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Madisar: 9 yards of nostalgia and nobility

by Sundari Silks 15 Apr 2021
Madisar: 9 yards of nostalgia and nobility

Reminiscent of a bygone era, the namesake draping style and weave of Madisar has ceremonial origins with a penchant for tradition and culture. Clothing and customs have always gone hand-in-hand since time immemorial and unfolding its narratives is an enchanting experience. The 9-yard saree of the Tamil Brahmin community fondly called the Madisar or Koshavam has its roots in the ancient Indian civilization and dates back to the 2nd century BC.

While it was a common sight to see women going about their daily routine in this nine-yard drape till about a few decades ago, its origin runs far beyond that. An early literary work (5th to 6th century CE) from Tamil Nadu called Silappatikaram describes a saree-like attire adorned by women in the Madisar fashion, while 11th-century inscriptions in the Chola capital of Gangaikonda Cholapuram refer to similar hand-weaving techniques. When the historical 'antariya' and 'uttariya' garments came together, it formed the Koshavam saree draping style. This unique style of draping where the bottom half was worn like trousers was preferred back in the day, as it offered them the comfort and freedom to move around and go about their work while maintaining feminine modesty. Taking a closer at the name Madisar, it is actually derived from 2 different words: 'Madi' which refers to the long pallu which is folded lengthwise and tucked at the back and 'Thaar' or 'Saar' which refers to the pleated portion that goes in between the legs.

Tied together by the threads of tradition and dipped in dyes of diversity, the Madisar has strong symbolic connotations and historical significance amongst the communities it was reserved for. As an all-inclusive garment, it can be worn without a blouse or underskirt unlike the 6-yard drape but is a rather difficult drape to master and hence rendering it to the status of festive and occasion wear only. It is a must on events such as weddings, seemantham (an auspicious ceremony for pregnant women), festival pujas and death ceremonies. Customarily, the first time a woman wears a nine-yard saree is during her wedding with the help of her future sister-in-law. The different sects within the Brahmin community can be distinguished by the draping style, where Iyengar women have the pallu over the left shoulder and Iyer women feature the pallu on the right shoulder.

There are two sides to this story, one being symbolic and the other that is believed to be scientific. The Madisar draping style is symbolic of the unity between male and female forces of the universe, as it looks like a combination of a saree and dhoti. Ardent believers of religious traditions find it to be much like the Ardhanarishvara, a combined form of Shiva and Parvati depicted in the form of half-male and half-female. Coming to the scientific aspect behind this drape, there are very strong reasons why it is worn during ceremonies and rituals. Most of these customs involved fasting, preparation of a vast feast and a lot of tedious labour work, as well as sitting for long durations. This drape was a practical choice as it supported ease of movement and comfort throughout. Another important part of these events is fasting till all the rituals are complete. Age-old traditions have it that the knot and tucks of the drape on the hip and backbones will help control feelings of hunger and thirst. Additionally, it also provides a supporting cushion and prevents backache.

Besides the length and draping style, the 9-yards Madisar can be distinguished by a whole host of customs. The use of traditional colour palettes and symbolic patterns, along with minimal zari work gives it a much revered auspicious aura. An integral part of many rituals and events in South India, explore our exclusive line of this traditional drape that is available in silk, cotton and even a blended variation.
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