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garaNauroze – the Persian New Year – is celebrated by the Parsi, Iranian and Afghan communities on March 21, and marks the spring equinox.

This year, Gara saris are back in vogue with a magnificently coloured Nauroz splash. These saris are gorgeous, hand-embroidered and unparalleled; the prices for the ‘real thing’ start off at Rs 1,500,000 and are therefore a luxury item which many can only drool over.

The Gara sari was brought to the subcontinent in the late 19th century by Parsi traders travelling southwards from China, where they had settled after decades of migrating eastwards from their ancestral Persian homeland.

Crafted from pure Chinese silk, with microscopically embroidered borders on all four sides as well as the pallu, the earliest saris were found in jewel shades of ruby, sapphire, emerald and dark purple, embellished with traditional Parsi motifs of birds and flowers on the borders.

Over time, as subcontinental enterprises took up the Gara sari challenge, colours became more varied and border designs expanded to include distinctly Chinese motifs, including incurved chrysanthemums, fire breathing dragons and enchanting pagodas, reflecting the Gara sari’s Chinese origins.

Apart from being handed down as Parsi family heirlooms, Gara saris became a rarity in fashion circles until the middle of the 20th century, when fashion designers decided to bring them back onto the modelling ramps, making them a wardrobe essential for fashionistas.

Mostly made from lightweight silk, chiffon or georgette, it takes specialist karigars almost 20 months to hand embroider a six-yard Gara sari. No longer restricted to being the attire of choice worn at Parsi celebrations, they are rightfully being recognised as works of art which have, in recent years, even graced the catwalks of the world’s fashion capitals.

– B. Khan

First published in the Adbuzzzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 15, 2015.