Though saree is a fashionable garment now the history of a fabric humbly draped around the waist of a woman started thousands of years ago. The origin of a garment similar to saree or a fabric drape around a woman can be traced back to Indus Valley Civilization which came in to existence during 2800 – 1800 BC around the north western part of India
The word Sari means “A Strip Of Cloth” in Sanskrit.. Indian women and a few men who have been draping themselves in silk, cotton and linen fabric since a very long time, thinks of the saree as the ambassador of the rich customs and traditions and a symbol of national pride.
Rta Kapur Chishti calls the saree a “magical unstitched garment” is very well suited for the blazing heat of this subcontinent keeping in mind the modest dressing style of the two major communities that are Hindus and Muslims.
Sarees also remain a traditional out in neighboring Indian countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Beginning of the saree!
The journey of this beautifully draped garment began with cotton. Cotton was first cultivated and then woven in the subcontinents of India around 5th Millennium BC. The woven cotton became very big during this era with women to hide their modesty. Due to this the weavers started making this fabrics in different colors and dyes that were used for it were Indigo, turmeric, lac and red madder. These dyes are still in use for organic cotton fabrics.
You can find mentions of a garment like saree in early Buddhist Pali and Jain scripts during 6th century BC.
How did saree get its name?
The word saree evolved from a Sanskrit word Satika which means a women’s attire according to the earliest Hindu literature. Satika or a Saree is derived from a 3 piece ensemble which comprises of Stanpatta - Chest band, Antariya - the lower garment, Uttariya – A veil worn over the head or shoulder. This complete ensemble use to be generally know as Poshak which is a generic term for costume.
Ancient Antariya patterns closely resembled a dhoti in a fishtail version which was passed between the two legs. This drape covered the leg loosely and then flowed in to a nice and long decorative pleat at the front of the torso. This particular drape resembles modern day Nauvari saree or Maharashtrian saree
Antariya later evolved into Bhairnivasani skirt which is know as a Ghagra or a Lehenga today. Stanapatta evolved into a choli by 1st century and Uttariya use to be worn over the head like a veil which turned in to modern day Dupatta or ghoonghat.
In ancient Tamil poetry like Silappadhikaram and Kadambari by Banabhatta women have been described in exquisite sarees. In ancient India women draped the saree’s in a way their mid riff would be visible but in literature written by Dharmasastra writers stated that women should always be dressed such that their mid riff and navel should never be seen. Because of this literature, the exposure of navel became a taboo, but contradictory to this in ancient Indian tradition and Natya Shastra which is an Indian treatise which describes ancient costumes and dances, it is said that navel is considered to be the source of light and creativity, hence it is suppose to be shown and left bare while wearing a saree.
Traditionally women wore various types of handloom sarees like cotton, silk, ikkat, embroidered, block print and tie and dye fabrics. Apart from these there are brocade silk sarees also available like Banarasi, Gadwall, Paithani, Kanchipuram, Mysore, Bhagalpuri, Chanderi, Maheshwari, Mekhela, Uppada and Narayan pet etc.
Evolution of the saree
Year’s later affluent and rich Indian women who would travel to other countries, would ask the artisans to use expensive gold threads and beautiful stones and make one of a kind outfits for them that would look unique and make them stand out in a crowd showing off their wealth.
However saree as a garment remained unbiased and was adapted by each social class in their own way. That was the beauty of the garment back then and it still remains the same now after so many centuries.
Due to industrialization entering India, with the British rule, synthetic dyes were also bought in India. Local traders started importing these chemical dyes from other countries and along with these dyes came the different and new techniques of dyeing and printing. These new techniques gave our basic Indian sarees a much needed make over and unimaginable variety.
The development of fabrics and textiles became big in India and stated reflecting in sarees as well. Motif like flower, leaves, figures and animals were included on the fabrics of the saree while printing them.
Due to the increasing foreign influence in India, Saree become the first official International garment from India. This seamless garment in modern day’s saree became the symbol of Indian femininity.
Style of draping this fabulous garment.
More than 80 ways have been recorded to wear a saree but the most common way of all is saree being wrapped around the waist with midriff being bare and loose ends of this drape going over the shoulder. This garment is versatile and can be draped in multiple ways though, but some of these drapes do require a particular length or form of the fabric.
