Clothes hold meaning. It is an interpretation of self. It reflects who we are and how we wish to be seen by people around us. We don’t dress up the same way everywhere. What we’d probably wear in the comfort of our homes is different from what we’d wear at a formal event.
A saree is more than just clothing. Its history is full of tradition, pride and innovation. The many ways a saree is worn says a lot about the culture of India and a way of life. The colours and patterns on the saree symbolise different meanings, beliefs, and virtues. And one such saree has recently been trademarked. We are talking about the famous blue-bordered saree of the Nobel laureate nun- Mother Teresa. This simple white cotton saree with blue borders has over the years been recognised as a symbol of purity and peace all across the globe. Interestingly, this saree of the Missionaries of Charity has a tale to tell.
On August 16, 1948, the eve of the first anniversary of India’s Independence Day, Mother Teresa gave up the Loreto Sisters’ religious dress she had worn for decades and put on a cheap saree that turned out to be the new habit of her future ‘Missionaries of Charity’ Order. The new uniform consisted of a simple, cotton, white saree with blue stripes along with white dress to be worn under the saree. There was a significant reason behind Mother Teresa’s choice of blue and white over other colours. White stands for truth and purity. Blue is the symbol of Mother Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The three blue stripes on the border represent the vows taken by nuns: the first signifies poverty, the second obedience, and the third, broader band, symbolises chastity and wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor. The cross is sewn onto the left shoulder of the Habit, as for the Missionaries of Charity, Jesus on the Cross is the key to the heart. Thus, Mother Teresa picked out a religious dress that was symbolic yet practical. Along with helping the sisters to identify with the poor, it perfectly suited Kolkata’s searing climate. Novices who join the order wear plain white sarees without stripes. Once they are ready to take their vows, after four years of formation, they receive the saree with the blue stripes. Each sister owns only three sarees through their lifetime. The seven decades of sisterhood with over 3000 nuns worldwide, continue to wear what has now turned into a global identity of peace and charity.
These sarees are handwoven by the residents of a Leprosy home in Titagarh, which was opened by the Missionaries of Charity, in1958. With many leprosy patients out of work, they decided to bring looms and asked them to weave sarees for the nuns. This gave birth to a tradition, and today the leprosy home weaves about 4,000 sarees a year, which are distributed among nuns all across the world. This is the only place where this type of saree is woven. The inmates work with dignity under medical supervision and the Missionaries of Charity pay them for this work besides providing them with food, clothing and medical care.
In order to avoid unfair usage of the design of this iconic saree, the missionary is now trying to spread awareness among people about the same. According to the Trademarks Registry, Government of India, the intellectual rights to this emblematic saree was granted on September 4, 2016, the day she was canonised.
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