Ahmedabad: Pearl Sabavala, Gujarat zonal head of HDFC Bank, wears a special sari when she attends prominent events or award ceremonies. This sari is over a century old Gara – intricately hand-embroidered silk sari – which she considers a prized possession. “The sari belonged to my maternal grandmother, who passed it on to my mother and who in turn gave it to me. It will be passed on to the next generation as a priceless heirloom. Whenever I wear the sari, I feel connected to my grandmother,” she says.
Gara is a living heritage for the Parsi community with a history of over 200 years. According to ParZor, UNESCO-initiated Parsi Zoroastrian Project, the fabric connects Parsis from Iran to China. The researchers who traversed the ancient Silk Route document that the embroidery found in sari, kor (border of sari) and jhabla (children’s cloth) has inculcated motifs such as the Rooster and Taoist symbols from China on one hand and Sassanian Circlet of Pearls from ancient Persia.
The documentation also mentions that Parsis who went to Deccan also acquired Zardozi skills and with European influence introduced European stitches, designs and new colours – creating a unique vocabulary with crisscross of cultural influences.
Villoo Mirza, former NIFT director, who is involved in research and documentation of Parsi textile and embroidery for ParZor, said that the Parsi traders involved in overseas trade and hawkers from China introduced the embroidered fabric to the community. “Sari has a lot of significance as it represents the culture of the adopted land – Gujarat – for the Zoroastrians.,” she says.
Mirza and her team had put up a unique exhibition of centuries-old Gara from Parsi families of Ahmedabad at Nowrojee Hall in Shahibaug on December 29 to mark The Parsi Fest as part of celebration of Ahmedabad’s World Heritage Site status by AMC.
She adds that it is an art form in need of conservation. “Today, a majority of Gara saris have embroidery made by machines. While hand-embroidered saris are still made, only a few can afford it as it takes over 500 days to prepare one piece. It is nowadays done by Mochi embroidery artisans,” says Mirza.
But the women have also devised ingenious ways to preserve the timeless trousseau. Meher Medora, managing trustee of city-based Ushta-Te Foundation, said that while she has two Gara which came from her past generation, she also has ‘refurbished’ Gara saris.
“When the fabric gets very old, it tends to get torn apart. However, the embroidery is intact. In such cases, the entire embroidery is transferred on a new sari to prolong its life,” she says. Khushnum Avari, director, Panache Academy, says that every Parsi girl grows up seeing the exquisite Gara saris worn at special occasions and dream of possessing the hand-woven, hand-embroidered ware. “It’s a dying art and efforts are made by the community to sustain it,” she says.