Flaunting India’s Culture Globally
India’s beauty queens couldn’t have got a whimsical costume if it were not for the wizard of Goa, Melvyn Noronha. His top notch national costumes for Miss India Pageant winners in recent years have made the nation, a force to reckon with at the international pageants! After his resounding win at last year’s Miss United Continents 2014 in Ecuador, where India’s Gail Da Silva strutted in his vibrant ‘Carnival of Indian toys and cartoons’ outfit, he did his nation proud yet again with his literature-inspired lotus costume for India’s 2015 exponent Sushrii Shreya Mishra. After Sushrii’s costume ‘The lotus princess of Indian literature on her peacock pedestal’ bagged the National Costume award, Melvyn now proudly boasts of being the only Indian designer for holding two international records i.e. the first Asian designer to win a design contest in South America and the only designer in the pageant history to win a National Costume competition in the same pageant back to back!
Excerpts from the interview:
What was your first reaction on bagging the honours for the second time in a row?
I wasn’t expecting a win this year, since a back-to-back national costume win never happened in the 70 year history of beauty pageants. So when I started receiving fan messages from Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia, I thought they were just being kind and expressing how much they loved the costume. I only believed it when one fan sent me a backstage photo. And I shed a tear with the thought that this only happened because of the grace of God and the blessings of my mother. Infact all of my costumes are a consequence of prayers of gratitude for the abilities and opportunities the Lord has given me, prayers for the well-being of the girl and prayers for the improvement of humanity across the country and the world. In every design it is important that my heart and mind is clean, that the costume is an extension of the girl wearing it and stands as artistry with a purpose. As a consequence of that prayer I was given the urge to cover Indian Literature in colours of pink, gold, orange and peach. And God incidentally, they were Sushrii’s favourite colours. I pictured the peacock and the lotus too and that was exactly what Sushrii wanted.
Tell us about your equation with Sushrii. How did you both conceive the idea for ‘The Lotus Princess’ national costume?
Sushrii has a beautiful heart and she cared for me very lovingly through the entire process of the national costume – planning and making. She will forever be the ‘magical glow’ of my heart.
The idea for the national costume came out of a prayer – Indian Literature. It came as a vision of books, texts, lotuses and peacock lovers with a magic themed backdrop of pink, peach, orange and gold.
What was the most challenging part of the costume?
The greatest challenge of the costume was dealing with my nagging mind that was never satisfied with the outcome, and just wanted to keep making the garment better and more convenient. The costume had to be worn 3 times, survive 6 flights and the bus journey over the mountains of Ecuador, and it had to be worn in 15 minutes! Records show me what was impossible. I wanted to be the best that I could be and my best was never enough for me. Even after winning I was finding minor flaws in the costume!
Summarise your masterpiece for us.
India’s national costume tells the story of the inheritance and evolution of the wisdom of life. Artistically in the lines of a child’s notebook and the learning curves of growth, the costume spans through the timeline of national literature and covers various textual forms of the preservation of the Indian value system, knowledge system, development and research, religion, beliefs and cultural behaviours. From poetry to storytelling to memories of events, these preservations are showcased upon the national symbols: lotus, peacock, Ganges dolphin, banyan tree, and the endangered species of Indian frogs.
Overall, Sushrii depicts a fancy Indian character – the Lotus Princess, who rides upon her peacock-accented décor, displaying her beauty in the splendid simplicity of Indian literature. She reflects the modern Indian woman, who with care unites people to their souls, extending a radius of value-oriented living in the world.
To whom would you credit your success?
I would like to credit to my mother, Marina Noronha for adding her magic touch to the costume for the first time.The costume would also not have been possible of it were not for my team: production executive – Devashish Majumdar, crown – Carol Fernandes, harness design – Sanjay Jain, literature research – Vishwanath Bhat, script design – Sona, construction – Pintoo, Kazi, Hazim, Harre, Allwyn, Dinesh and assistants – Ankit and Jyoti.
How many parts does your costume consist of?
The Lehenga with the peacock overcoat
The Choli and Jewellery
The Golden River Ganga
The Throne Backpack
While you have no doubt made extensive use of the fabric of the Odissi sari while constructing the Lehenga of your costume, it was hard to miss the detailed embroidery work on it. What does it mean?
Rich pink, orange, purple and gold Indian silk brocade was used to make the lehenga along with 3 chiffon saris and the Odissi bodkin fabric with Indian hand embellishment work on top of it.The Indian brocade is a richly decorative shuttle-woven fabric, often made in coloured silks and with gold and silver threads. When accessorised it gives the feel of a common Indian bride.
Meaning of the embroidery designs
Freedom of Speech: Indian knowledge had to suffer the loss of freedom of communication due to colonialisation. The spinning loom, which is also known as the chakra, present on the national flag, along with the lotus, which is the national flower represents the bravery and salutes the courage of those Indians that had to face huge struggles because of their choice to join the national freedom struggle by means of writing text, letters and making speeches.
The Carriage of Loving Peacocks: The peacocks at the bottom of the lehenga are a depiction of the powerful Indian mythological characters, all of whom had animal carriages. While in Indian belief, ‘Saraswati’ is referred to as the goddess of education, who rides on a lotus; here, Miss India is a Princess of Literature, riding on peacock lovers. The pink is a peahen, and the orange is a peacock. The national bird here is used to depict the product of positive literature, that is, freedom on one’s soul which creates the harbour for love to exist in the world.
