1,000 women make history by descending on Ladies’ Day at Ascot wearing sarees

LONDON: More than a thousand women, mostly of Indian origin, created history at Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot on Thursday when they all turned up dressed in sarees, some of them made by a humble “Kantha” artisan from West Bengal named Rupa Khatun who had never heard of Queen Elizabeth II, let alone Royal Ascot.
The famous race meeting, which the royal family arrives at in horse-drawn carriages, normally sees men in morning suits and top hats and women in striking hats.
But UK-based doctor Dipti Jain, who hails from Kolkata, came up with the idea for a crowd of women to wear sarees to Ascot to showcase their pride in their national heritage and celebrate their creations of Indian weavers. Most came from Britain but some flew in from other countries, including India.
Jain’s silk saree was hand-embroidered with London and Kolkata skylines, the Queen’s face, Big Ben, a red phone box, and the Tower of London, by an artisan from Nanoor, West Bengal, named Rupa Khatun (33).
Sitting at her home on Thursday, Khatun was beaming from head to foot. “I have never had any formal training in making sarees. I just learned from the other women in the village and my mother and grandmother. I am really proud. I did not know about the Queen, London, or Big Ben before,” she told TOI.
“I am so happy that I am getting recognized. As of now, I just give my sarees to the middleman who sells them to the market. No one gives us any recognition. I am really proud of this saree. It has got such massive appreciation,” said Khatun, whose village is famous for “Kantha” embroidery.
”This is the hardest saree I have ever made. I am used to traditional prints,” she added. It took her four months to make, with help from other women. “The hardest part was making the Queen’s face absolutely perfect.”
Tanima Paul, who promotes Indian artisans in the UK, designed the saree and sent over Google images of Big Ben and the Queen to S K Nurul Hoda on WhatsApp, who lives in the same village as Khatun. He sketched them on the fabrics and bought the materials and Khatun made the saree.
Just as the saree was almost finished, Paul spotted London had been spelled “Landon”. Khatun then corrected it.
Khatun also made silk stole with a Union Jack and the Queen’s face on it, which the group planned to gift to the Queen, whose horses race at Ascot. “I wish I could meet the Queen and see how she feels about the stole,” Khatun said. “I feel very proud.”
“All my life I have wanted to promote Indian craftsmen and give them due to recognition. It is such a big achievement to be featured at Ascot,” said Paul, who also designed some of the other sarees including a Covid-themed saree, hand-painted in Madubhani style by Choti Thakur from Darbhanga, Bihar, and another themed with Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
An Ascot spokesperson said: “This is a wonderful initiative and so worthwhile, we welcome them all warmly to Royal Ascot.”

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