A sari, saree or shari[note 1] is a South Asian female garment that consists of a drape varying from five to nine yards (4.57 meters to 8.23 meters) in length and two to four feet (60 cm to 1.20 m) in breadth that is typically wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder, baring the midriff.
The sari is usually worn over a petticoat (called 'parkar' (परकर) in Marathi lahaṅgā or lehenga in the north; pavadai in Tamil, pavada (or occasionally langa) in Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu, chaniyo, parkar, ghaghra, or ghagaro in the west; and shaya in eastern India), with a fitted upper garment commonly called a blouse (ravika in the south and choli elsewhere). The blouse has short sleeves and is usually cropped at the midriff. The sari is associated with grace and is widely regarded as a symbol of Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan culture.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Origins and history
- 3 Styles of draping
- 4 Bangladesh
- 5 Pakistan
- 6 Sri Lanka
- 7 Nepal
- 8 Afghanistan
- 9 Similarities and differences with other Asian clothing
- 10 Saree ornamentation and decorative accessories
- 11 Sari outside South Asia
- 12 Types
- 13 Images
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 References
- 17 Further reading
- 18 External links
The word sari is derived from Sanskrit शाटी śāṭī which means 'strip of cloth' and शाडी śāḍī or साडी sāḍī in Prakrit, and which was corrupted to sāṛī in Hindi. The word 'Sattika' is mentioned as describing women's attire in ancient India in Buddhist Jain literature called Jatakas. This could be equivalent to modern day 'Sari'. The term for female bodice, the choli is derived from another ruling clan from ancient Tamil Nadu, the Cholas. Rajatarangini (meaning the 'river of kings'), a tenth-century literary work by Kalhana, states that the Choli from the Deccan was introduced under the royal order in Kashmir. The concept of Pallava, the end piece in the sari, originated during the Pallavas period and named after the Pallavas, another ruling clan of Ancient Tamilakam.
Origins and history
The word sari is derived from Sanskrit शाटी śāṭī which means 'strip of cloth' and शाडी śāḍī or साडी sāḍī in Prakrit, and became sāṛī in Hindi. The word 'Sattika' is mentioned as describing women's attire in ancient India in Buddhist Jain literature called Jatakas. This could be equivalent to modern day 'Sari'.
In the history of Indian clothing the sari is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished during 2800–1800 BC around the western part of the Indian subcontinent. The earliest known depiction of the sari in the Indian subcontinent is the statue of an Indus Valley priest wearing a drape.
Ancient Tamil poetry, such as the Silappadhikaram and the Sanskrit work, Kadambari by Banabhatta, describes women in exquisite drapery or sari. The ancient stone inscription from Gangaikonda Cholapuram in old Tamil scripts has a reference to hand weaving. In ancient Indian tradition and the Natya Shastra (an ancient Indian treatise describing ancient dance and costumes), the navel of the Supreme Being is considered to be the source of life and creativity, hence the midriff is to be left bare by the sari.
Sculptures from the Gandhara, Mathura and Gupta schools (1st–6th century AD) show goddesses and dancers wearing what appears to be a dhoti wrap, in the "fishtail" version which covers the legs loosely and then flows into a long, decorative drape in front of the legs. No bodices are shown.
Other sources say that everyday costume consisted of a dhoti or lungi (sarong), combined with a breast band called 'Kurpasika' or 'Stanapatta' and occasionally a wrap called 'Uttariya' that could at times be used to cover the upper body or head. The two-piece Kerala mundum neryathum (mundu, a dhoti or sarong, neryath, a shawl, in Malayalam) is a survival of ancient Indian clothing styles. The one-piece sari is a modern innovation, created by combining the two pieces of the mundum neryathum.
It is generally accepted that wrapped sari-like garments for lower body and sometimes shawls or scarf like garment called 'uttariya' for upper body, have been worn by Indian women for a long time, and that they have been worn in their current form for hundreds of years. In ancient couture the lower garment was called 'nivi' or 'nivi bandha', while the upper body was mostly left bare. The works of Kalidasa mentions 'Kurpasika' a form of tight fitting breast band that simply covered the breasts. It was also sometimes referred to as 'Uttarasanga' or 'Stanapatta'.
