The mekhela chador is a mesmerizing and timeless traditional garment that holds immense cultural significance in the beautiful region of Assam. Hand-woven with precision and skill, this two-piece attire showcases the rich heritage and craftsmanship of Assamese textiles. Let’s delve into the exquisite world of the mekhela chador, exploring its unique features, weaving techniques, and the pride it instills in the women of Assam.
The mekhela, the lower piece of the garment, resembles a sarong-like fabric that is gracefully wrapped around the waist, much like a skirt. Unlike a conventional saree, the mekhela has fewer pleats, which are intricately made on the right side and tucked in. Traditionally, instead of a blouse, an unstitched garment called the riha was wrapped around the upper body. However, for special occasions like the festival of Bihu, a long-sleeved red blouse is the preferred choice.
The chador, also known as cheleng, is the upper portion of the mekhela chador. This long, unstitched fabric measures approximately 2.81 x 1.25 meters. One end of the chador is tucked into the top of the mekhela using triangular folds, while the other end is elegantly wrapped around the upper half of the body. This draping style, coupled with the pleats of the mekhela, creates a graceful and distinctive look.
The mekhela chador is crafted using various types of silk, giving rise to different variants. The three prominent types of silk used are Muga, Eri, and Pat. Muga silk, known for its natural golden hue, is derived from the semi-domesticated Muga silkworm. It is highly prized and considered one of the finest silks in the world. Eri silk, also known as Ahimsa silk, is produced from the Eri silkworm and is known for its soft texture and warm feel. Pat silk, woven from mulberry silk, is characterized by its smoothness and vibrant colors.
Sualkuchi, a historic town in Assam, serves as the primary center for the production of mekhela chador. Known as the “Manchester of the East,” Sualkuchi has been a hub of sericulture and silk weaving since the eleventh century. Skilled weavers in Sualkuchi meticulously create these enchanting garments, preserving age-old techniques passed down through generations.
While the mekhela chador shares similarities with the langa voni and pavada davani worn in South India, it distinguishes itself with its unique pleated draping style. One of the fascinating aspects of the mekhela chador is its versatility and suitability for women of all ages. Different Assamese tribes also have their own variations of the mekhela chador. For instance, the Mishing tribe wears the Yakan Age-Gasar, which is predominantly black in color and holds cultural significance within their community.
The mekhela chador is not merely a garment; it is a symbol of tradition, elegance, and ethnic pride. It embodies the rich cultural heritage of Assam and showcases the craftsmanship and skills of Assamese weavers. Wearing the mekhela chador is a celebration of Assamese identity and a way to preserve and pass down centuries-old traditions.
To wrap it up, the mekhela chador stands as a testament to Assam’s rich textile heritage. Its intricate weaving, graceful draping style, and use of various silk types make it a prized possession for women in Assam. From the town of Sualkuchi, where it is skillfully crafted, to the diverse Assamese tribes that don different variants, the mekhela chador holds a special place in the hearts of all who admire its beauty. It continues to captivate with its timeless charm and remains an integral part of Assamese culture.