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Kasavu Saree : between the pleats

On the occassion of Onam, Dhindora asked four women to write to us about their memories and emotional strings attached to the kasavu saree


Surrounded by off-white and gold, I look up at Amma from my position on the floor as I fulfil my annual responsibility of helping her with the pleats of her kasavu sari. "Hold them tightly, I'm going to turn around so that the pleats stay", she says. 


When I think about the off-white and golden saree, the first image that comes to my mind is that of my mother, standing with her half-draped sari and scrambling for a safety-pin, while I attempt to make her pleats- a task that always ends with her turning around in a circle to ensure that the pleats stay. And from helping my mom with her pleats, to her draping my first kasavu sari as I get ready for a Thiruvathira performance- the kasavu sari too comes around, full circle. 



The juxtaposition of the serene sari with the chaos surrounding its draping stands to be the best representation of Onam, in my eyes. Onapaatu (Onam songs) mingling with yells from different parts of my house as the family scrambles to get ready in time for the guests that will arrive soon. The  smells of fresh mullapoovu mingling with the aroma of tempered mustard seeds and red chillies. The sweetness of that first spoon of payasam, almost instantly accompanied by the realisation that it is too hot. A delicious Onam sadya, inevitably followed by the difficulty of getting up from the floor with a full belly. The off-white and gold sari- that despite its royalty and grandeur, somehow manages to retain its humanness.

- Megha Vishnu

Today, at the cusp of 21, I am the farthest I have ever been from Kerala but my desire to reclaim my heritage has never felt stronger. 


I think this heritage of mine is locked away in a mixture of tangible and intangible things. It’s in the stories of a 16 year old malayali boy with the hopes of one day making it in Mumbai. It’s in the payasam that my amma makes. It’s in the letters and language I try so hard to learn occasionally. It’s in the kasavu sarees that my ammuma treasures and keeps locked away in her cupboard.


The last time I wore a kasavu saree was when I was dressed up as a traditional malayalee woman for a stage performance. I was 13. I was uncomfortable. Dare I say, I was immature. I did not understand why my mother and grandparents were so overjoyed to see me in it. 


Today, I treasure the same saree. It's a part of my identity that I have unknowingly dismissed that I want to embrace. I treasure this photo of my amma as a goal that I want to work towards (maybe without the baby in hand, for now). It’s not just a woman in a kasavu saree. It's a Malayali woman who was raised in Mumbai. It’s a malayalee who is also a Mumbaikar. She was 25 here; I have a couple of years ahead of me to grow some more and then learn some more.


Owning a Kasavu saree was always associated with a feeling of growing up. I got my first kasavu saree as an ‘Onakodi’(a new attire specifically for Onam) when I was 16, and it was like a ticket for me to join the elder’s gang. Wearing a kasavu saree came with some unwritten responsibilities, and the main one was to ensure that you don’t drop your favourite curry on the beautiful white saree. Failing to fulfill such responsibilities, my kasavu saree memories will be incomplete without the stains of Onam sadya.

- Varsha Nair

- Ananya Nair




I’ve known the kasavu saree as the ‘Onam saree’ my whole life. While that may not be the only occasion on which people wear it, I personally like how I ended up attributing it exclusively to this one festival. Growing up, I was always made to wear an identical pavada-blouse or salwar-kameez for Onam gatherings. As I watched my mom carefully pin up her saree, I wished for the day when I would be ‘grown up’ enough to be allowed to wear it. 


Being away from home in Pune, and having had hostel maushis drape the saree for me on multiple occasions, this saree has started to mean a lot more to me over the years. Wearing it symbolizes the feeling of claiming my Malayali identity in a cosmopolitan city. Seeing strangers wear it gives me joy and an odd sense of familiarity amidst a sea of chaos. Smiling at my Malayali acquaintances in the corridors in college on the day of Onam even though we haven’t spoken to each other in months symbolises a feeling of togetherness, even if it is only on this one day. 


I spent Onam at home for the first time in three years today. Two women and one saree - my mom told me to wear the saree instead of her. She draped it on me for the first time ever and amidst the negotiations of how much of my torso should be covered up and how the pallu should be worn, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that the day I had wished for was finally here. I had finally ‘grown up’.


- Vandana Krishnan

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