Twenty-eight years ago, I was a newly betrothed young lady, soon to join a bustling and close-knit family. That pre-wedding phase was heady and exciting. In a short span of months, my transition from a girl to a young lady was happening quickly.
One day, I found myself on a trip with my mother-in-law-to-be and her two older co-sisters. We were navigating the narrow streets of proper Bombay and soon found ourselves at a non-descript saree shop called Jamnadas Khatri & Sons.
We climbed narrow rickety stairs to an upstairs shop. This shop was filled with treasures of artistry. Bandhani (tie-dye) sarees in all hues of all colors, with varying degrees of jhari (gold embroidery), were neatly folded and stacked on the shelves.
We sat cross-legged on cotton futons to examine the beauties that would be displayed before us. The salesman opened each exquisite saree carefully placing it before us. He would unfold it just enough to reveal the overall pattern, the border, and the pallu (the end of the saree that is placed on the shoulder) of each piece.
It wasn’t just any saree that we were looking for. It was a gharcholu. This one saree would be my sakhi (friend) on the most important days of my life.
I would wear it for the mandava muhurat of close family weddings. Clad in this regal attire, I would join other family members to bless the altar where another couple would take their saptapadi vows (the 7 vows of a Hindu marriage). Later, I would stand among the other daughters-in-law, each clad in a gharcholu of her own. Our similar attire somehow strengthened the sisterhood between us.
I would wear it for the annual chopda pujan when we would bless the accounting ledgers of the new financial year for the family business. In those days of Diwali festivities, the women of the family were treated as incarnations of Goddess Lakshmi herself. My eyes would well with tears of joy as the elders of the family greeted me (and their other daughters-in-law) with the deepest respect and reverence. I remember praying hard to invoke the goddess in me so that I may bless the business so lovingly built by the elders of the family – my father-in-law and his brothers.
I would wear it for the bhoomi pujan (ground-breaking ceremony) for a new building of work or residence. I would wear it for the Kumbh (first entrance into a new home or office).
That starry-eyed, twenty-one-year-old me had no idea that this saree was a treasure beyond measure. It was a treasure that would grow in value after each special occasion that I would wear it to.
That day, at Jamnadas Khatri & Sons, I picked a deep red gharcholu with elephant patterned bandhani work. I picked that pattern as an homage to my favorite deity, Lord Ganesha. In my 21-year life, prayers to this beloved deity had given me the strength to get out of several tricky situations. Today, twenty-eight years later, Lord Ganesha continues to grace my car, my home, and my place of work, clearing from my path all vidhna (obstacles).
To adorn the edges, I picked a gorgeous green border to contrast with the red saree. The border repeated the elephant pattern and depicted parrots too.
For the heavy responsibility this saree carries, it is surprisingly light in weight. The fabric is breathable and light, and oh so easy to drape. The magic of its beauty is the handiwork of the artists who painstakingly created the tie-dye pattern and wove the golden jari.
I wore my gharcholu again the other day. Memories and blessings of the sage-souled women who helped me pick this beauty filled my heart with a golden glow.