Parsi girls become women the day they wear a sari. The sari perawanu or sari-wearing ceremony is a rite of passage. At the centre of the celebration are five married women who help the girl wear a gara or sari for the first time. They tie a small knot of rice, a symbol of fertility, into the corner of the pallu before sprinkling it with rose water. If tradition is identity, then what you wear is one of its clearest markers.
“The most distinctive item of Parsi women’s clothing from the third quarter of the nineteenth century was undoubtedly the gara,” write Shilpa Shah and Tulsi Vatsal in the introductory chapter of the book Peonies & Pagodas: Embroidered Parsi Textiles from the Tapi Collection(2010). The book traces the origins of the gara — imported from China into India by Parsis between 1830 and 1865 — and its reinvention in modern times. The history comes to life with oral accounts of how different Parsi families came to acquire garas. So for example, novelist Bapsi Sidhwa inherited three garas from her mother which she passed on to two of her daughters. “One of them is most unusual — it has coloured birds and flowers all over the purple sari and looks stunning,” she told the authors.
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