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Mekhela Chador – Traditional Dress from Assam

Introduction and Heritage Value

Mekhela Chador (or Chadar), which is tad similar to the saree but consisting of two pieces of cloth, is the traditional attire worn by the women of Assam. The bottom half of this unique dress is called the ‘mekhela’ which is cylindrical in shape and is worn waist downwards over a petticoat. The mekhela is folded into pleats to the right around the waist and is tucked in. The chador on the other hand is tucked into the mekhela’s upper portion at one end and the other end is draped around the upper portion of the body. These days a fitted blouse is worn, unlike earlier times when another piece of cloth known as the riha used to be worn.

Mekhela Chador

Mekhela Chador (Source: wikimedia)

BACKGROUND

History and Origin

Although the exact details of when the Mekhela Chador originated are not available, yet it has been the traditional dress of the Assamese women since times immemorial. And unlike the Pavadai Dhavani or the Ghagra, Mekhela Chador is being worn by women of all ages.

Sources of Inspiration

Mekhela Chador is being inspired by both daily lifestyle as well as special occasions. You can wear a Mekhela Chador at home while doing various household chores or you may choose to wear its more recent and fancied versions to a wedding and any other special function.

Faces behind the Fabric

It is the women weavers of Assam who are the real people behind the production of the Mekhela Chadors. The main hub of these Mekhela Chadors is a tiny town called Sualkuchi, situated at just 35 kilometers from the city of Guwahati. Sualkuchi is responsible for the majority of the Mekhela Chadors that are being manufactured in Assam. The Mekhela Chadors made in this small town are highly sought after by women in Assam and the rest of India, alike. Sualkuchi is also known as the Manchester of Assam.

Varieties

The Mekhela Chadors are usually found in three varieties and are differentiated on the basis of the silk being used in its manufacturing. The different varieties of Mekhela Chadors are:

  1. Muga Mekhela Chador: These Mekhela Chadors are the ones that are being made by using the Muga Silk and are believed to be so durable that they often outlive their owners.
  2. Eri Mekhela Chador: These Mekhela Chadors are the ones that are being made by using the Eri Silk and are usually soft and warm in nature.
  3. Pat Mekhela Chador: These Mekhela Chadors are the ones that are being made by using the Pat Silk and are generally white in colour, ranging from brilliant white to off white.
Mekhela Chador

Mekhela Chador (Source: fabricspablog)

Present Day Scenario

As of today, the majority of the Mekhela Chadors produced in Assam are being manufactured in the small town of Sualkuchi. They are then distributed throughout Assam and are also shipped to various parts of India. The Mekhela Chadors are slowly but steadily catching the eyes of the women across India with its latest showcase being in the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) Summer Resort 2013 by Fashion Designer, Vaishali Shadangule.

Innovations

The Mekhela Chadors are usually two piece attires consisting of the mekhela and the chador made from Muga Silk, Pat Silk or Eri Silk. However, the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) Summer Resort 2013 saw Fashion Designer Vaishali Shadangule re-invent this traditional Assamese attire and give it a more contemporary look and feel in the form of evening dresses, kurtas, and pants.

Global Wear-Ability

The Mekhela Chadors made of Muga or Pat Silk are usually the more fancied ones and can be worn almost throughout the year at special occasions. The ones made of Eri Silk are soft and warm in nature and hence are better suited for colder climatic conditions whereas the Cotton ones are best suited for daily usage at home.

Mekhela Chador on Runway

Mekhela Chador on Runway (Source: Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week)

Maintenance

The Mekhela Chadors are generally very low maintenance dresses, especially the ones made from Muga Silk. They can easily be hand washed and are known to gain luster with every subsequent wash. The Muga Mekhela Chadors are so durable that they often even outlive their owners.

Accessorizing

The Mekhela Chador can easily be accessorized with necklaces consisting of big, colorful pearls, earrings of medium size and large silver bangles which not only enhances the beauty of the wearer but also adds grace to their personality.

Chronicles of the Future Foretold

With experimental Fashion Designers like Vaishali Shadangule bringing out the Mekhela Chadors out of the North-East and bringing it to the fashion capital of Mumbai, giving it a contemporary look and feel, the future indeed seems quite bright for this traditional attire from the Indian state of Assam.

Interesting Facts and Comparisons

  • The mekhela is tubular in shape and is worn above the petticoat from waist downwards with its pleats folded to the right and tucked in.
  • The Mekhela Chadors are mostly made from Muga Silk, Pat Silk, Eri Silk or Cotton. The Muga Mekhela Chadors are so durable in nature that they are often said to outlive their owners.
  • The Mekhela Chador, unlike the Ghagra or the Pavadai Dhavani, is being worn by women of all ages.

Reference

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