Sari tales from Benaras

Deccan Chronicle.  | namita gupta

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This Odissi dancer was in Bengaluru on Saturday to promote the rich tradition behind the Benarasi weaves.

Oopali Operajita

She’s in awe of the six yard wonder that will never go out of style. Inspired by her mother's collection of sarees, Oopali Operajita, an Odissi dancer and a Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon is taking her passion and research on Benarasi sarees a notch higher with Hiranyavarna — the science and the art of the Benarasi saree.

“My mother has a fabulous collection of sarees; but the colours, motifs and zari work of the Benarasis caught my eye at a family wedding, and created a lasting impression. My grandfather, late Rai Bahadur Durga Charan Das, of the IAS, used to order Benarasis by the dozen and my mother was his favourite. I’m doing my bit to support weavers in Varanasi. I’ve also been a frequent visitor to Bengaluru and its nice to see that the Registry of Sarees is making people aware on the Indian textiles,” shares Oopali.

So fabled was Operajita’s mother's collection that Pupul Jayakar (cultural activist) requested sarees from her mother’s collection for display at The Smithsonian in Washington DC, for the Festival of India in the 1980s.

“Pupul Jayakar, cultural czarina, personally requested mummy to lend their rare sarees for display in the USA. She’s been going to the weavers from the 1950s and I’ve been accompanying her on these trips. I’m inspired by a deep commitment to excellence, to the weavers and preserving the history of the handloom saree. I’ve been called Benaras ki Beti since 1978, because of the time I’ve spent there. I performed Odissi for Jiddu Krishnamurti in Varanasi and fell in love with the city.”

Recalling an interesting incident, the first classical Indian artist to perform in the Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh, adds, “Once at a banquet for President Clinton, there were many women, but no one was in a saree. At the end of the evening, Bill Clinton walked up to me, and said “Your saree is spectacular. And it has let you steal the limelight this evening.” I was wearing a Benarasi, of course!”