Here is an extract from a research project on Rajasthani Rituals by Pratibha Jain on the Indian tradition of gifting blouse pieces. She shares insights from relatives and friends on why blouse fabrics are popular as handy, economical and auspicious gifts!
I have lost count of how many blouse pieces I have received as well as given as gifts. Even today, when I visit my aunts and elder cousins, they gift me with a blouse piece along with cash. Last week, a newly-married couple visited us, and as they were leaving, I gifted the young bride the customary envelope with cash. Immediately, my mother-in-law enquired, “Where is the blouse piece? Don’t give just cash.”
This got me thinking. As long as I could remember, at festivals, at weddings, at simple family visits, one is either on the gifting or receiving end of a blouse fabric, invariably in pink, red or orange, which are considered as ‘auspicious’ colours in most Rajasthani communities.
I could not find much information on the significance and reason behind this practice, but it certainly aroused my curiosity and I spoke to a few elders – some Tamilians and some Rajasthanis – and was surprised at the common thread of explanation.
It would be interesting to know if this practice is an integral part of other cultures in India too…
Gifting Blouse Pieces, Then…
Gifting blouse pieces to married women is a common practice in many Indian homes. Predictably, the commonest reason friends and relatives mentioned to me is, “Because that's what our elders did and asked us to follow!” or “It is an affordable and handy gift!” But I also stumbled upon some interesting insights.
My sister-in-law, Smt. Sushila Jamad said that cash on its own has no value, since it is primarily used only for barter. Hence, on its own it is ‘kora’ which means plain or empty! So even if the amount being gifted is 100 times more than the accompanying blouse fabric, however cheap or plain the latter may be, yet it is the blouse fabric which lends it the auspiciousness or good luck.
Having lived in Chennai for several years, I have observed that during celebrations, whether it is return gift bag given to guests during Navarathri, or the ritualistic Seemantham to propitiate Goddess Lakshmi and bless the mom-to-be or an informal Valaikappu hosted by the pregnant woman’s mother, a blouse fabric is always gifted, either by itself or with other items such as haldi and kumkum.
Some of my Tamilian friends also pointed out that one must never gift a saree without a blouse though it is perfectly legitimate to gift the blouse piece without a saree. Aruna Sateesh said, "It is the least one does when a married women visits your place. Typically a blouse piece with some cash for bangles and haldi kumkum! Earlier, a household normally keeps stock of these blouse pieces. It used to be the simple rubia 2x2 types but now people are getting more creative and gift other designer pieces too."
My devrani Sadhana Chordia explained, “In ancient times a woman would be sent to her parents’ house on the twelfth day of her husband’s death. On that day, she would formally be initiated into the widow’s attire. Her maternal family would present her with a saree in pale, subdued colours. Since a blouse signifies mangal and she was no more a sumangali, she would not be given a blouse but only a ‘kora’ saree.” This tradition also forms an integral part of the Tamilian culture.
My mother, Smt Anoop Jain, said, “It is the colour of the blouse which is more important than the saree. Traditionally, in many Rajasthani communities, a married woman would never wear a blouse in dull or mourning colours. If ever she wore a dull coloured saree (for instance while attending a death ceremony), she would still choose to wear a bright coloured blouse with it.”
Gifting Blouse Pieces, Now…
But today, times have changed! No longer is gifting blouse pieces limited to ritualism. Today, many of us choose not to be bound by any fetters and can find almost any excuse to gift blouse pieces. It’s more to do with whenever we “feel” like gifting! Personally, I still like receiving as well as gifting blouse pieces - particularly off-beat blouses, in contrast colours, varied textures and weaves.
Gifting blouse pieces has an edge over other gifts. They always make for a useful gift, and are unlikely to be discarded. There are no rules to follow any more: married, unmarried and even widowed women can be gifted these smart add-ons!
by Pratibha Jain (May 2016)
So what are you waiting for?
Take your pick from an array of blouse pieces in vibrant and shot colours, contrasting, mix n’ match, complimentary hues and unusual textures. Your choice of blouse pieces spells your very own personalized style statement.
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In case you have any interesting stories or anecdotes to share about the significance and reasons for gifting blouse pieces, we would love to hear from you…add in the comment below.
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