Sari an immodest garment?
When I read that the sari might well be banned in Nigeria I can’t say I was surprised. I mean, we in India associate the saree with supreme modesty as it is a traditional mode of dress but all too often fail to realise that others may not see it as such. This is what the news article said:
Indian women in traditional saris with their midriffs showing may find themselves on the wrong side of the Nigerian law if a bill that currently under discussion is passed. Tourists in towelling wraps and Nigerian women in traditional dress with their stomachs exposed could also find themselves behind bars for three months or subjected to fines of $100…
A sari reveals the navel as it can be worn below it, and often the fabric covering it is transparent. And while walking or during any kind of physical work or if one looks at a woman sideways, even this flimsy covering does not hide the midriff from view. But in our hypocritical society, a girl wearing a short top showing a strip of skin would be considered more immodest than someone (revealing more) in a saree.
The sari may or may not be immodest, but it was never designed with the purpose of hiding the body, like the burqa/burkha was. Not that we Indians held the ridiculous ideas about modesty that we hold today…less than a century ago showing the navel wasn’t considered immodest at all. So am I saying that in India too we have started to think that showing the navel is immodest? More on that a little later.
Actually any sari, if worn as it was intended to, is worn with a short thin blouse, the bare midriff highlighting a woman’s waist. A full figure and a slim waist is an embodiment of beauty in the Indian woman. Besides, the thin material of the sari and the short blouse are suitable for wearing in hot weather, the pallav handy for covering the head from the blazing sun (not from men’s eyes). In fact it is believed that originally sarees were never worn with blouses (perhaps breast bands?) at all and in fact it is doubted whether petticoats existed. Some say British Rule made us cover up, some say the process started earlier, with Mughal rule. But we do know that the saree was not meant to cover up a woman’s body.
Sure, rules of modesty have changed, and I am certainly not advocating that we wear saris without petticoats and blouses but I cannot stand the ultra conservatism that is strangling the freedom of dress in Indian society today. It’s not just Nigerians, even our own people are trying to change the way the sari is worn. Wearing the sari too low is frowned upon and generally “decent” women are supposed to use the various folds of the saree to cover themselves as much as possible. So deeply ingrained have these alien and unnatural ideas become that middle-class women actually clutch the saree to their bodies! It’s just sad.
It’s not surprising then that the Maharashtrian (navvari or nauwari) sari has fallen out of favour…it is far too revealing for the moral police I guess. Today it’s hardly seen in the cities, it’s becoming alien to our own people! This type of saree is regularly made fun of in films, portrayed as some sort of “sexy” garment, meant to titillate! In reality the Navvari embodies freedom for women. In a way it is similar to the dhoti as it allows leg movement and the ankles are left free. But today the so-called moral police who call themselves Maharashtrians have succumbed to the point of view that the navvari will only be considered decent if distorted to hide every inch of a woman’s body. Why Navvari. The sari itself has metamorphosed into something it was never meant to be.
If all those things which make a sari more comfortable and natural are considered “immodest” what’s the use of the sari anyway? No wonder the younger generation is giving up on the sari, except when it makes a fashion statement.
It’s time we understood that showing the midriff or even the ankles is not immodest. And certainly nothing was ever wrong or immoral in showing the navel. According to Indian tradition, the belly-button or navel is a sacred part of the body. It says here (references of scholarly works are given):
The sari, being an unstitched drape, enhances the shape of the wearer while only partially covering the midriff. In Indian philosophy, the navel of the Supreme Being is considered as the source of life and creativity.
But who cares about Indian tradition! Certainly not the moral police who have become so obsessed with covering up their own immorality that they have want to impose alien values upon us. They will continue to shout about Indian tradition from the roof-tops when actually they know (and care) less about Indian culture than either you or me.
(Photos are all copywrited to me).
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