The tightly fitted, short blouse worn under a sari is a choli. Choli evolved as a form of clothing in the 10th century AD, and the first cholis were only front covering; the back was always bare but covered with end of saris pallu. Bodices of this type are still common in the state of Rajasthan.
In South India and especially in Kerala, women from most communities wore only the sari and exposed the upper part of the body till the middle of the 20th century. Poetic references from works like Silappadikaram indicate that during the Sangam period in ancient Tamil Nadu, a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and head covering, leaving the midriff completely uncovered. Similar styles of the sari are recorded paintings by Raja Ravi Varma in Kerala. By the mid 19th century, though, bare breasted styles of the sari faced social revaluation and led to the Upper cloth controversy in the princely state of Travancore (now part of the state of Kerala) and the styles declined rapidly within the next half a century.
In ancient India, although women wore saris that bared the midriff, the Dharmasastra writers stated that women should be dressed such that the navel would never become visible. By which for some time the navel exposure became a taboo and the navel was concealed.
Red wedding saris are the traditional garment choice for brides in Indian culture. Sari fabric is also traditionally silk. Over time, colour options and fabric choices for Indian brides have expanded. Today fabrics like crepe, Georgette, charmeuse, and satin are used, and colors have been expanded to include gold, pink, orange, maroon, brown, and yellow as well. Indian brides in Western countries often wear the sari at the wedding ceremony and change into traditional Indian wear afterwards (lehnga, choli, etc.).
Styles of draping
The most common style is for the sari to be wrapped around the waist, with the loose end of the drape to be worn over the shoulder, baring the midriff. However, the sari can be draped in several different styles, though some styles do require a sari of a particular length or form. The French cultural anthropologist and sari researcher Chantal Boulanger categorised sari drapes in the following families:
- Nivi – styles originally worn in Andhra Pradesh; besides the modern nivi, there is also the kaccha nivi, where the pleats are passed through the legs and tucked into the waist at the back. This allows free movement while covering the legs.
- Bengali and Oriya style.
- Gujarati/Rajasthani/Pakistani – after tucking in the pleats similar to the nivi style, the loose end is taken from the back, draped across the right shoulder, and pulled across to be secured in the back
- Maharashtrian/Konkani/Kashta; this drape is very similar to that of the male Maharashtrian dhoti. The center of the sari (held lengthwise) is placed at the center back, the ends are brought forward and tied securely, then the two ends are wrapped around the legs. When worn as a sari, an extra-long cloth of nine yards is used and the ends are then passed up over the shoulders and the upper body. They are primarily worn by Brahmin women of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Goa.
- Madisar – this drape is typical of Iyengar/Iyer Brahmin ladies from Tamil Nadu. Traditional Madisar is worn using 9 yards saree.
- Kodagu style – this drape is confined to ladies hailing from the Kodagu district of Karnataka. In this style, the pleats are created in the rear, instead of the front. The loose end of the sari is draped back-to-front over the right shoulder, and is pinned to the rest of the sari.
- Gobbe Seere – This style is worn by women in the Malnad or Sahyadri and central region of Karnataka. It is worn with 18 molas saree with three four rounds at the waist and a knot after crisscrossing over shoulders.
- Gond – sari styles found in many parts of Central India. The cloth is first draped over the left shoulder, then arranged to cover the body.
- Malayali style – the two-piece sari, or Mundum Neryathum, worn in Kerala. Usually made of unbleached cotton and decorated with gold or coloured stripes and/or borders. Also the Set-saree, a sort of mundum neryathum.
- Tribal styles – often secured by tying them firmly across the chest, covering the breasts.
- Kunbi style or denthli:Goan Gauda and Kunbis,and those of them who have migrated to other states use this way of draping Sari or Kappad,this form of draping is created by tying a knot in the fabric below the shoulder and a strip of cloth which crossed the left shoulder was fasten on the back.
Historic photographs and regional styles
Kalpasutra manuscript c.1375.
Kandyan Sinhalese lady wearing A traditional Kandyan sari (osaria)
Girl standing in a veranda wearing a Pochampally sari, 1895
Women in nauvari sari
Dolls dressed as a Kodava (Kodagu or Coorg) couple. Notice the lady's sari.
