[seyv thuh weev]
When one talks of traditional garments of Assam, one is most likely referring to the Mekhela Chador (pronounced as Sador); an outfit that has existed since times immemorial; a piece that is the unparalleled pride of Assamese women.
What differentiates the Mekhela Chador from its close cousin, the sari, is that it is made in 2 parts, the Mekhela and the Chador. Somewhat like the half sari worn in South India or even the classic lehenga, for that matter. The Mekhela is a skirt that drapes around the lower body in a cylindrical fashion and is meant to be pleated while the Chador is an equivalent of the Pallu and goes over the shoulder.
The Mekhela Chador is extraordinary and requires a very skilled set of hands to make. Hence, it is primarily crafted in a place called Sualkuchi in Assam, which translates to “Silk Village”, a town dedicated to weavers and craftsmen of the traditional weaves of Assam. The primary fabric used to manufacture Mekhela Chodar is the Muga Silk, one of the rarest silk varieties in the world, once reserved for royalty. Its natural gold tone simply gets softer and more lustrous with time; So much so that a Mekhela Chador made with Muga silk is said to outlive its owner! Sometimes made with other silk varieties like Pat (Mulberry) silk and Eri (Ahimsa) silk, this versatile garment is not just an adornment worn on occasions, but also for daily use in which case it is woven in Assamese cotton, to enable maximum comfort.
Mekhela Chador comes in an array of colors that are particularly vibrant. In combination with the natural gold tone of Muga silk, they look absolutely regal! Each set of the handwoven Mekhela Chador takes 45-50 days of work, depending on the intricacy of the weave. The specially designed loom uses wooden cards with holes to allow the loom needles to pass in order to create a motif.
Though traditionally vivid, the ones worn by the bride are surprisingly subdued in white or off-white with patterns of the same tone. Contrary to many of the weaves hailing from the Seven Sisters, the Mekhela Chodar can be worn by women of all age groups. The motifs have a very contemporary take on traditional inspirations. You will find historic Assamese ornaments like necklaces and headgear translated onto the surface. Sometimes the famous Kaziranga Rhinoceros finds its way there too. By far the most commonly found motifs are peacocks, butterflies, phool butas and the Karbi i.e, two birds sitting on a tree, facing each other.
Today, with the intervention of designers, a modern twist can be seen in the traditional Mekhela Chador. From contrasting colors in the Mekhela and Chador to interesting quirky motifs juxtaposed with the traditionalistic silhouette, the outfit is being revamped to a new level!
When human hands and heart work in tandem, that is grace in the making. Handwoven cloth has beauty and grace that is significant.