Independence Day holds a unique feel here in Malaysia compared to other countries around the world due to our diverse ethnic heritage, adhering and embracing each other’s traditions and cultivating the spirit of patriotism and harmony cheering on Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! at the ring of midnight on August 31st every year.

This year’s Merdeka Day celebrations was definitely different for Malaysians as it was the first since 1957 without any parades or gatherings due to the new normal brought on by the ongoing global pandemic.

To lift the spirits of our nation, established local designer, Pavithra Varathan of ZOBHA was inspired to design a unique Merdeka saree to commemorate and celebrate 63 years of independence and unity with our fellow Malaysians during these unprecedented times.

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STANDING TOGETHER WITH ZOBHA   The inspiration behind this one-of-a-kind design was the Jalur Gemilang, our Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence) Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Kuala Lumpur’s signature skyline. The body of the Merdeka saree especially was inspired by our Malaysian flag which represents the mighty strips of glory embodied with national colours of freedom, independence and the royalty of a unified nation. The distinguishing feature of this Kanjivaram Silk saree is the heavily contrasted border and pallu (decorated end) embellished with gold depicting the bravery and courage of Tunku Abdul Rahman, who fought endlessly to unite our fellow countrymen on the road to independence. #TogetherWithZobha #Merdeka2020

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ZOBHA was founded by Pavithra Varathan, an interior designer by profession and a saree enthusiast. She single-handedly penetrated the Malaysian market with her unique brand of premium designed Kanjivaram sarees, with the aim of educating consumers on the authenticity of silk sarees and designs. Unlike most sarees, ZOBHA’s exclusive sarees are exclusively designed right here in Malaysia and are then sent to India where weavers weave the saree according to customer’s preferences and taste.

With their unique designs and personalized consumer journey, ZOBHA has always been in the minds of buyers for the quality and awareness it delivers to them as it is not often we find original premium Kanjivaram sarees being sold in Malaysia.

Photo credit : Kancheevaram Weaves by Zobha

Pavithra’s inspiration and artwork on the merdeka saree was meticulously constructed and weaved by the finest weavers in Kanchipuram, India.

The Kanjivaram saree was created based on the denotation of our Independence Day, combining a silhouette of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the stripes representing the states of Malaysia, the fourteen-point star and moon from our Jalur Gemilang into an exquisite masterpiece!

Pavithra’s notion was to showcase the variegation of culture in Malaysia and to honor and celebrate 63 years of independence and solidarity with our fellow Malaysians.

Photo credit: Kancheevaram Weaves by Zobha

The Merdeka saree presents our pride and joy, the Jalur Gemilang, our national Flag with a slight twist. The body of the saree embodies 14 stripes of equal width to represent the equal status in the federation of the 13 member states and the federal territories, the bold blue which symbolizes unity in Malaysia, the crescent and moon representing the entities and royalty of our nation.

Bapa Kemerdekaan on the Merdeka Saree

The pattu/zari (embellished with gold) and velli pattu (embellished with silver) is one of the reasons Kanjivaram sarees are celebrated with pride and joy at any occasion. Traditionally, the gold threads used in these sarees are actual beaten gold filaments. For this Merdeka saree, the pallu/mundhani (decorated end) is designed to independently weave our Bapa Kemerdekan Tunku Abdul Rahman alongside our signature architectural buildings to celebrate unity, freedom and independence.

Thanujaananthan & Anujaananthan looking resplendent in the Merdeka Saree

Pavithra seized this opportunity to emulate the undeniably special Merdeka saree to demonstrate her admiration and gratitude to the front-liners who stood tall for our country during the daunting initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic with ensuing looks.

“Some of our national uniforms were inspired by these looks using Kanjivaram Silk sarees modeled with custom blouses created by Trihamsa, using various textiles such as songket, brocades and silks”.

These looks were modeled by our fellow revolutionary Malaysian women like Carey Ng (Miss Universe Malaysia 2013), Christy Ng (Christy Ng Shoes Designer), Dahlia Nadirah (SO.LEK Cosmetics Founder) and Shikin Gomez (Next T in Asia).

Inspired based on the uniform worn by the police, modeled by Carey Ng
Inspired based on the uniform worn by the doctor, modeled by Christy Ng
Inspired based on the uniform worn by the firefighter, modeled by Dahlia Nadirah
Inspired based on the uniform worn by the army, modeled by Shikin Gomez

For personalities like Christy and Dahlia, it was the first time they were draped in a Kanjivaram silk saree. It may seem unconventional at first glance, but with cultural appreciation as the topic stirring netizens this past week, these ladies truly brought the message home by respectfully donning the sarees and inspired-looks with pride.

Pavithra of ZOBHA hopes to donate the exclusive Merdeka Kanjivaram Silk saree to the National Art Gallery or National Museum to share these stories of unity and strength in the new decade that were weaved into the saree for generations to come to appreciate.

Anita Woo had the privilege to speak to the architect behind the shoot Pavitra Varathan, founder of Kancheewaram weaves by Zobha and the leading make-up artist who worked her magic on the models, Vithya Visvendra