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The latest chorus song by Sunil Perera, Desmond de Silva, Anesley Dias, and Rajiv Sebastian, dedicated to the theme, 'The Sarong,' is doing the normal rounds on the Internet, and via emails. The song itself is humorously entertaining. I have written earlier too, on this subject, but the latest hit song about the 'Sarama' inspired me to write about it again.

Many men and women wear the 'Sarong' in the Asian sub continent. When it comes to women, it covers their lower part of the body; a short sleeve-blouse covers the top. Elite Lankan women wrap psychedelic sarongs round their waist, as a chic design, with a trendy knot, at times tubular wrap-ups calling it the 'lungi'. The normal village woman's daily costume is called the 'redda and hatte.' The Southern women, in particular, wrap few metres of printed cloth round their waist, known as cheeta; their blouse is a long sleeved top, with 'beeralu' adornments known as the Kabakuruththuwa.

Sarama has been the most commonly used attire among men folk in Sri Lanka from time immemorial. It varies from the design, from handloom, silk to 'Palayakart', depending on the price structure. The ordinary man wears the latter for durability on a daily basis. The multi coloured, fashionable, and expensive designer type sarongs are usually worn by the middle to upper class social strata, with a matching kurtha by men, or a modish top by women. Yet, there is another group of men, who adorn western outfits during the day, and get into their sarong in the evening only for convenience.

Social stigma 

For decades, the snobbish section of the society looked upon 'saronged- jonnies', as they were termed, and categorised them as less educated lower social classes, thus attaching a sort of social stigma to the sarong. Over the years, however, the attitudes of people have changed, once the political and social leaders started to adopt it as a formal garment, and interpreting it as a national pride, and calling the outfit as the 'national dress'. Still there is a special breed of Sri Lankans, who appear to be allergic to wearing a Sarama altogether! So, they even get into bed wearing a pair of shorts.

Once a reader wrote to the writer, as a feedback to his pervious penning on the subject, posing the following question: 'has anyone heard of Amude (loincloth or breechcloth), the national dress of the Sinhalese? It is the most comfortable dress, if you want to cover your genitals in public for modesty, in a humid and a warm climate. That was the men’.

Women wore a Redikaalla (piece of cloth) for the same reason. One should read "Salalihini Sandesaya", a prescribed school text, some time back, before the rise of the western suit and of course over the Amude".

Combined outfit 

Our forefathers always wore sarongs. The elite lot, however, used to wear the trouser underneath the cloth, and wrapped it over with a high-priced cloth, out of wool blended with cashmere. They were named as 'redda-asse mahaththaya, and worked as Vidanes (chief operating officers), under the colonialists. 

Another reader described Vidanes as follows: "There was a class of people who wore trousers, and over that wore a cloth to cover it, but showing the lower portion at the ankle with a jacket (coat) on the upper body. They also wore a hat and shoes”. They were called "Redda Asse Mahaththaya”.

“There was another class of people, who wore the "Saruwalaya". It was akin to a pair of shorts, but had a "frill" right round the waist coming out from a string tightened to prevent the "Saruwalaya" dropping. The women wore a cloth named "Kambaya" and the elite women wore "Pata Kambaya that was made up of more elegant quality stuff”. 

Different schools of thought

When Sri Lankans migrate to foreign countries, particularly to the West, they seem to adopt two different schools of thought on the Sarama. Some begin to think the adaptation to the new environment is compulsory and it aids local harmony, while others become unhesitatingly adamant in thinking that one must never forget one's own traditions and the culture. It invariably turns out to be a state of the mind!

In London, the writer has witnessed some Sri Lankan expatiates becoming extremely conservative about the English customs and traditions, and keep up with the Joneses by wearing a collar tie even at home, when they sit at the dining table with the family. Contrary such beliefs, there are those who couldn't care less, and wear a sarong even travelling by public transport (the underground railway) to attend Sinhala New Year celebrations.

The difference 

In western cold climes people generally wear thick dark clothes and cover their necks with collar ties, feet with socks and shoes, thermal vests and 'long Johns' underneath shirts and trousers, to protect them from extreme cold weather conditions. When summer comes and the sun starts to shine, the whole scene changes with the warm weather, and light and flimsy attire come to the forefront to dispel the gloomy look. Public parks get crowded with 'half naked' women, showing their flesh by sunbathing in the sun, while men go to work in short sleeve shirts and wearing a kind of sandals to suit the climate, instead of shoes.

Garments are basically meant to cover one's bareness. OK, let styles and designs exist, but why on earth one's dress should be treated as inferior, especially when one wears a Sarong? After all, whatever the dress one wears, it should be for one's comfort and convenience, according to one's own choice, and then, why should any one else be bothered about it? So, grip on your Sarong!

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