The sari was the accepted everyday and festive wear for the women of the Bene Israel community in India, just as it was for local women. The quality of the fabric, its color, and its ornamentation varied according to the garment’s purpose and the economic status of the wearer.
Saris played a major role in the various wedding-related events, especially in the henna ceremony, the marriage ceremony itself, and the bride’s parting from her parents. Each family equipped itself with a large number of saris, which were presented to the bride, her mother, the groom’s mother, and their closest female relatives, in a custom that placed a heavy financial burden on both families.
At the malida ceremony, too, which preceded all those mentioned above, a food offering was placed in the loop of the bride’s sari, close to her abdomen, presumably to ensure her fertility. At the henna ceremony the bride sat beside her mother at home, dressed in a green sari that symbolized freshness and renewal. Female family members approached in turn, blessed the bride and placed a sari on her mother’s shoulders as a gesture of support, as her daughter was about to leave her. Finally, when the mother’s shoulders and nape had been padded with a large number of saris, another was placed on her stomach in blessing. The mother then sat all the closest relatives down and presented each one with a garment—a sari for the women, and a shirt for the men. An identical ceremony was held simultaneously at the bridegroom’s home. Finally the two families came together at the bride’s home, where presents from both families were displayed. These were mainly articles of clothing, including two lengths of sari material—one of cotton for everyday wear, the other of high-quality fabric, for use at the parting ceremony (waratichi sari).
For the marriage ceremony itself, which was held in the synagogue, women from the community wore magnificent white silk saris until just recently, in both India and Israel. Under European influence, for weddings white saris were preferred to red ones, and were worn by young Bene Israel brides in India on festive occasions for some time after the wedding to emphasize their new status. A festive white sari was likewise worn on Yom Kippur, while a simple white one indicated mourning, as is customary throughout India.
In India, after the marriage ceremony, the couple were led in procession to the bride’s home. In the evening, the bride would put on the leave-taking sari and perform the parting ceremony from her family. It was not until noon on the following day, after an additional parting ceremony, that the bride left her home, clad in the leave-taking sari, and set out for the bridegroom’s house together with him and family members.
From the Israel Museum publications:
Juhasz, Esther (ed.), The Jewish Wardrobe from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 5 Continents Editions, Milan and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2012
Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Bella and Harry Wexner Gallery, 11/03/2014 - 07/03/2015