The gara, the most beauteous of Parsi saris had a snaky future in modern times till Naju Daver till Naju Daver decided to revive it in 1988 and since then the gara has reached
Dizzying heights on the fashion charts making it one of the most coveted items in a woman’s wardrobe. But there is as colorful a history behind the gara as it is gorgeous to behold.
“For the last 50 years no garas have been produced in China from where this beautiful work originated and Parsis who owned a few family heirlooms have either sold them or cut them up due to disintegration,” explains Daver.
Introduced in India by Parsi traders who journeyed to distant China in the 19th century the gara was normally a labour of love created by the Chinese. Daver’s love for the revival of the gara was kindled when she tried to salvage a sari for a friend. A good craftswoman herself, Daver seriously considered devoting her efforts to resuscitate the dying art.
The originally Chinese garas were considered quite bulky to wear as a sari since they had
Embroidered borders on all four sides. Several years after the introduction of the gara in India craftsmen in Surat made similar ones. “But the surti gara is characteristic of it net and French knots which the Chinese one did not have,” informs Daver. The original gars were on china silk in a violet, wine, navy blue colour background with white or off white silk or twisted cotton thread. Today Naju works on synthetic silk, “ which is washable and easier to maintain. The earlier garas were made of materials called gaaj, paaj, and gaji, but last their popularity since they were difficult to care for “
Decades ago a gara was a must in a bride’s trousseau. Today’s gara may cost a considerable sum of money because craftsmen are demanding higher wages and a single sari may take anything’s from two to six month to embroider. “ The embroidery is so specialized and intricate that every few days the craftsmen have to be given simpler sari to break the monotony of the hard work and then return to the complicated gara motifs”
All the embroidery is done by hand but has a superb machine like finish on the right as well as the wrong side. There are several designs in a gara. Quaint names like Kanda and papeta literally mean onions and potatoes that resemble large pink and yellow polka dots where the pink denotes onions and yellow the potatoes. Then there is the karolia – spider design which is actually a flower, the chakla / chakli motif design (male / female sparrow) and lastly the more (peacock) design. There are still some Parsis who are superstitious and will never wear the peacock design.
A gara could not either be fully embroidered or have a border and embroidered sprinkled all over or just partially embroidered. The popular stitches are the crewel, stem, and long and shots stitch and the French knot. Most designs comprise stories and scenes of Chinese origins pagodas, boatmen, shrines, and rivers figures. No geometric design is ever used. The price of the gara is determined by the intricacy and extent of the embroidery. The colour palette is always pastel with as many as 30 different shades in a single design.
Daver is experimenting with other forms of garments with gara like embroidery too. At her exhibition at Tejpal Art Gallery, Gowalia Tank today and tomorrow she will display her collection of garas besides other embroidered saris.
Daver creates new designs from ancient pieces of embroidery of which she has vast collection. But what really irks her is the blatant piracy that takes place of her work. When competitors copy and sell them cheap and give the art a bad reputation. “ What has taken me months to create is made in days in a slipshod manner and other passed off as my creations.” She adds indignantly.
A gara is basically a Parsi traditional dress but with Naju’s help it has moved into wardrobes all over India even abroad.
By Meher Castelino.