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The Story of Panchaali and Our Brand

Updated: Dec 31

When I announced the first quilt in our Panchaali series, I promised to tell you more about its namesake, Draupadi, the iconic character from the Mahabharata, the epic tale of India.

"From now on you'll be known as Panchaali, spirit of this land." The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The tale of Draupadī in the Mahabharata is a legendary one. Born from fire, she was the wife of the five Pandava brothers (Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva), and she played a pivotal role in the epic conflict between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. She's remembered for her strength, courage, and wit, and also for the insult she endured of being disrobed in a royal court after her husband committed the shameful act of betting her in a game of dice. Her honor was preserved when she pleaded with Krishna who supplied her with infinite sari cloth to protect her. 


Image most often attributed to ISKCON art

Draupadī is indeed a symbol of female empowerment in Indian mythology, and the sari is a powerful symbol of that empowerment. The way it drapes around a woman's body can convey both grace and strength, just like Draupadi herself. Not to mention, the sari is an elegant and versatile piece of clothing, with endless possibilities for style and expression.


Born of fire

The horrible and humbling incident that Draupadi endured is not all that defined her, but restoring her honor is what I intend for Soul Sari to build a legacy around. When a connection to her first came to me, it hit me in a way that felt almost divine, like lightning, giving way to a flow of everything that would manifest in my brand. I felt like I hit the ground running and was destined to bring my art into the world this way, launching with purpose.


Draupadi is a fierce force to be reckoned with from the start, born not from a woman but from fire, immediately and unexpectedly after her twin brother, already wearing a sari.

"Even before we'd finished cheering and clapping, even before your father had a chance to greet your brother, you appeared. You were as dark as he was fair, as hasty as he was calm. Coughing from the smoke, tripping over your sari, grabbing for his hand."

She also came with a decree that held the weight of a prophecy.

"Behold, we give you this girl, a gift beyond what you asked for. Take good care of her, for she will change the course of history."

Quite the pressure from the start - a destiny to contend with that stayed with her as a little girl and agonized her throughout her youth as a princess, doubting her place in the world and even her name.

I needed a more heroic name...And shut up as I was inside this mausoleum of a palace, how would history even find me?

Names are important that way. They define your identity. I feel the same about my name, Nandini, which holds the significance of where and when I was born (Vrindavan, where Krishna spent his childhood, on the day of Nandotsava, which honors his birth as the son of Nanda).


Throughout her life Draupadi was mostly known by her birth name though (after her father, King Draupad), but also as Panchaali (after his kingdom, Pañcāla, in North India). She was also known as Krishnaa because of her dark skin. This was because she is said to have been so dark that she appeared blue like her dear friend and object of worship, Krishna.


AI generated paintings of Draupadi with neural.love


Brand definition

Built directly into my business plan is a complete definition of how my inspiration would be infused into my brand, from the name to the impression I am going for.


Name

"Soul Sari" is intended to evoke a sense of deep meaning and authenticity. It has a spiritual undertone while implicitly conveying the product’s source and derivation. We believe the sari is iconic, not just as a timeless and versatile garment, but a symbol of grace and strength. A source of protection, beauty, and practicality. The center of the self, the soul, embodies the fire that burns a unique flame inside all beings.

Additionally, the double "s" sound in "Soul Sari" rolls off the tongue nicely and creates a bit of a pleasant alliteration. The broader brand name is “Soul Sari Designs”. The name feels harmonious, which is fitting given that saris themselves are associated with elegance, harmony, and beauty.


Attributes

Our brand celebrates the spirit of Indian women through bold, culturally-inspired products that embody the timeless strength and grace of the sari. Our core attributes are empowerment, beauty, quality, and inspiration, which underscore a matrix of qualities for the brand.

Empowerment

Bold

Strong

Catalyst

Beauty

Grace

Elegance

Exotic

Quality

Classy

Unique

Colorful

Inspiration

Uplifting

Colorful

Storytelling


Impression

The impression of our brand is what people walk away with or assess when they peruse our online (and eventual offline) presence.


