represents the personal qualities of beauty and luster. Thus there are three baths in different kinds of water. Radharani then puts on two garments--a lower and an upper garment. The upper garment is pinkish and is Her affection and attraction for Krsna, and the lower garment, a blackish silk sari, is Her shyness."

    Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya lila, 8-168

Fortunately, men are not left out of this apparel phenomenon. The dhoti and lungee give them equal opportunity to wear simple, yet beautifully tied and styled garments. In their Vrindavan pastimes, Sri Sri Radha-Krsna expressed their great pleasure in one another's garments by switching wardrobes, and putting on one another's clothing.

Draupadi's endless sari also memorialized the garment in Vaisnava literature, and each time we wrap the sari, we have an opportunity to remember several important points in our Krsna Conscious philosophy.

    "When the Kurus were taking away Draupadi's sari to see her naked, Krsna supplied more and more cloth for the sari, and therefore they could not come to the end of it. Finally, with heaps of cloth stacked in the room, they became tired and realized she would never be naked. They could understand, "It is impossible."

    At first, Draupadi had tried to hold on to her sari. But what could she do? After all, she was a woman, and the Kurus were trying to strip her naked. So she cried and prayed to Krsna, "Save my honor," but she also tried to save herself by holding on to her sari. Then she thought, "It is impossible to save my honor in this way," and she let go and simply raised her arms and prayed, "Krsna, if You like You can save me." Thus the Lord responded to her prayers.

    Therefore, it is not very good to try to save oneself. Rather, one should simply depend on Krsna: "Krsna, if You save me, that is all right. Otherwise, kill me. You may do as You like."

    Teachings of Queen Kunti, Chapter 7

In his various instructions to the devotees, Srila Prabhupada encouraged the Vaisnavis to wear simple, practical saris. While he always preached common sense "high thinking and simple living", he wanted the women to set a very high standard and example of our Vaisnava culture. In one letter, he recommended the purchase of Varanasi saris for the women, and these saris are certainly known for their very excellent quality.

Srila Prabhupada also used saris, along with jewelry and other ornamentation, as an example of how sense gratification must be controlled:

    "Just like everyone is earning money simply for sense gratification. And there are so many advertisement for sense gratification. If you go to the city, you will find all the shops, cinema, hotel and wine shop and this shop or that shop. What are these, big, big, nice sari, displayed, demonstrated? Everything is for sense gratification. So this is not meant for... You require money. People are hankering after money. "How I shall get money to purchase this nice sari for my wife or for my beloved, for my...?" Then "How I shall purchase wine? How I shall purchase this car, this?" Everything is that. Everything is meant for kama, for sense gratification."

    Srila Prabhupada lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam, 04-23-74, Hyderbad

In a recent India travelogue, we read one husband's description of his wife's uncontrolled desire for sense gratification. He wrote:

    "Why is it that even the educated and professional of women go berserk and weak-kneed at the sight of them sarees and jewelry? Women and sarees are inseparable, and my wife, who prefers to wear T-shirt and Slacks to work in oppressive heat of Delhi, is no exception. She has hundreds of sarees, which keep occupying space in the wardrobe, suitcases and beds. She wears them in winter, when the weather is more amenable. Earlier, it used to be our combined wardrobe, but now? Her expansionist tendencies have kicked my clothes out of the bedroom wardrobe. Is it indication of things to come for me? I dread to think.

    So, as usual, I asked the most stupid question in the world ‘You’ll like to buy some sarees?' and I got the look I generally deserve for that question. ‘For our daughter’s trousseau, for her future sis and mom-in-law, for my friends- who else- let me think?’ said she. I mean for everyone but herself. How smart! But, I know her too well. Once the sarees reaches her wardrobe, she starts making them excuses - ‘Achha? Why should I give my sarees to her? Itni badhiya saree, why should I give to anyone, something that I bought after so much of efforts and money? Am I crazy? You are crazy! What has she ever given to me?’ And so on."

As with all material things, we have a tendency to wish for an opulence of goods, and these desires get in the way of our devotional mood. Who can help but be very attracted to saris -- they are such exquisitely beautiful garments, even in their simplest form.

One can exercise restraint by periodically engaging in this simple practice: identify a Vaisnavi who exhibits a great desire to spread Krsna Consciousness, but is of limited means. Dip into your sari collection, and give her one of your very favorite saris. Repeat this practice until your husband again has room in the closet for his own things. Start today.



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