Shopping for a Saree in South India

The day before my son’s Hindu wedding ceremony, his then fiancé’s aunt came up to me at the bridal luncheon and with a gentle and engaging voice said, “I am Uma. I will be your dresser tomorrow. May I come to your room at 2:00?”

Wow! Somebody was going to dress me? How nice.

Twenty-four hours later, Uma arrived and helped me put on my saree, a gift from the bride’s family. Soon after, I went outside and joined my son for the Barat. I was beaming; I felt like a princess. A saree will do that to a woman.

The Barat is the traditional Hindu and Sikh welcome procession of the groom’s family to the bride’s family, representative of a time when the groom’s village traveled to the bride’s for wedding festivities. In our case, the Barat took place in the streets of downtown Nashville. It wouldn’t have looked nearly as vibrant without the sparkle of the women’s sarees.

Shopping for a Saree

Last month, my husband and I traveled to India to tour the sites. Afterward, we flew to Hyderabad, the “City of Pearls” in Southern India, to see our daughter-in-law and her lovely extended family.

While there, we attended several celebrations. Parties sometimes mean opportunities for shopping. Although I didn’t think I needed anything when I arrived, after one-afternoon spent shopping for sarees, I was asking when we could go back to the shops! Part of the draw was all the colorful clothes made of fabrics that beckoned to be touched, but equally wonderful was simply being in the company of women who, along with giving me fashion advice, made me feel cherished. I don’t think I will ever forget this cheerful moment in Moksha Couture, a woman’s dress shop in Hyderabad.

What is a Saree?

A saree (or sari) is a traditional two-piece garment worn by women in India. It consists of one long decorative length of fabric in silk, cotton, or chiffon, and a coordinating blouse.

I laid my six-yard-long saree on the floor so you could see that one end of it is more decorative than the other. The decorative end is called the pallu and is the portion of the saree that will be draped over a woman’s shoulder where the design can be seen. The less decorated end is the part that wraps around a woman’s waist and covers her legs.

Notice the sensational pallus on the mannequins at Mandira chic saree shop in Hyderabad. What was once six flat yards of fabric has been transformed into a striking outfit when wrapped around the female shape. That is the beauty of the saree –it is versatile enough to suit any occasion and flaunt any figure.

Buying a Saree in South India

How a saree is draped varies geographically in India. In North India, for example, the pallu may be draped so you see more of it from the back side of a woman. In South India, the pallu is draped more commonly in the front, as seen in this post.

The first store we visited was Mandir. Their saree collection is pure eye candy. They have a saree for every occasion.

To a novice, a saree is a saree, but I quickly learned there are everyday sarees, party sarees, and wedding sarees. To my untrained eye, it seemed the party sarees had more silver or gold threads woven into them compared to the “everyday” sarees people wore in the home.

A wedding saree is full of sparkly gorgeousness.

Designing the Blouse

Woven into the pallu end of a saree is an extra yard of coordinating fabric that is left there to make the matching blouse. Note the solid red fabric the employee is holding.

The blouse is made by a dressmaker, so our next stop after purchasing our sarees was to go to Studio AJ.

Avani is the talented owner and designer at Studio AJ. She meets with her clients and discusses blouse design and how they would like the cut-off end of the pallu to be finished.

The cut edge needs to be finished to keep it from fraying. The threads are typically tied into knots, but can also be embellished with beads.

 

Additionally, a “fall” is often sewn onto the hem. A fall is a stiff strip of cotton fabric sewn onto a 2½-yard portion of the saree’s hem, on the wrong side, to give the pleats a better-looking drape.

The Blouse. Our blouses buttoned in the front. The back side of the blouse is low-cut which looks very elegant. There are also ties on the back with pretty tassels that dangle as the woman walks. At Studio AJ the tassels are fabricated in the shop and can be quite decorative.

Blouses can be finished simply or elaborately as shown in the photo below where a seamstress is sewing on a golden decorative applique around the neckline.

Here is a photo two finished blouses. Notice the pretty tassels. They are made by covering styrofoam balls with matching fabric from the blouse.

When making blouses for weddings, the finishing requires a lot more handwork. In the photo below, the blouse fabric is stretched onto a frame to keep it taut while a finisher embellishes it with beads.

This blouse is being finished with pearls and beads in the Moghul style.

How to Put on a Saree

Step one is to put on a long petticoat that has a drawstring. The drawstring needs to be tied tightly as it is what holds up the “skirt” portion of the saree when it is wrapped around the waist. Sarees are usually 4 to 5 feet wide. The length of the “skirt” is adjusted by tucking the excess fabric into the petticoat’s waistband.

