April 13, 2022

#BlogchatterA2Z: K for Kunbi sarees - the Goan heritage saree.

Today, while brainstorming for ideas for the ‘K’ post in my A to Z series, I received a text from a friend, asking me if I’d like to join her to a saree exhibition she was invited for. 

While I politely declined the offer with the excuse that my mind isn’t into retail therapy these days, a thought struck me…why not write about the traditional attire of the womenfolk belonging to Goa’s oldest tribal community, the Kunbi saree. 

It was the 400 years of colonial rule, especially after the inquisition of 1560 that resulted in the suppression and disappearance of the Kunbi culture, including the wearing of the Kunbi sari. The Portuguese did not approve of the apparel for the converted Goan, and forced them to change their dressing style. 

With the liberation of Goa in 1961, the Government and the Kunbi tribe tried to revive this lost piece of their heritage but somehow, it never regained its original popularity. 

Today, you will see this saree being worn, by farmer women during festivals such as the Shigmo, or dance performances, such as 'Dhalo' or 'Fugdi'. But these are mostly limited to remote villages of Goa. 

The origin: 

The word Kunbi is derived from ‘kun’ which means family and ‘bi’ which means seeds and literally means ‘a family of people who sow seeds’. The Kunbi tribe was originally a farmers tribe, and hence the saree was designed to enable the woman to work comfortably in the fields.

Characteristic features: 

The drape is simple and is just below the knee (shorter than the 6 yard saree). The Kunbi saree has a  weave that is 100% cotton and is handwoven into a steady fabric so that it doesn’t wear easily. 

The saree exhibits a red base color, with a red and black checkered pattern (modern variations of blue, grey, and ivory now exist) and a gold border. A puffed sleeve blouse is usually teamed over it. However, the earliest versions (known as ‘kapad’ in Goa) were worn without the choli, with the fabric tied in below the shoulder and a strip of cloth crossed over the left shoulder secured at the back. The Kunbi women would pair it with simple glass red and green bangles and black beads necklaces. 

Symbolic significance

One interpretation says that the gold border on the saree convey a spiritual message as it resembles temple archways. The cross-crossing geometrical lines are often interpreted as a version of 'nava graha'  or nine planets. The red dye used in saree worn by married women is said to signify fertility and is obtained from a wild fruit called 'jafflinchi fala'. 

Another interpretation says that the color red denotes the buoyancy and vitality that permeates Goa, while the checkered pattern represents from the creative forces of nature, wherein both the horizontal and vertical lines embrace each other to form a sacred block of space. 

The Kunbi saree is still a dwindling heritage apparel. However, one cannot miss to mention the contribution by late designer Wendell Rodricks, a much acclaimed Goan name in the fashion world, who ensured that the humble Kunbi sari found its way into many a modern wardrobes.

It is thanks to attempts like his that the Kunbi Saree has made its mark on the Red carpet, taking Goa to an international standard; the Cannes Film Festival.  Draped as a normal saree, the 6 yard version is also flaunted by women in modern cliques. And although these designs have a touch of modernity added to them, they still retain the original Kunbi tradition.

And for this unique blend of old and new, heritage and style, pride and perseverance, we say, ‘Obrigado, Goa!’ 

Stick around tomorrow for yet another interesting nugget of information about my beautiful state.

Until then, 

Mog aasu di.

(Let there be love!)


I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. 

My theme for the challenge is ‘Obrigado, Goa!’, under which I’ll be writing 26 posts on Goa (April 1-30th, excluding Sundays), each post corresponding to the letters of the English alphabet. You can read more about it in my theme reveal post


Rethink Mindful said...

What a beautiful story of a saree. The farmers wives had their own saree, that itself is an incredible thought. I so loved the story behind kunbi saree.

Anagha Yatin said...

Thanks for the knowledge about 'kun' + 'bee', the lovely kunbi saree and the thought behind it!
Adding modern 'kunbi' saree to my TBP (to be purchased ...hehehe) list!

Pri said...

Yes, Swarnali. The Kunbi saree indeed has its its origin in simplicity and hardwork.
I'm glad you appreciate it. :)

Pri said...

Ahh, Anagha. You're most welcome. I myself am learning a lot of things through this A-Z series.
As for the saree, you must add it to your collection. The Wendell Rodricks range is wonderful, I believe. I plan to pick one up myself. :D