It was long and soft and slipped like silk through my fingers. Of all the saris I had worn up until now, this was my favorite – this faded, baby pink sari, gifted to me by a girl I barely knew, but had admired from afar. A jagged splash of deep rose ink and a small knot tied in one corner were the only signs that it had not always been mine. The end part, or the pallu had ornate brown and gold leaves stitched into it. It was seven meters long but felt like nothing, like air; a gorgeous celestial garment woven from ether and dreams.
Up until then I had only two saris of my own: one (also second-hand) was white with burned gold, brown and grey leaf-like patterns on it. It had a two-inch brown trim on the top and bottom length of it and was so light and fine that I had to wind it an additional time around my slip, just to be sure that nothing was revealed. This was my first sari. The second one I sourced for myself at a shop in Brisbane: it cost $30 dollars and was made of a heavy, non see-through fabric. It was gorgeous in its own right – a dark emerald green, emblazoned with bright gold stitching and an intricate, gold-patterned pallu. It was striking.The pallu had not been hemmed, and there were thick strands of loose material hanging down from it which I never did get around to fixing.
It took me a long time to achieve mastery in dressing myself in sari, as it was an intricate business. However, I was told that gradual mastery was quite common. For the first few months, I would stand in the Centre bathroom in my long white cotton slip (made specifically for saris) and blouse, waiting for my friend to rush in while disciples started to gather outside for the meditation. She would wrap and pleat my sari around me, talking all the time so that I could learn. The blouse sleeves stop a few inches above the elbow, and the bottom of it sits just under the bust, so the midriff is exposed. The blouse is buttoned from the front and scoops down below the collar-bone. The slip was tied high around the waist with a sort of draw-string, and had to be secured tightly in order to support several yards of material that needed to hang off it. Two large safety pins were used to secure the thick fold of pleats at the front, and to secure the layers of pleated material on the left-hand shoulder.
It did indeed take me a long time to “get it”, including one trip to New Zealand and one trip to New York to see my master. In the end though, like any good mother, my friend had to stand back and let me test my wings. There were many botched attempts, some occurring in my home-town Centre, and others in more exposed forums. These, however, were an accepted part of every females disciple’s initial years on the path. Saris were to be worn at the twice-weekly formal meditations, and during business hours for those working at disciple enterprises. The boys were required to wear all white for purity.
When I went for my first trip to New Zealand, I was not prepared for how many other female disciples there would be, or that they were all relatively young, like me. I was the exception at my own Centre in Australia. Here, I was one of many. Nor was I prepared for the awe I would feel at meeting so many of my sister devotees. Their devotion, their poise, their inner beauty seemed to radiate outwards and make everything and everyone around them sacred and pure.
There were many functions and meditations to attend in New Zealand, and I only had two saris. At some point, I was gifted with the beautiful pink one which was to become a favourite. I also purchased another brand-new sari whilst I was there. This one was a deep midnight blue, beautifully hemmed and had gold embroidery on the pallu and edges. It was magnificent, and everyone exclaimed when I wore it for the first time, although the material was crisp and slightly coarse from never being used. It was to become my “good sari” for the first couple of years.
I found it difficult to buy saris in Brisbane, my home town. The shop that I initially purchased from closed down, and it would seem that I had to wait for overseas or interstate trips to bring some variety into my meditation wardrobe.
I visited my master many times in New York, in the suburb of Jamaica, Queens. Some of his students had set up businesses there, which were chiefly supported and sustained by other students. One shop on Parsons Boulevard primary sold garments for female disciples. During my first couple of trips to New York, I was too shy to go in there for any longer than a couple of minutes. The lightness and purity of the space were somehow both dazzling and overwhelming. The staff were like celebrities in my eyes: women (or ‘girls’ as we called them) who had spiritual names; who had been with the master for many years, decades even. Women who lived in New York, and who I had only seen from afar when someone had pointed them out and whispered something to me about their greatness or special connection with our master. I felt out of place and inferior around them.
When I finally did work up the courage to enter the store (usually dressed in my standard sneakers, cargo pants and t-shirt) it took more courage not to leave; not to feel like an alien in this heavenly realm, where the colour black did not exist; where celestial music played, and delicate trinkets, incense and gorgeous arrays of fabrics colluded to impress upon the customer that they were no longer in Jamaica, Queens, or even on Earth.
Over the years I purchase many of my favourite saris from this store, and all of them were beautiful. One which I became renown for was a power-red sari with bright silver spangles and embroidery around the pallu and hem. People always commented when I wore it that it suited me, and that perhaps it reflected something in my aura. Some called it “Kali red”, after the Indian female deity Maha Kali, who transforms through death.
Another favourite was a gorgeous hot-pink sari with swirls of light and dark toned pinks running through it that always made me feel vibrant and girly and empowered. I purchased a few that were very fine and ethereal – one was field-green with big rose-coloured lillies on it, and tones of burnt gold. Another was like something from a dream or lofty meditation – dark blue, purple, light blue, merging into creams and whites and golds. I didn’t wear that one much, on account of it being very fine and often slipping out of place. I had different coloured blouses to match with all of them, but would wear white as a staple.
I always loved wearing sari. To me, it heightened my aspiration, invoked purity and consciousness, and inspired reverence. One “boy” disciple gamely ventured to a group of girls one day in New York that saris win over street clothes any day; that shorts or skirts or pants can never compete with the long, flowing garments that make women look like goddesses of the utmost purity.
When I left the path, one of things I missed most was wearing sari. I kept my saris for years until, in a time of upheaval and uncertain of what to do with them any longer, I gave them to a friend who said she would like to have them. This is a vague recollection, and I am not even certain of who this friend is. If I am meant to see them again, I am sure they will find their way back to me. Each one has special memories attached to it. The midnight-blue sari I wore with a white cardigan when I first met my master, on a crisp New York day in April. I was twenty-one. From hundreds of onlookers sitting on the bleachers, I answered the call for any “little” girls to race down to him and arm wrestle with another girl to see who was the strongest. I competed against an eastern European girl and won. The master took a photo of us from his seat, and I am grinning cheekily back at him, still locking hands with my competitor, both of us lying across the ground in sari, oblivious to the dirt. Then there were the saris I always wore to work in the disciple-run cafes in Australia and America – there were many, but a series of them were fluroescent and floral patterned. There was the pastel violet and sky-blue sari I usually wore on my birthday, or “soul-day.” The white sari I usually wore on my master’s soul-day.The white sari I wore with layers of jackets after he died, and I watched him being buried in New York one freezing October.
Each sari has special memories and special meanings. For me, they were sacred garments. I hope that wherever they are now, they are bringing joy to their owner, and filling the space with their sacred memories. They were truly blessed, from years of meditation and aspiration and selfless-service, as I was blessed to wear them. They kept me safe and now I pray they are being kept safe in someone else’s keeping.