Here is a video of how a saree is wrapped and draped by a dresser at Mandir. The dresser arranged the center front pleats and pinched them together with a bulldog clip before she started dressing my beautiful daughter-in-law.

With each saree you try on in a store, the dresser puts it on for you. They usually take the extra fabric I mentioned (that is there for the blouse) and tuck it over your bare shoulder so you can see what the outfit will look like once the blouse is made.

Once you choose a saree and have the blouse, all that is left to figure out is what “ornaments” (aka, jewelry) you will wear with your saree. I am thankful to family members, Sadhana and Satish, for making sure I was well ornamented.

On the last night of our trip, we attended a party where the women all wore sarees. Even my husband got in on the shopping fun and wore the shirt he had made at The Gandhi Cottage Textile Factory while we were touring in Jaipur. Pictured with us are two of the many family members we came to know and love on our trip. If you are a follower of the blog, you may recognize Satish as the person who gave us a tour of his farm earlier in the day. As they say in America, “He sure cleans up well!”

This was the last photo we took in India before heading back home to America.

Related Posts:
Cooking 35,000 Meals a Day in a Sikh Kitchen in Delhi (India, Part 1)
Learning How to Block Print in a Factory in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
A Stepwell, Parcheesi, Brick-Making, and Chapati-Making (India, Part 3)
Room with a View: the Taj Mahal in Agra (India, Part 4)
A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)

If you enjoyed this post, please become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)

After our tour of the Golden Triangle, arranged by a travel agent, we had the opportunity to see a more personal side of India when we flew south to Hyderabad to visit my daughter-in-law’s family.

Early one morning, my DIL’s uncle, Satish, drove us to his farm in Shamshabad about thirty miles south of Hyderabad. Joining us was my son’s mother-in-law, Viji, and my husband. Satish gave us a tour that ended with a hearty farm-to-table breakfast.

Just before we reached the farm, we had to slow down and let the goats go by.

We visited the farm in mid-February. As a point of reference of the difference in growing seasons, Hyderabad’s plant hardiness zone is 12. Nashville’s is 7a, and Southern California is 10. In the fields, the kale and radishes were ready for harvest, and the tomato plants were bushy and budding.

Some of the more unusual crops I saw growing were quinoa, mango, tamarind, drumstick, and papaya.

A Field of Quinoa

I had never seen quinoa growing before our visit.

Most of the quinoa had already been harvested, but a few scattered plants remained in the fields.

Once harvested, the stalks were laid out to dry.

In the video below, the farmer is threshing the dried quinoa plants. Threshing is the process of separating the seed husk from its stalk.

Winnowing comes later and is the process of removing the husks from the seeds.

A Mango Grove

A magnificent flowering mango tree provides a canopy over a large courtyard.

A close-up of one of the branches reveals small green fruits that have set.

Satish planted a field of mango trees bordered by banana plants. Notice the shallow wells dug around each tree and the irrigation hoses that run across them. The water comes from a new reservoir located in the background of this photo.

In India, there are four seasons: winter (December to February), summer (March to May), the rainy or monsoon season (June to September), and a post-monsoon season (October and November). The reservoirs fill with water when the monsoon rains come. Read about the beautiful stepwells, built centuries ago to collect the rainwater, here.

A Tamarind Tree

If you are a devotee of chef Yotam Ottolenghi, then you may be familiar with an ingredient he likes to use called tamarind. Tamarind puts the zing in Worcestershire Sauce. Its natural acidity also makes it a great meat tenderizer. In Indian folklore, when a woman starts craving tamarind, she is probably pregnant.

The edible pods are in the legume family.

To prep, peel back the smooth skin of the pod. There is a thin layer of sticky pulp around each seed. When you suck on a seed you get an instantaneous explosion of lemony, sweet, tangy, and slightly salty flavors, much like a Sour Patch Kids candy.

In Indian cooking, tamarind is used for chutneys, sauces, desserts and a lentil-based vegetable stew known as sambar often served over basmati rice.

A “Drumstick” Tree (Moringa oleifera)

I had never heard of the drumstick tree before our visit. The long and tender fruit pods are used in soups and curries and have medicinal uses, as well. Some call it a superfood.

The tender leaves of the tree are high in iron and are used in salads, soups and vegetable curries.

Here are peeled and chopped drumsticks prepped for cooking.

This is a photo of Sambar Stew. The recipe calls for both drumsticks and tamarind. I’m going to try and make this. In Nashville, one can buy all the ingredients at Patel Brothers, an Indian grocery store.

