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University of Connecticut University Libraries

Sari Katha:
Timeless Treasures
from the Indian Subcontinent

June 12 - August 11, 2000

Transcending the boundaries of modernity and tradition, saris continue to be the most popular contemporary apparel of Asian Indian women. The kaleidoscopic variety of designs, drapes, fabrics, and colors reveal a unique blending of disparate religious and cultural influences.

The sari encapsulates a long, often tumultuous history. While the exact origin of the sari is debatable, evidence of saris has been found in the Indus Valley civilization that flourished around 3000 BC. Despite British colonial attempts to destroy the Indian handloom and textile industry, Indian women's preference for saris, instead of European apparel, kept the industry alive. Homespun saris became a symbol of non-violent resistance against political and cultural imperialism. After independence, the government made a committed effort to support the revival of the handloom industry. Handloom saris, which often reflect regional traditions and aesthetics, are now among the most prized possessions of Indian women.

This exhibition features printed, painted, embroidered and woven saris--a minute portion of the dazzling variety of garments regularly worn in India. Printed saris are the workhorses of everyday life. Most of these cotton, cotton-and-synthetic blend, or silk saris are produced in large automated mills; some are hand-printed using vegetable dyes and traditional, regional designs. Painted saris often reflect both folk or "high" art traditions. Embroidered saris reflect a preponderance of natural motifs--flowers and birds are especially popular.

The most expensive woven saris are in silk. The designs may reflect regional cultures such as the "Kanjivarams" from the south or Muga silks from the east. The designs may encapsulate syncretic cultural influences. The best example is the quintessentially Hindu wedding sari--the Benarasi, which often shows a paisley motif. This motif, an innovation of a 17th century Muslim queen, blends Hindu folk and courtly Persian influences. Later, it was adopted by the British, who popularized it in different parts of the world. It remains extremely popular as a traditional Indian motif.

The saris in this exhibit have been loaned to the library by members of Sneha Inc., a support network for South Asian women in Connecticut.

Babbidge, Gallery on the Plaza
Curators: Norman Stevens and Dipa Roy