The Modern Anarkali


The Hindi word anarkali is a combination of the word for pomegranate (anar) and bud (kali). While the dazzling red pomegranate buds do flare out when opening into flowers to ultimately become fruit, legend has it that Anarkali suits are actually named after the most famous dancing courtesan in the Mughal Empire under Akbar the Great. As the story goes, the courtesan Anarkali was so graceful and elegant that Akbar's son, the bloodthirsty prince fell instantly in love with her while she danced and thereafter renounced all of his warrior ways. 

White it's likely not a historically accurate etymology, it wouldn't be hard to believe that Anarkali suits are rooted in dance as traditionally these suits have three components- a long flowy shirt (kameez) that's fitted at the bust but flares out dramatically at the waist; tapered leggings (churidaar) that closely follow the contour of the leg; and a stole (dupatta) that adds a pop of color. Anarkalis come in every conceivable color and are available in different fabrics (cotton, silk, etc.) so it's usually pretty easy to find the right piece for an event. Embellishments usually found on the kameez and/or dupatta typically involve sequin or stone work as well as embroidery that are either directly incorporated into the fabric (known as zari work) or the embellishments are incorporated into separate strips of fabric that are then woven in (known at gota work).

This Anarkali is a modern take on centuries-old traditional wear. Designed by Rabani and Rakha, and featured at my favorite boutique Fashion by Rohini, this outfit drops the churidaar in favor of a lengthened kameez. While the kameez does flare in that famous Anarkali fashion, it stays form fitted through the bust, waist, and some of the leg making the look decidedly more dress-like. Made of Georgette, a lightweight sheer fabric originally made from silk, the dress remains controlled and elegant during dinner hour while being flowy and playful on the dance floor. A small belt made of the same fabric helps maintain the fitted form- a small addition that really helps maintain the modern cut of the dress.


The modern design also nixes the dupatta in favor of white and gold sequin work starting from the neck. With this heavy work in the neck area, I skipped on a necklace and just added some earrings as accessories to complete the look.


Some Thoughts: 

  • Anarkalis have a long and celebrated history with new, modern looks constantly being created.
  • Known for being elegant and versatile because of various fabric and work combinations to choose from, there really is an Anarkali for every occasion.
  • The Anarkali cut visually lengthens the torso. Based on how form-fitting the dress is, you can choose whether or not you want to further accentuate certain areas. With such great diversity and options, Anarkalis are great for all body types!

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