“For we women are not only the deities of the household fire, but the flame of the soul itself.” ― Rabindranath Tagore, The Home and the World
What Shakespeare is to English Literature, Rabindranath Tagore is to Bengali literature and shall I dare say, that he is a bit more? A comparison is beyond the remit of this blogpost, but it will suffice to say that Tagore’s talent and contribution to the world of literature as playwright, poet, singer, lyricist, actor, activist makes him the most celebrated shining star in the domain of Bengali literature and world literature in general. One of the unique aspects of his work was his special portrayal of independent minded women through his characters. While being a student of English Literature myself back in year 2000, I was deeply influenced by Tagore’s women like Bimala from the Home and the world or Binodini from Chokher Bali.
Pohela Boishakh is the most popular festival in the Bengali calendar marking the beginning of the New Year so I chose this momentous event to assume the traditional Bengali avatar, being inspired by the female characters in the works of Tagore. Dressing like Tagore’s female protagonists does not come cheap as some of these women belonged to Jamidar (Bengali for royality) family. I have designed this Dhakai Jamdani myself and what better occasion than Pohela Boishakh to don this which suits the mood and theme of the biggest festival for Bengalis- from both sides of the border (India and Bangladesh), regardless of religion.
Women have been portrayed in various lights in Tagore’s work. Being a keen observer of the social norms and rituals, Tagore knew very well where women were at the time of producing his work but at the same time, he made direct inference to the dormant strength inherent in his leading ladies with a clear aspiration of where he would have wanted to see them advance in future. These women were introduced in his literature in the mundane and expected settings of the social sphere but interestingly all of them were presented as outspoken with a certain flare inherent in them. The women were complex in nature and vulnerable to being misunderstood. Amidst global and region political struggles, these women had to withstand the struggle against their own patriarchal families and societies to claim their own right and cement their positions in the family and society. As a mother, wife, sister, worker, leader, fighter- a woman had multiple roles to play concurrently – very much like the multi-limbed Mother Goddess of Durga. Being an avid follower of the female characters of Tagore, I have been deeply influenced by their personae and not surprisingly my this particular style quotient is obviously inclined towards the reflection of the aspects of Tagore’s women.
So for stepping into the avatar as one of Tagore’s women, my preferred attire was a Jamdani saree since I love the royal fabric of which a ”pure” Jamdani is made of. The intricate work and this traditional Bengali color combination i.e. red & white, is not only perfect for a classic look but it is also very easy to wear for long hours as the finished garment is highly breathable which is an important factor to look at for the sultry April days in Bengal. Those of you who are not familiar with the rich heritage of a Jamdani saree, it is a vividly patterned, sheer cotton fabric, traditionally woven on a handloom by craftsmen and their family members around Dhaka. Jamdani is a time-consuming and labour-intensive form of weaving because of the richness of its motifs, which are created directly on the loom using the discontinuous weft technique. Weaving is thriving today due to the fabric’s popularity for making sarees. Although Jamdani sarees are a symbol of identity, elegance and sophistication and provides wearers with a sense of cultural identity and social cohesion but I was never drawn to its beauty much. But as I love experimenting with my individual style, I wished to try one in its most traditional style- red & white combination. After a little hunt here and there, I thought to take the responsibility on my own shoulder to create one by myself with effortless pattern and lightweight motif, intricate Kundan and beaded pearl work on border with just the right amount of ethnicity.
The perks of designing my own attire was that I could bring a twist to a traditional saree style not known widely. I truly felt like a character from one of Tagore’s dramas in which you see women wearing blouses designed in a non-conventional way- the Jamindari style. With its balloon sleeves and border sewn on the hemline of the neck and back, the blouse stood out like a shining armour.
I’ve added my share of gold & glitter and tradition with the beautiful ensemble from Amrapali Jewels. I can’t but think about any other brand than Amrapali to do complete justice to the ethnic galore this look has to offer. I decided not to take away from this beautiful neck piece and so went with a traditional Bengali style Jhumki instead of matching earrings to complete my look.
I’ve pushed the tempo and teamed up this traditional red & white bangles (traditionally worn by married Bengali Hindu women) with bangles and hand cuffs from Amrapali Jewels. I absolutely LOVE how the entire collection of jewelleries worn here complementing each other! J’adore these jewel-tones!
With my hair in a Chignon, I finished out this look with a classic Bollywood style eye makeup, nude lips, Alta (A bright red dye or liquid color used to adorn palms and feet in simple patterns by Bengali women during marriages and religious festivals) on my fingers and palms, vermilion marks on my forehead and a big red bindi between my brows (a custom traditionally practised by married Bengali Hindu women).
While we usher into the new Bengali year 1423, this tribute of mine is to the fiery women of Tagore’s creations who with the strength and integrity of their character, intention and action – created new chapters for women. Even if real change took longer than Tagore would have expected, the change in the perception in the mind is the first one to address. I hope the journey through the pictures above will make you imagine as if the characters of Tagore have come to life. Amidst the boundaries of tradition and gaudiness, oppression and discrimination – the women of Tagore have continued to make a place in my heart and mind, my fashion and passion. Hope you felt the same.
(P.S. We shot this look in the premises of Shri Sanatan Hindu Temple in Wembley as we thought the location would complement the theme of this outfit shoot and concept of this blogpost. The props and postures used are purely for the purpose of this shoot. We didn’t go there to perform Puja or any rituals.)
What Was I Wearing?
Jamdani Saree designed by myself
White & Red Bangles from Kolkata, India
Hair, makeup and styling by myself