How to Dress a National Elite: The Case of the Kalakshetra Sari

  • Kaamya Sharma (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


This article looks at the emergence of the Kalakshetra sari as an object of consumption for the Indian nationalist elite in the 1930s within the context of the Theosophical Movement, preoc-cupations with the role of women in public life, and the material culture practices of colonial South India. The Kalakshetra School of dance and music, founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale, is considered a leading institution in the classicisation of the performing arts to promote pan-In-dian nationalism. This article looks at the way discourses on female attire, women’s cultural role in society and middle-class nationalism were shaped by the Kalakshetra School through its strategic use of colour and design in the Kalakshetra sari. The visual-material atmosphere the sari created and inhabited off-stage reinforced the aesthetics and classicism of on-stage perfor-mances. In the process, the Kalakshetra sari became part of the visual palette of elite national-ism in colonial and post-colonial Madras/Chennai.