The plant fruiting the ‘Frame of Growth’: This artistic depiction represents a time capsulated frame that captures the essence of ancient Indian spirituality. Beginning from the bottom, the design starts with roots emerging out of a lotus, telling the story of how gently and gracefully an Indian is rooted to the history of his land. This blooms out into a heart, showing that in the Indian culture, sharing of knowledge was an expression of love. And finally, the plant fruits into a frame of time capture. The frame shows caterpillars and butterflies in curved vines of blooming lotuses. The caterpillars represent the masses in search of themselves and in turn seeking knowledge and divinity. The butterfly represents the few that find the answers to life by appropriate and quality reading.The 4 frames hold four of the most ancient Indian texts – Vedas.
The Human Book: In the absence of books, the brain was the text and the heart was the book, the teacher was the source and the student was the torch bearer. In order to further this way of life, in India, the “Rishis” and “Munis” played an important role and they taught under the national tree – Banyan Tree.
The Pen Mightier than the Sword: The design of the panel on the lehenga consists of a meaningfully created sword of educational empowerment with a lamp of knowledge, a flame on top of it and above all, a book, that consists of the first alphabet of the name of Miss India – Sushrii in Hindi (India’s National Language) and Odiya (Sushrii’s State Language). The lotus atop the panel iterates her character of being a lotus princess.
From the bottom, the sword is formed with its tip being the nib of a pen. The stem of the sword is formed with the plait of a girl child, to depict how in modern India, education for a girl child is getting increasingly important. The sword holder contains a paper boat, to assert that by educating the young boys, social demons like rape and violence can be curbed and the women of the country can be protected. The handle of the sword has an ‘S’ for Sushrii in the form of a peacock head and an ‘O’ for Orissa, which is the name of the Indian state that Sushrii belongs to. This sword then forms the lamp stand lighting the colourful flame of knowledge and wisdom.
An interesting feature of your silhouette is the tail of the peacock overcoat skirt. Tell us about that.
The overcoat of the lehenga has the Odissi dancer costume at the sides and a peacock tail at the back. The peacock feathers of the tail consist of embossed pictures of various literary events and achievements through the history of India. They are: Indus script (35-20 BC), Brahmi script (4th century BC to 5th century BC), Adi Shankara 788 AD (Theology and Philosophy), Bhasa 275 AD (Plays and Stage), Asvaghosha 80 AD (Buddhacharita), Khushwant Singh – Humour, Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik, Mahatma Gandhi (Freedom Struggle), B.R. Ambedkar (Social Equality), Bhagvat Gita by Vyasa – Spirituality, Mahabharata by Vyasa (3rd Millenium BC),Nalanda – 5th Century BC (Centre of Education), Kadambari – Romantic Sanskrit novel by Banabhatta 7th century AD, Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma – 3rd Century BC (Children, Moral Education), Godaan by Premchand – Hindustani Novelist (Satire), Ramayana by Valmiki – 5th Century BC (Human Nature and Value), Abhijñānaśākuntalam by Kalidasa (Theatrical Play, Sad), Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond, Kama Sutra – Vatsyayana (300 BC), Arthashastra by Chanakya (Economy-Politics-Warfare, and basis of modern Business strategies) 300 BC, Chetan Bhagat – Contemporary Writer (Romantic Comedy), Malgudi Days by R K Naranayan (Fiction), Satyanweshi by Sharadindu Bandyodpadhyay (Mystery), Letters of Bhagat Singh – Early 19th century.
You have most noticeably weaved the river Ganga in your ensemble, what did you want imply?
Around the lehenga twists the Golden River Ganga. In this costume, the Ganga signifies the power that literature has to wash the minds of people and produce thought-provoking environments that can change societies and communal relationships in the world. And while this beautiful golden water of knowledge is free-flowing from the mind to the human heart and soul, some carriers are always needed, like motivators, teachers, parents, and elders of the society. These carriers are represented in this design by India’s national fish – The Ganges Dolphin. This dolphin can be seen interspersed with the pure waters (notice here the embroidery against the white background).
Embroidery: The Poets and the Frogs
In recent years of environmental conservation in India, various species of frogs top the list of amphibians that are endangered. Frogs have for many years bred and lived alongside the lotuses and subtly played their role in the environment by helping keep parasite multiplication in check (like mosquitoes). However, as they are reducing in number, we are forced to find other ways to deal with problems and diseases like malaria.
On the parallel ground, many works of artistic literature like poetry have gone unnoticed by a generation that survives with entertainment and technology. Indian poets, like frogs, lived through the various swamps of life, but their experience shared through their literary works have the power to save us from so many difficult situations in life.
The lotus leaves hold the literary work in their original text as well as its translation, while the frogs themselves are the carriers holding the images of noted Indian poets and thinkers of the country. They are:
Late Mr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam (ex-President of India). The peacock tail then spreads out with embossed pictures of Kabir Das – 15th Century mystic poet, Kamala Surayya, India’s nightingale Sarojini Naidu, Radhanath Ray – Oriya & Bengali poet, Gulzar -Indian poet, lyricist and film director and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.