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Khandua Saree-clad Odia Runner Wins Hearts at UK’s Manchester Marathon

Yes, one can run the full distance of the Marathon wearing a Saree!

A UK-based marathon-enthusiast woman, Ms Madhusmita Jena Das, proved this when she ran the Manchester Marathon dressed in a traditional Khandua Saree last month on 16th April 2023.

We got to see images of this smiling Person of Indian Origin (PIO) participating in the marathon and conquering hearts. Her images and videos are now viral.

What is a Marathon?

The marathon is a long-distance foot race with a distance of 42.195 km (26 mi 385 yd), usually run as a road race.

Who is Madhumita Jena Das and why is she in the news?

Madhusmita Jena Das is a 43-years old school teacher, born and brought-up in the UK. She is a mother of two and presently based at Stockport, UK.

She has completed 38 marathons.

Furthermore, she captured everyone’s attention being dressed in a beautiful traditional Khandua silk Saree while participating in her latest marathon – the Manchester Marathon.

Indeed, a “good blend of heritage and sports” as tweeted by a marathon-runner and Twitter user, Rasmi K Nanda.

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Many congratulated Madhusmita Jena Das for her achievement of completing the entire marathon of 42.195 kilometres dressed in a saree and upholding and promoting our Indian culture.

And in ALL the viral images and videos, she is seen smiling.

Despite wearing a saree and running the entire distance, she has clocked impressive statistics –

She covered the distance in 4 hours 50 minutes and 27 seconds, earning an overall position of 14585 out of 18577 participants. – Source

Reminds me of the famous scene and dialogue of Sholay Hindi movie – adapting it to present situation:

Gabbar Singh: Kitney aadmi they marathon mein? (How many participants were there in the marathon?)

Follower: 18577, Sardar!

Gabbar Singh: Kitno ne saree pahna tha? (How many had worn saree?)

Follower: EK, Sardar! (One, Sardar!)

Yes, Ms Madhusmita Jena Das happened to be the ONLY ONE out of 18577 to have worn a saree for that marathon.

Which Saree Had She Worn?

The name of her saree has been shared by most as “Sambalpuri”, a type of “Ikat” and Geographical Indication (GI) handloom of Odisha, India.

However, Madhusmita Jena Das’s saree is not a Sambalpuri Saree.

Rather, it is a “Khandua” Saree, another type of “Ikat” and GI handloom of Odisha, India.

What inspired her to start running?

“I started running after the birth of my first son. I felt I had to go out of the home and have some time for myself. Then, I started participating in marathons.”

What prompted her to wear a Saree for the Marathon?

Ms Jena Das had run 37 marathons dressed in different tracksuits and had even worn shorts.

But, she chose one of her favourite sarees for her 38th marathon.

“Many believe women cannot run wearing sarees, but I proved them wrong by completing the marathon draped in a Khandua silk saree.”

The saree belongs to her mother, who had worn the same saree after her marriage forty-five years ago.

“I specifically like the saree’s colour and its traditional look. I had last worn the same saree three years ago, just before Covid, while attending an event at the Odia society of UK in which I had choreographed a semi-Odissi dance.”

“In England, it is cold. I wear sarees occasionally for events. On the morning of the marathon, I thought let me wear the saree and enjoy. I would get nice photos! It was a nice feeling while running. Some tapped on my shoulder and said it was ‘cute’. Co-participants greatly encouraged me.”

Madhusmita considered wearing the saree for her 38th marathon for these three reasons:

  1. I thought it would be a nice challenge.
  2. I could showcase Indian culture.
  3. I wanted to prove that one can run and complete the marathon in any attire they chose.

Earlier, when she was in Cairo, Egypt, she had spoken with her friends there. They had been inspired by her and had expressed their willingness to run. They had mentioned their inability to run by wearing Hijab or other dresses and with restrictions. Madhusmita had encouraged them that they should run if they wish to. Dress should not be an impediment.

Is Madhusmita Jena Das the first saree runner?

There have been Saree Run Events viz-

But, there is no doubt that Ms Madhusmita Jena Das has captured hearts and attention by her simplicity, style and smile.

Some lessons from Ms Jena Das’s remarkable feat:

  • Marathon can be completed in a saree.
  • Full marathon can also be completed by also sporting a dazzling smile all the while!
  • Traditional weave earns much love.
  • Like diamonds, sarees are forever and a girl’s best friend.
  • Wherever we stay, we can showcase our culture with pride and delight.
  • Hearty thought and gesture touches hearts and earns genuine acclaim.
  • Love knows no language and borders.
  • Just do what you want to do making the most of what you have.
  • Just Keep Running and inspiring (Like Finding Nemo’s “Just Keep Swimming”)
  • Misinformation, misreporting, and misrepresentation exists.
  • Many are unaware about the names of handlooms and our heritage.

Many, including Madhusmita Jena Das, had not heard of Khandua or GI Tag before.

Most of us are unaware of our local products and rich heritage and culture. There are so many products in our state & country! We will get to know and learn, when knowledge is shared and we are informed and made aware.

Correct information & representation is a must. But, it is very challenging- just like competing and completing a marathon is very challenging.

Thanks to Madhusmita Das Jena, now more people know the names of our sarees, and may they be inspired by her.

Appreciate that this cool teacher is now educating all about the correct saree name via her recent interviews.

All must buy, wear, use and gift our local products like handlooms, and share and promote.

When we aren’t aware & don’t know/share correct name, we become a party to misinformation & misreporting.

Wrong info exists on cyberspace unless updated.

More Info about Khandua Saree-

Both Sambalpuri and Khandua are types of “Odisha Ikat” i.e. tie-and-dye handloom called “Bandha Kala” in Odia.

Both “Sambalpuri Bandha Saree & Fabrics” and “Khandua Saree & Fabrics” have the Geographical Indication (GI) Tag, and they are GI-tagged Handlooms of Odisha, India.

More info here- Sambalpuri Bandha GI and Khandua GI

Many people wrongly believe that all Odisha Sarees are called Sambalpuri.

However, ALL Odisha Sarees are NOT Sambalpuri. There are many varieties.

More info in this Twitter thread.


About the Author

Anita Sabat

A creative explorer. Believes in miracles and the power of words. Independent researcher, PhD, writer, cultural activist, social worker. Orange Flower Award 2019 for Best Use of Twitter for Social Impact- Runner-Up. Geographical Indications ( read more...

6 Posts | 3,218 Views

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