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6 Yards of Hope

An innovative online auction of saris, donated by artists, was used to raise funds for artists in need. For over a year, artists have repeatedly offered their art to raise funds for other artists in need, to the point where the audiences were dwindling. Refreshingly, this novel auction has proved successful.

Lady musicians and dancers from South India are known for their gorgeous opulent attire on and off stage; their magnificent saris are seldom repeated, and die-hard fans recognise and remember what was worn on which occasion. Their saris are often bespoke, one of a kind, and sometimes, even collector’s pieces.

18 celebrity artists including dance icons Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy, Alarmel Valli, Mallika Sarukkai, Anita Ratnam, and singers  Aruna Sairam, Bombay  Jayashri, S Sowmya, and Nithyashree Mahadevan generously donated saris special to them to raise funds; the online auction was open to bidders for 3 days and was conducted in 4 rounds.

The brainchild of 3 enterprising friends, Shreya Nagarajan Singh, Tenma and Gana Muthu, linked to the world of arts in different ways, the auction portal was a well-known sari brand. Proceeds will be given to 1500 folk artists in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka, and the nature of the help will range from groceries to paying for a child’s education, to helping organise an impromptu concert. As Shreya said “We will give what is needed, not only money, as its the easiest thing to give. We plan to distribute the proceeds through July and August.”

Aruna Sairam recalled the occasion 18 years ago when she had purchased the sari she donated. She and her family had just relocated to Chennai from Mumbai; her singing career needed that shift but in her words “there was a lot of trepidation, as I did not know what the future held.” To her delight, practically on arrival, an eminent organiser Shri Vazhuvoor Ravi contacted her and wanted to honour her with an award. For this special, very auspicious occasion, she bought a sari with great care and donating this gave her a lot of satisfaction.

The pandemic has brought home to many a realisation of the futility of possessions; when life and safety have been paramount concerns for many, the careful preservation of treasured apparel seems somewhat pointless. The saris carry treasured memories, but when they can help a fellow artist in need, none of the artists contacted refused to donate.

Cleverly giving a window of 3 days to the bidders who include fans from all over the world, 6 Yards of Hope has been a resounding success. One of the buyers is a dancer herself, and she plans to convert  Alarmel Valli’s sari into a dance costume. Another bidder from the US had put aside Rs 35000 for Bombay Jayashri’s sari; of course hoping the bidding did not go up so high! (each sari’s opening bid was Rs 4500; none of the saris sold for less than Rs 9000). It appeared, for the bidders, it was not so much the actual sari itself, as much as what it represented – a piece of the artist themselves and the precious memories they carried, combined with the satisfaction of knowing the purchase helped another less placed artist. The very erudite S Sowmya, shared “I don’t possess that many rich silk saris, but one which was very precious for me was one I bought at Kalakshetra.  It’s such a small way to help but so satisfactory; I really wanted to donate more saris!”

It’s indeed heartening to see yet another demonstration of the generosity of the artist community.

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