Gara Saris



Gara embroidery saris, originally considered Parsi family heirlooms, became rare collector's items because of their intricate work and exorbitant prices. But today, this ancient Chinese art form has been revived to make exquisite saris, which have become prized possessions of women all over India.

The History Behind Gara

Gara's history is as colorful as the garment itself. The gara was probably introduced in India by Parsi traders in the 19th century who used to travel to China to trade. The Parsis considered it as a prized possession and wore it for the weddings and Navjote (a ceremony for young Parsi boys and girls in the Zoroastrian faith). Today it is considered a rare fashion item worth possessing.

The original Chinese garas were considered quite bulky to wear as saris since they had embroidered borders on all four sides. The most favored color was purple or violet. Several years after the introduction of the gara in India, craftsmen in Surat in Gujrat managed to duplicate the embroidery. But the Surat gara is identified by its net and French knots which the Chinese ones did not have.

Besides violet, the colors popular were wine red, navy blue, white or off white with white embroidery in twisted cotton thread. At times, gold threads were also used.

The Making Of Gara

The making of a gara starts with drawing of a design of paper. After that, a small sample in the actual colors is prepared. This is then given to craftsmen to study. The design is then traced onto the sari. A single design is repeated several times on a sari but is adjusted perfectly to blend into each other. Each sari is put on a loom at which 4-6 artisans work.

Making a hand embroidered gara takes 2 to 8 months on an average, depending on the complexity and density of the design. The workmanship is most vital as the embroidery is so closely done, that the background color surfaces as an outline.

Since the embroidery is specialized and intricate, after every few days the craftsmen are given a simpler sari to work on. This breaks the monotony of the hard work and the craftsmen return refreshed to the complicated motifs

Motif Specialists

A craftsman specializes in a particular motif like flower, tree, house, etc. so that there is uniformity in the workmanship. It is believed that if a Chinese craftsman embroidered birds, he would do so all his life. This concept is carried on in India also.

Although the motifs are hand embroidered, the finish is superb on both sides of the garment. Each gara has its own story in the form of pictures embroidered across the length of the sari. The popular motifs are trees, flowers, leaves, birds, figures, houses, bridges, each coming alive with the help of vivid colours and stitches. There are even distinct scenes of Chinese life -- pagodas, shrines, riverbanks, soldiers and cranes. More intricate the design, more expensive the gara becomes.

A gara could either be fully embroidered or have a border with embroidery sprinkled all over or just partially embroidered. The popular stitches are the crewel, stem and long and short stitch and the French knot. The popular choice of thread is off-white. Pastels are also favored. As many as 20-30 different shades of a color are used in one design, with perfect blending to give it the effect of a painting. The texture of the thread could be either cotton or silk although the latter is more effective. In most cases, the border of a gara is the cynosure of all eyes. It expands into the pallav of the sari which is draped in front when worn in the Parsi style.

Garas With Quaint Names

There also are several types of garas with quaint names like kanda and papeta gaga which literally means onions and potatoes that resembled large pink and yellow polka dots, where the pink denotes onions and yellow the potatoes. The karolia or spider design is actually a flower. The chakla\chakli motif (male/female sparrow) and the more (peacock) are some of the other variations.

The use of silk threads and synthetic fast colors has made the maintenance of today's garas somewhat easy. Garas can now be hand washed at home in normal detergent and ironed unlike the originals.

The modifications brought in the design and manufacturing of this ancient Chinese art form has not only prevented it from becoming extinct but also made it affordable for more women to buy.