Papaya Trees

The fruit is ripe when it turns yellow on the tree. It was so fresh and tasty, I ate a bowlful!

 

A Field of Onions (The Quinoa Fields Are in the Background)

Daikon Radishes

We saw daikon radishes being sold on carts all over India.

In the U.S. I have seen fields of long, white daikon radishes grown for the sole purpose of breaking up soil. I’ve seen it used in this way on Mennonite farms in Kentucky and in a wine vineyard in Rhode Island. This Spring, I planted daikon seeds in a few of my raised beds to test how well it breaks up the soil. If they do well, I’ll plant them as a cover crop in the Fall.

Satish grows daikon to eat as a vegetable. While visiting the langar hall in a Sikh temple in Dehli we saw volunteers prepping the daikon radishes for lunch.

Farm Life

Free-Ranging Chickens
The chickens on this farm are definitely free-range!

A Good Story about Swimming Lessons
This irrigation well was dug out about sixty years ago by Satish’s family. It is approximately 30 feet across and 30 feet down.

Satish said he was taught to swim here as a child by having a bundle of branches tied to his back. He explained that as the branches became waterlogged, they became less buoyant and he learned to kick to stay afloat. As a swimmer became more confident, one branch at a time was removed until the swimmer could swim on his own.

The Field Hands
Four generations of families work and live on Satish’s farm. These darling girls, who were playing with their “dollhouse” when we arrived, captured my attention and my heart.

Their dollhouse is full of precious finds.

Making Chapati/Roti Bread
The matriarch of the family showed us how to make roti (aka chapati), a round bread made with flour and water. No oils are used in the cooking process, although the bread is spread with melted ghee when served at the table.

The bread was referred to as both roti and chapati, interchangeably, all over India; I have yet to discover a difference in the two. Some are made with ground millet and some with ground wheat. Millet is more nutritionally dense than wheat and is preferred by the farmers who need the extra calories to work.

The first step is to get the fire going. The cook uses a small open oven and a stack of long branches for fuel. One end of the branches are in the oven. As the branches burn, the cook pushes the rest of the long branches into the flame. Brilliant!

Her cooking supplies include a covered tin of millet flour, a mixing bowl, a cylinder of water, and a tava, a metal concave cooking pan.

She adds the boiling water to the millet flour and kneads the dough. With millet, you don’t need to let the dough rest for twenty minutes as you do for wheat flour.

She flattens the dough on the stone by patting it with her hands.

I had to call Viji to ask what she and Satish were discussing in Telugu in the background of the video before posting it. She said they were discussing whether to kill a chicken for our breakfast!

A Delightful Breakfast!
Making chapati inside the farmhouse kitchen.

I’m getting one of these pans.

A container of heated ghee for the bread. Ghee is clarified butter. It has a longer shelf life than butter and a higher smoke point for cooking. The chapati is delicious with ghee on it!

As we drove home, we saw a farmer growing coriander (aka cilantro),

and a rice field.

The farm also contains a Function Hall for weddings and cradle ceremonies.

As we got closer to Hyderabad, we passed this landmark fish-shaped building, the regional office for the National Fisheries Development Board. For an interesting story by CNN about this building, look here.

 

It was a fantastic morning!

Next up: shopping for sarees.

Related Posts:
Cooking 35,000 Meals a Day in a Sikh Kitchen in Delhi (India, Part 1)
Learning How to Block Print in a Factory in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
A Stepwell, Parcheesi, Brick-Making, and Chapati-Making (India, Part 3)
Room with a View: the Taj Mahal in Agra (India, Part 4)
A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)
Shopping for a Saree in South India (India, Part 6)
If you enjoyed this post, please become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Room with a View: the Taj Mahal in Agra (India, Part 4)

Some of the memories of our trip to India will surely fade but not this one.

This view, seen through the red sandstone Great Gate of the Taj Mahal Complex, appeared surreal in the early morning haze enveloping Agra. It was the most stunningly beautiful sight I had ever seen. My husband and I crossed the threshold of the Gate, and suddenly we had an unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal — and the gardens that led to it. We were smitten — with the view and each other.

Thirty-five years together will get you a look like that now and then. Out of nowhere, I started humming the dramatic love theme from The Godfather. This wasn’t the first time I’d been moved to hum, but it was the first time I had to ask my husband what I was humming! I surely had to push deep into my brain synapses to come up with that song from 1972, but it did express the beauty, love, and drama I was feeling.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan for his third and favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died during the birth of their fourteenth child in 1631. Construction began in 1632, and the entire complex was completed in 1653. Following the Shah’s death in 1666, he was buried beside his wife.