Soul Sari Designs delivers the elegance and soul of Indian culture into homes while supporting the livelihoods of artisans. With a focus on sustainability, quality, and fair trade practices, we are poised for growth in the competitive home decor and textiles market.

It is a natural extension for Soul Sari to support the important cause of women survivors, which we aim to do when we are structured for it.

Our products are focused on home decor to start, where you can create an environment infused with the feelings we hope to invoke as you surround yourself with products that fulfill our core attributes.

When I had my own palace, I promised myself, it would be totally different. I closed my eyes and imagined a riot of color and sound, birds singing in mango and custard apple orchards, butterflies flitting among jasmines, and in the midst of it - but I could not imagine yet the shape that my future home would take. Would it be elegant as crystal? Solidly precious, like gold filigree*? I only knew that it would mirror my deepest being. There I would finally be at home.

We hope to help every Soul Sari customer create their own personal palace, reminded every day of the beauty, grace, and empowerment that our products bring.

 

Panchaali as a product

I am connecting to Draupadi through her more powerful name, Panchaali by naming my signature sari pattern after her as a series. I'm using the most common draping style but it can grow to other series as well, with different motifs patterned after things like Bharatanyatam dancers and the Gujarati style of wearing the sari.


My first Panchaali quilt is available for sale in cotton.



I have more in progress - 8 silk and 12 cotton. They will mostly be queen size but I have enough for two in king size.


The Sada series

I also had this concept that we can metaphorically do our part to carry on Krishna's act of supplying Draupadi with eternal cloth for her sari, so we have also created the Sada quilt series in a bold patchwork pattern. Each quilt in this series uses pieces of over 100 saris, available now in silk with different stitching patterns to suit your own aesthetic.



Custom memory quilts

Do you have some old saris that you or a female relative no longer wear but which hold sentimental value for you? I can create a custom one-of-a-kind quilt or other home decor for you to treasure in a new way. For example, I recently made a baby quilt and some table wear for a friend, using two saris she had stashed away from her mother's collection. Prices will vary depending on the size, type of fabric, how much is usable, and what design I go with. If you're interested, email info@soulsaridesigns.com.


 

A personal note

To some, Draupadi is a bit of a controversial figure, or at least not understood by those without a deeper insight into the Mahabharat story. I'm still working on building my own understanding of the finer points of the tale beyond what I knew growing up, through a growing shelf of copies I've collected. I've recently discovered a compelling retelling version gifted to me by my dear friend Manasee - The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which tells the story from Draupadi's first-person point of view. I'm absolutely immersed in it right now and I'll continue to use snippets from it and others in blogs to come.


Regardless of the source however, her importance in the great epic is undisputed. Right now I'm reading about how her strength and identity grew in her youth.

I'm no child, and I do know what I want! I want to leave a mark on history, as was promised to me at my birth.

Not to give too much away, but this version does also feature a prophecy that confirms what other versions say about her significance.

"You will be queen of queens, envied even by goddesses...You will be remembered for causing the greatest war of your time."

There is much more to the prophecy she was told, but the known spoiler of her being disrobed in the royal court is without a doubt full of indisputable intrigue.



The notion that Krishna, seen as God incarnate by many, acted so powerfully upon her surrender - her devotion - with an infinite sari, ignites a fire in me that I can only describe as spiritual and motivated for action.


So, with Panchaali as my muse and inspiration for my art, I see Soul Sari growing into a brand that inspires other women to own their divine power.


For fun - AI generated photos of Draupadi, using my age and likeness as a basis, with the tool neural.love

 

*Gold filigree in the textiles context is known as zari, something often used in sari borders, and something I will use in our more exclusive quilt stitches as well. Stay tuned for a future post about the process of creating meandering patterns with this gold thread, which I recently sourced from a silk weaver in Ayyampettai, Tamil Nadu.

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