A historian of saree and a recognized textile scholar named Rta Kapur Chishti has documented 108 ways of wearing a saree in her book named “Saris: Tradition and Beyond”
This book documents the different kinds of drapes across 14 states that are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
These are the different ways a saree is being draped in different states of India.
Nivi style drape – This style is originally worm in Deccan region of India. There are two type of Nivi style, Modern Nivi and Kaccha Nivi. In a nivi style drape pleats are passed between the legs and tucked in to the waist from behind. This allows free movement for lady wearing with along with proper coverage of the legs.
Gujarat / Rajasthani style drape–after making the pleats similar nivi style these please are tucked in the front and loose end of the drape Is taken from the pleated draped across the right shoulder and pulled across in the front all the way to the back.
Bengali and Odisha style drape – Traditionally these style of draping has no pleats. Bengali style is worn without pleats where the saree is wrapped in an anti-clockwise way around the waist and then draped the second time in clockwise direction. Because there are no pleats involve the loose end of this drape is a lot longer which goes around the body on the left shoulder. After the drape on the shoulder there is enough cloth left to cover ones head as well.
This modern style of draping the saree originates from the Tagore family. Rabindranath Tagore’s elder brother Satyendranath’s wife Jnanadanandini Devi came up with this new and unique style of saree draping after she had stayed in Bombay. This style of draping required a chemise (old name for a blouse) and a petticoat which was suppose to be worn under the saree. The extra layering covered a women’s feminine parts perfectly and made it possible for the women to come out of their quarters named Purdah in this attire.
Nepali drape –Nepal has a lot of different varieties of draping a this outfit, and the most common amongst all is the Nivi style draped Sari.
The Awadhi and Bhojpuri community wears the sari with the pallu being sedha like the Gujarati drape. The Mithila community has its own traditional drape name Maithili drapes which is like the Purniea and Madhubani drapes, but today these drapes are rarely seen and most sarees are worn with pallus in front or in the nivi style
Rajbanshi community women would wear their sari with no choli or a blouse and would tie the sari below the neck which would resemble draping a towel. In modern Indian no one really wears their drapes in sari this way, and today Bengali and nivi drapes are more popular.
The nivi drape was made popular in Nepal by the Ranas and the Shah royals
Himalayan Style drape – The saree from Himalayan region are called Kulluvi Patta. This is a traditional form of woollen saris generally worn in Himachal Pradesh, a similar variation of this saree is also worn in Uttarakhand
Maratha style drape – This style also differs in each community. This style of draping the sari is popular in Maharashtra and in Goa. Because of Indian cinema this style of draping has become very famous and is also trending with Maharashtrian brides for their wedding.
Pin Kosuvam style – This is a typical drape for the women living in Tamil Nadu
Madisar drape – This drape is very typical for the Iyer / Iyengar Brahmin ladies from Tamil Nadu. Traditionally this drape needs a 9 yard sari.
Nauvari drape – This drape resembles a male Maharashtrian dhoti. There are many societal and regional variations of this drape available. This drape requires a 9 yard sari and the ends of this drape is then passed over the shoulder and upper body. This style of draping the sari is called Navvari and it is also called Kashta in Konkani. Most of the women in small villages of Maharashtra still drape their saree in this manner. This sari is accompanied with a big bindi on the forehead and green glass bangles.
Karnataka style drape – In Karnataka Kacche drape is very popular along with Nivi drape. This drape shows nivi drape in front and kacche drape at the back. There are two different kind of kacche drapes as well named Hora kacche and Melgacche. These drapes are limited to the northern part of Karnataka, but due to modernization these drapes are only worn on special occasions and not used as an everyday attire.
Gobbe sari –This style of sari is worn by women in the Sahyadri or Malnad and central region of Karnataka. This particular drape is worn with 18 molas sari with draping 3-4 round on their waist and the crisscrossing over the shoulder and tying a knot in the end.
Kerala style drape – This is a two pieced sari called Mundum Neryathum which is generally only worn in the state of Kerala. This sari is usually made with unbleached cotton and further decorated with colored or gold stripes or borders. The timeless combination of gold and white looks very pretty.
India still remains a powerhouse of printing dyeing and weaving which is very well represented in the different varieties of the sari.
Let me know which is your favorite style of saree.