As we moved closer, the view became more splendid and ethereal. Our guide pointed out the Qur’anic verses that the calligrapher had inscribed around the arch of the mausoleum by inlaying jasper, a type of quartz, into panels made of marble. An optical trick was employed by the calligrapher to make the letters look equal in size as they are read from the bottom up and from right to left. He subtly enlarged the letters as they got closer to the top of the arch.

I love how the architects found a way to ensure that perpetual floral arrangements lined the entranceway to the inner sanctum of the Shah’s wife’s final resting place. No photos were allowed inside, but the mosaics made with semi-precious stones (coral, onyx, carnelian, amethyst, and lapis lazuli) and low relief marble panels of stems of flowers continued throughout the interior of the building.

The Taj Mahal backs up to the Yamuna River.

The mausoleum is flanked by identical red sandstone buildings for architectural balance. One building is a mosque, and the other was described as a guesthouse. Four ornamental minarets surround the Taj Mahal.

 

A view of the Great Gate from the terrace of the Taj Mahal, a distance of 1000 feet. The gardens exemplified paradise.

A Map of the Taj Mahal Complex

We left the Taj Mahal and took a horse and buggy ride to the Agra Fort, the walled, imperial city of the Mughal Emperors. The Fort was built by Akbar, the first Mughal emperor, between 1565 and 1573.

Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, added the white marble Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience in 1635. It was used as a place to welcome kings and nobles and conduct important affairs of the state. The mosaics are similar to those found in the interior space of the Taj Mahal.

Shah Jahan was later sentenced to lifelong house arrest by his son and imprisoned in a room with a view of the Taj Mahal, as seen in the photo below. (Our guide was obsessed with taking pictures of us.) On the right of us is another view of the Diwan-i-Khas. I read that the structure is only covered in white marble. Underneath is red sandstone.

I was obsessed with the photo technique I learned the day before for taking photos of mosaic ceilings. I taught it to our guide!

As soon as we finished our tour of the Agra Fort, our driver, Ravi, bee-lined it back to Delhi so we could enjoy dinner at the home of a Nashville friend now living in Dehli, Reed, and her sweet husband, Arjun. We were served the most colorful and flavorful of meals, the perfect ending to an equally colorful and sensual tour of the Golden Triangle.

I asked Reed to name the foods served to us for this Kashmiri feast: “On your plate, you have lal tomater paneer, gobi (cauliflower) yakhni, dum aloo (potato), rice, two chutneys- walnut radish & mint. There’s raita up at the top, that boondi anar (pomegranate) raita, red kidney bean (rajma), and all the other tidbits are achaars (pickled fruits or vegetables), and there’s pickled onion.”

Reed and Arjun, both work with Wildlife SOS, an organization that rescues, rehabilitates and re-releases (where appropriate), injured and exploited animals from all over India. Once relieved of their labors, some of the rescued animals live out their lives with Wildlife SOS. Reed told me their organization has spent time educating elephant and camel ride operators throughout India on the most humane ways to treat and care for their animals. Donations are always welcome for the care of these animals.

It was a true joy to sit and visit with Reed and Arjun in their Dehli living room after so many nights of living in hotel rooms — a beautiful way to end this leg of our trip.

Next up is our tour of Hyderabad in Southern India where we shopped for saris, visited a family farm, and took a bus tour of the city. For now, I’ve got to get my spring vegetable garden planted!

Related Posts:
Cooking 35,000 Meals a Day in a Sikh Kitchen in Delhi (India, Part 1)
Learning How to Block Print in a Factory in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
A Stepwell, Parcheesi, Brick-Making, and Chapati-Making (India, Part 3)
A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)
Shopping for a Saree in South India (India, Part 6)

If you enjoyed this post, please become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

A Stepwell, Parcheesi, Brick-Making, and Chapati-Making (India, Part 3)

This driving leg of the Golden Triangle was my favorite.

The morning started with the well-documented tour of a block-printing factory early in the morning and ended with our 6:00 PM arrival at a hotel “with a view of the Taj Mahal.” Read along to hear about the amazing slices of life we saw on our journey: chapati-making, brick-making, cow dung chip-making, a photo-making tip, and more. A maker’s dream!

How to Print Fabric

Monument Stop: The Chand Bauri Stepwell in Abhaneri  (Our Favorite!)

This was the coolest monument we saw in India. The 3500 narrow steps that surround this perfectly symmetrical, geometrically splendid well (or baori) were built between 800 CE and 900 CE as a way to conserve and store monsoon rains for year-round use. In India, there are four seasons: winter (December to February), summer (March to May), the rainy or monsoon season (June to September), and a post-monsoon season (October to November). The well is 13 stories and 100 feet deep.

