Silk and the sabha: Saree trends spotted in Chennai's kutcheri season

As newspapers review concerts, the rasikas review the sarees in sabha canteens.
Silk and the sabha: Saree trends spotted in Chennai's kutcheri season
Silk and the sabha: Saree trends spotted in Chennai's kutcheri season
Written by:

Priyanka Raman

Come December, and the silks are out in Chennai. And not only because the pleasant weather allows it - it's kutcheri season! Even people who otherwise do not listen to classical music or take any interest in Bharatanatyam can suddenly be found hobnobbing with their friends at concert venues. It's not for nothing that people believe music and silks have an intimate connection.

And so, while newspapers carry reviews of the best Kalyanis and Kambodis, the outfits of these artists are also reviewed by the rasikas in the sabha canteens. And the fashion faux pas are discussed too, in hushed voices. Carnatic musicians are expected to wear "proper concert attire" which basically means traditional clothing and jewelry. While nobody talks about it openly, the artists are not just judged based on their musical prowess but also their aesthetics when it comes to dressing.

L-R Sriranjani Santhanagopalan (outfit: Aavaranaa  p.c: Siddhart Murali), Vidya Kalyanaraman (p.c: Ramanathan Iyer), Vasudha Ravi

There are some unspoken rules. For instance, female musicians are expected to wear sarees, some basic jewelry and a string of flowers. Hair must be neatly tied up and a bindi is non-negotiable. According to classical vocalist Vasudha Ravi, “There is a fine balance between being traditional and yet well-dressed that musicians are expected to achieve.”

Every year, there are new trends that catch on. Classical vocalist, Sriranjani Santhanagopalan says, “The growing trend this year is to match time tested saree patterns like vaira oosi, maanga patterns and paalum pazhamums with modern, edgy blouses. Some combinations don't make sense on paper but look very pleasing when worn.”

Vasudha says, “The trend now is to wear unique designer blouses with regular sarees.”

According to classical vocalist, Vidya Kalyanaraman, “People are opting for sarees with less zari and bling. Also blouses with elbow length & puff sleeves have made a comeback.”

Every musician has their own personal style that has evolved from years of testing waters and figuring out what works for them. For instance, Vidya admits to being partial to silk cotton sarees. She feels they offer her the comfort she seeks while being sufficiently dressy.

But both Vasudha and Sriranjani prefer pure silks. Vasudha swears by pure silk sarees for concerts and likes to pair them with traditional jewelry. However, she admits she loves experimenting with accessories including terracotta, silk thread, polymer clay and timeless temple jewelry.

A beautiful terracotta neck piece from

Sriranjani also admits being partial to terracota jewelry. She says, “Personally I find silk and terracotta jewelery to be a match made in heaven. The earthiness of the terracotta jewelry complements the richness of silk sarees. I think the theme of my look this season was silk saree-terracota jewelry combo.”

There is definitely extra pressure on the female artists to put together good looks for their concerts. Although most of them do not go out of the way to shop, they do spend some time before the music season on their wardrobe. Sriranjani says, “I buy two sarees on an average during the lean season and do a little special shopping in November for the Margazhi season.”

Apart from pre-season shopping, musicians are always on the lookout for unique and good concert-wear sarees. Vasudha admits that she does indulge in some shopping when she travels. Her concert tour to Thiruvananthapuram ended with her coming back with some lovely mural sarees. Sriranjani loves looking for unique sarees at Aavaranaa, Sundari Silks and Old Kumaran. She also loves shopping in Hyderabad.

Vijayalakshmi Krishna, Co-founder & Designer, Aavaranaa, says, “We usually come up with a special range for Margazhi. Musicians and rasikas love to indulge in some shopping during November - December. The NRIs also fly down to catch a few concerts and do some saree shopping. This year we brought out a range of retro sarees featuring palum-pazhamum and checks which was a great hit. We find people are opting for less zari border and asking for Kalamkaris. Needless to say our Kalamkaris and block-prints on silk were in demand. People are also gravitating towards colour-blocking with half-n-half and partly pallu sarees.”

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