Appreciate all crafts you grew up with as India is rich with them, advises naturopath Ghazal Zandieh, from Germany
What are the factors that shaped Ghazal Zandieh, a qualified Naturopath from Germany, to increasingly show fondness towards Indian textiles and fabric, and appreciate the nuances of different weaving styles? In line with her study and realizing the bounty that nature bequeaths for the mind and healing, Ghazal’s admiration for wellness regimes (including yoga, breathing and meditation exercises) is another extension to her being a ‘natural-healing aficionado.’
Come Shivaratri or Navaratri celebrations at the Art of Living ashram, one can spot Ghazal completely at ease mingling with people and enjoying the festivities in her shimmering silk drapes and Indian jewellery. “A few years ago Bhanu-maa (Bhanumathi Narasimhan, Gurudev’s Sri Sri Ravishankar’s sister who steers the arts revival boutique Madhurya at the Art of Living) presented a silk sari done by weavers associated by Madhurya. I was awe-struck by the beauty of the material nearly a decade ago. It’s colour contrasts and motifs were completely brought out by hand and it was an eye-opener, to say the least,” says Ghazel on phone from Hamburg in Germany, while chatting on how her love for handlooms grew year on year. After completing High School Ghazal studied Naturopathy to become a Naturopath, or a Naturo-practitioner as some countries call it. “In Germany we start off for two years with the study of medicine with aspects as anatomy pathology, physiology and the like, and later its diagnostic with therapies that are more holistic based on herbs, exercise and diet,” explains Ghazal.
Naturopathy, as we all know, takes a holistic approach to wellness, the alternative medicine supports a person to live a healthy lifestyle. The foundations of naturopathy are based on the importance of consuming a healthy diet while being exposed to fresh water, sunlight, exercise and stress management.It was sheer coincidence that Ghazal, while studying Naturopathy, came to know about the Art of Living (AOL) ashram in Bangalore that teaches natural ways of conditioning your body to healthy living. Her curiosity led her to visiting the Art of Living ashram where she gradually got exposed to aspects of human breath and how it is set. “I went on to do my initial course ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ in 2009 just before my final year exams. It was fascinating, as I myself had two chronic diseases at that time. So the initial breathing exercises; Sahaj meditation and acclimatizing myself with other healing techniques along with the knowledge of Ayurveda helped me tackle my problems that other medical streams could not,” says Ghazal on phone, happy that she had herself experienced the joy of going completely natural. “It got cured, and since then I am symptom-free. This was a huge thing for me!” she says.“ It’s more than 10 years ago that stylist Ami Patel introduced me to the Art of Living. I come here at least four times in a year to soak in the Ashram’s pure air, and seek Gurudev’s blessings, available copiously! Clutching to handlooms at Madhurya was after an incidental Madhur (sweet) experience during one such visit, something that would eternally further my empathy towards handloom weavers in India!” she says to a curious Madhurya staffer who wanted to find out more on her fascination for hand looms.
Textile and fashion influences...
Coming back to her penchant for Indian handlooms and her love for arts and crafts, did her early childhood years provide her with an environment and ambience that set a platform for pursuing her interests in appreciating textiles and arts?
Ghazal was born in North Germany, in the city of Hamburg. Her parents have a Persian background, so she can speak Parsi, German and English. “I grew up amidst two cultures –being exposed to German way of life and language, and being with my own family’s traditions and speaking Parsi. My leaning towards appreciating artistic creations and my sensibilities towards textile, fabric and fashion was because of my mother who constantly designed clothes for fashion shows and designers. I grew up observing her work with two dozen tailors and designers day-in and day-out!” laughs Ghazal.
Ghazal elaborates, “My mother had exclusive customers who demanded unique pieces of western wear. They insisted on limited editions too. My acclimatization with materials and colours thus began as a child, even as I observed my mom meticulously go about her creative proposals. She has been doing this since she was 10 years old, and continues to do even now at 65!!!”
Enjoying the drapes
Since the time Ghazal stepped on Indian soil in 2011, she slowly came to know about saris through the community in the Art of Living Ashram and through different Vedic ceremonies that happen there. “When I saw more and more people wearing it, I also wanted to wear it. I started buying them as wearing felt different and joyful! When you wear silks you feel everything changing in you. The material and the colour changes your behavior, and the way you walk too… it’s kind of going into a different space,” she says.
Appreciating Madhurya weaves
Enthused by the sari she received from Bhanu-maa, Ghazal also remembers walking into Madhurya there upon when she was overwhelmed to see the variety and diversity of textiles and weaves. But what really consumed her was the commerce at Madhurya, directed towards a cause. “The first sari I got from Bhanu-maa, I realised how different the material and colours infused were from the western clothes.It’s so fascinating to see how weaves come together so descriptively on a loom, how pieces of fabric come together to create a beautiful costume piece. It gradually helped me realize how many things go into making such thoughtful pieces, and how much of ideas, with patient understanding, come together,” she says.
Bought and enjoyed
Ghazal like to feel comfortable in saris, so prefers light drapes. “I like Mysore Silks as its light and airy that one can wear for a whole day. And at the same time, it has a good sheen with a festive look, and is not so heavy. For special occasions, I prefer the stunning Banarasi as nothing compares to its exclusivity. It’s one of the most unique weaves with striking colour contrasts and I feel it’s just at a different level,” says Ghazal for whom Mysore silks, Banarasi and light Kanjivaram saris fill her wardrobe.
Understanding Madhurya’s merchandise
“It’s not just the unique patterns brought about in a sari, or the mind-boggling plant-based materials showcased at Madhurya that one comes across. It’s the philosophy - helping weavers, women empowerment, supporting women’s entrepreneurship - that forms the fulcrum of Madhurya’s operations. I understood that it wasn’t all about just buying clothes and feeling good. What underlined was a humanitarian zeal to support a whole new movement,” say Ghazal.
Ghazal says it’s not what Madhurya has explained to her time and again, but her personal visits to the schools herself and spending time with the kids that has made her comprehend this line of ‘work for a cause.’ “I literally experienced the stream of work – they not just commission weavers for the saris sourced and custom-made, but stitching and tailoring from the Madhurya boutique too supports underprivileged schools. It is gratifying to see children being benefited from such schemes.”
Meditation and yoga mats
Not just saris and fabrics, but Ghazal this time, after her Shivaratri visit, had her suitcase filled with Madhurya’s cotton and silk products as bed covers, cushion covers and pooja items. “What I indeed enjoyed during this visit was a photo shoot I did for Chakra mat and Tulsi mat – both hand woven eco-friendly river grass mats, totally handmade available at Madhurya. These mats have benefits – just by sitting on the mat you are already benefited – its therapeutic,” she says.
Advise to young girls towards handmade products
Ghazal says it’s interesting that sometimes we look outside, and far from us to appreciate things. More than something that is around the corner. “When many travel from India to the US or Germany, they take the Art of Living course. But I say, it is round the corner for you. But they say, we realise the value after travelling away from India. So getting connected to things you grow up with is the answer to appreciating handmade crafts and weaves!” is her advice to young girls.