There were green parrots to be seen all over India. I was glad they made a quick appearance in this video.

The Harshat Mata Temple is adjacent to the stepwell. It was built between the 7th and 8th centuries to honor Harshat Mata, the Goddess of Joy and Happiness.

Temple ruins surround the building.

How to Transport  a Lot of Sari-Wearing Women to a Wedding in the Country

We saw women riding side-saddle on motorcycles throughout India.

The motorcycles had footrests located on the left side to accommodate women riding side-saddle. By the way, helmets are not required, nor are people in the backseat of cars required to wear seatbelts, and infants and children do not use car seats.

How to Dry and Store Cow Dung for Fuel on a Farm

Here is a field of cow chips drying in the sun. They are used by rural farmers as a source of fuel.

Ravi, who lives on a farm, told us they use dried cow dung to heat water and to cook grains to feed their buffaloes.

I said to Ravi, “You cook the buffaloes’ food?!”

Ravi, replied, “If you want buffalo to give you good milk and butter, you feed them good food.”

How to Make Chapati Outdoors in a Parking Lot 

We stopped to eat a delicious lunch complete with garlic naan, our favorite bread in India. We did not get the “Dehli-Belly” that travelers to India often talk about because Ravi chose restaurants that had a good reputation for cleanliness in the kitchen. Additionally, he kept the car stocked with bottled water.

After lunch, Ravi brought us behind the restaurant to introduce us to a woman who was making chapatis. Chapati is an unleavened flatbread made of either whole wheat flour and water, or ground millet and water. Ravi told us if you were going to do hard work on a farm for the day, you would eat millet chapati because of the complex carbohydrates and nutrients it provides. Otherwise, at mealtime, most eat whole wheat chapati. The woman below is making the grayish tinted millet chapati. She mixes the millet and water just before kneading and flattens the dough into a disk using her hands instead of a rolling pin.

When making whole wheat chapati, the dough needs to be prepared thirty minutes ahead of time and allowed to rest before rolling. Notice the color of the dough is lighter. The cook is pulling a ball of dough out from a mound of resting dough under the towel. This is just like what we saw in Dehli when we watched the Sikhs make chapati.

Here is a video of this lovely woman demonstrating how to roll and cook whole wheat chapati.

How to Make Bricks in a Field

We passed brick-firing chimney stacks frequently as we traveled the farm roads. When we saw laborers in the process of mixing clay and water to make bricks, we asked Ravi to pull over.

We marveled at how this woman consistently mixed uniformly-sized clumps of mud.

The brick-maker used this mold to form each brick.

He lined them up to dry.

Once dried, a team comes along to stack them for further drying. I’m not sure how long they dry before they are fired, but Ravi, who used to make bricks, told us they start the process early in the morning to give the sun time to dry them. He said, if it starts to rain while they are making them, the bricks turn to mud.

Here is a video of the brick-making process.

While I was taking pictures, this man walked over, said nothing, and posed for me.

Monument Stop: Fatehpur Sikri and the Parchisi Court

Fatehpur Sikri is a town outside of Agra. For fourteen years Fatehpuri Sikri served as the capital of the Mughal Empire. It was founded by Emperor Akbar in 1571.

The Parchisi Court

We learned from our guide that the extravagant Mughal Emperor Akbar built this Parchisi Court in 1572 to play a game that was somewhat similar to chess only the game pieces were women slaves (concubines) dressed in colorful outfits. The players moved according to dice tossed on the table. The American board game, Parcheesi, is an adaptation of this Indian game.

Here, our guide explains:

How to Shoot a Cool Photograph under a Beautiful Dome

While at Fatehpur Sikri, our guide introduced us to a fun way to photograph the interior of domes. Simply lay your phone on the ground, screen side facing up. Flip the camera lens as you would for a selfie, position yourself looking down at the camera, and either use the timer to snap the photo or your finger. We loved this photo technique and used it throughout our trip.
 

We had fun showing other tourists how to do it, as well.

A Room with a View: The Jewel of the Golden Triangle

We went to bed with visions of the Taj Mahal dancing in our heads.

What a fantastic day!

Related Posts:
Cooking 35,000 Meals a Day in a Sikh Kitchen in Delhi (India, Part 1)
Learning How to Block Print in a Factory in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
Room with a View: the Taj Mahal in Agra (India, Part 4)
A Cook’s Tour of a Farm in Southern India (India, Part 5)
Shopping for a Saree in South India (India, Part 6)

If you enjoyed this post, please become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.