The sari is an iconic cultural symbol in India, and in Kerala, it holds a special place in the hearts of women. Kerala women have worn the sari for generations with pride, elegance, and grace. On International Women’s Day, it’s important to celebrate the power and significance of this beautiful garment.
The sari is more than just a piece of clothing – it symbolises women’s empowerment. A woman wearing a sari exudes confidence, strength, and resilience. The sari celebrates a woman’s curves and celebrates her femininity, making her feel beautiful and confident. It is a garment that transcends age, class, and social status and has the power to unite women from all walks of life.
The sari holds immense power as a dress choice for women in politics in India. It has been a part of India’s freedom movement and has become a political symbol. Despite a patriarchal system, female political leaders and parliament members use the sari as a tool to make their presence felt. Each woman has her unique style, with the sari at the centre, to assert herself in a male-dominated political landscape.
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Indira Gandhi, India’s first female Prime Minister, made the sari famous by choosing it as her uniform. Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, has her signature white sari with a blue border. Jayalalitha, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, used the sari to radiate political power and strength. Smriti Irani, India’s Minister of Women and Child Development, chooses saris tuned into current fashion trends and promotes handloom day. Priyanka Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Nirmala Sitharaman, Sushma Swaraj, Mahua Moitra, Supriya Sule, and Chandrani Murmu have unique sari styles. However, women in politics who occasionally choose western clothing are often trolled, which underscores women’s limited and challenging wardrobe choices due to patriarchal norms and socio-religious factors. Nevertheless, in the political world, wearing a sari spells power.
In Kerala, the sari is also a practical garment. With its long folds and pleats, a woman can easily carry items like a phone, wallet, or even a small child. The sari is also perfect for Kerala’s hot and humid climate, providing a cool and comfortable alternative to Western clothing.
But perhaps most importantly, the sari represents the strength and resilience of Kerala women. Kerala women have faced numerous challenges and obstacles for centuries, but they have always found a way to rise above and succeed. The sari symbolises strength and determination, and wearing one is a way to honour the women who came before us and paved the way for our success.
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The women featured below were born after 1890 and significantly impacted their respective fields.
Although women’s empowerment is still a work in progress, it is essential to remember those who took giant strides toward equality in the last century. These women, including poets, activists, politicians, dancers, writers, sportswomen, social reformers, lawyers, and scientists, blazed a trail for future generations.
Some outstanding women featured include Arya Antharjanam, Lakshmi N Menon, Akkamma Cheriyan, Anna Chandy, KR Gouri Amma, P T Usha, Mary Lukose, Anna Malhotra, Mrinalini Sarabhai, and Justice P Janaki Amma. These names are not in any particular order.
Kerala’s population comprises 51% women, making Mao Zedong’s words, “Women hold up half the sky”, more relevant in this context. Women’s progress over the past hundred years can be attributed to the spread of English education, missionary activity, and social reform that came with colonial rule.
Before Kerala became a state, it consisted of three different regions: Travancore under the royals, Kochi, and Malabar in the north, which was part of the Madras Presidency under British control. Although these regions did not have a common political history, the local mores, influenced by feudal societal standards, were patriarchal, and norms and regulations restricted women’s lives, voices, and creative energies.
Remarkably, some women who made significant contributions were from the Nambudiri community, the Brahmins of Kerala, and the landholding class. This community had built-in inequalities, and Nambudiri women, known as “antharjanam,” were confined to the interiors of their homes. Orthodoxy and entrenched patriarchal practices had confined them, and many remained unmarried as men took multiple wives, and widows were not allowed to remarry.
Few women had the opportunity to express themselves, but some of them made it to male-dominated fields, breaking societal norms. Although the list of women featured is not exhaustive, it indicates the fields women entered and conquered, leaving behind an inspirational legacy for future generations.
The sari is a symbol of women’s empowerment, and it represents the strength, resilience, and beauty of Kerala women. It is a garment that transcends time, place, and culture and has the power to unite women from all walks of life.
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In conclusion, the sari is not just a piece of clothing in India but a powerful symbol of women’s empowerment. Kerala women have worn the sari for generations with pride, elegance, and grace, making it an important cultural symbol. The sari is not just practical but also represents the strength and resilience of Kerala women, who have faced many obstacles but have always found a way to rise above them. In addition, the sari holds immense power as a dress choice for women in politics, allowing them to assert themselves in a male-dominated landscape.