Dancer in Kerala sari
Traditional Sinhalese sari from the 19th-century
The nivi is today's most popular sari style. The increased interaction with the British saw most women from royal families come out of purdah in the 1900s. This necessitated a change of dress. Maharani Indira Devi of Cooch Behar popularised the chiffon sari. She was widowed early in life and followed the convention of abandoning her richly woven Baroda shalus in favour of the traditional unadorned white. Characteristically, she transformed her ‘mourning’ clothes into high fashion. She had saris woven in France to her personal specifications, in white chiffon, and introduced the silk chiffon sari to the royal fashion repertoire. The chiffon sari did what years of fashion interaction had not done in India. It homogenised fashion across this land. Its softness, lightness and beautiful, elegant, caressing drape was ideally suited to the Indian climate. Different courts adopted their own styles of draping and indigenizing the sari. In most of the courts the sari was embellished with stitching hand-woven borders in goldfrom Varanasi, delicate zardozi work, gota, makaish and tilla work that embellished the plain fabric, sumiltaneously satisfying both traditional demands and ingrained love for ornamentation. Some images of maharanis in the Deccan show the women wearing a sleeveless, richly embellished waistcoat over their blouses. The Begum of Savanur remembers how sumptuous the chiffon sari became at their gatherings. At some courts it was worn with jaali, or net kurtas and embossed silk waist length sadris or jackets. Some of them were so rich that the entire ground was embroidered over with pearls and zardozi.
Nivi drape starts with one end of the sari tucked into the waistband of the petticoat, usually a plain skirt. The cloth is wrapped around the lower body once, then hand-gathered into even pleats below the navel. The pleats are tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. They create a graceful, decorative effect which poets have likened to the petals of a flower. After one more turn around the waist, the loose end is draped over the shoulder. The loose end is called the pallu, pallav, seragu, or paita depending on the language. It is draped diagonally in front of the torso. It is worn across the right hip to over the left shoulder, partly baring the midriff. The navel can be revealed or concealed by the wearer by adjusting the pallu, depending on the social setting. The long end of the pallu hanging from the back of the shoulder is often intricately decorated. The pallu may be hanging freely, tucked in at the waist, used to cover the head, or used to cover the neck, by draping it across the right shoulder as well. Some nivi styles are worn with the pallu draped from the back towards the front, coming from the back over the right shoulder with one corner tucked by the left hip, covering the torso/waist. The nivi sari was popularised through the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. In one of his paintings, the Indian subcontinent was shown as a mother wearing a flowing nivi sari. The ornaments generally accepted by the Hindu culture that can be worn in the midriff region are the waist chains. They are considered to be a part of bridal jewellery.
Professional style of draping
Because of the harsh extremes in temperature on the Indian Subcontinent, the sari fills a practical role as well as a decorative one. It is not only warming in winter and cooling in summer, but its loose-fitting tailoring is preferred by women who must be free to move as their duties require. For this reason, it is the costume of choice of air hostesses on Air India. This led to a professional style of draping a sari which is referred to Air-Hostess style sari. An air hostess style sari is tied in just the same way as a normal sari except that the pleats are held together quite nicely with the help of pins. A bordered sari will be just perfect for an Air-Hostess style drape where the pallu is heavily pleated and pinned on the shoulder. Even the vertical pleats that are tucked at the navel are severely pleated and pressed. Same goes for the pallu pleats that are pinned at the shoulder. To get the perfect ‘Air-hostess’ a complimentary U-shaped blouse that covers the upper body completely is worn which gives a very elegant and formal look. Mastering the ‘Air-hostess’ style drape helps to create the desired impact in a formal setting like an interview or a conference.
Saris are worn as uniforms by the female hotel staff of many five star luxury hotels in India as symbol of culture. Recently in a makeover design, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, decided the welcoming staff at the group's Luxury Hotels would be draped in the rich colours and designs of the Banarasi six yards. The new saris were unveiled at the Taj property in Mumbai. It will be subsequently replicated at all 10 Luxury Hotels of the group across the country for duty managers and front office staff. Taj had adopted three villages in Varanasi and employed 25 master weavers there for the project. The vision finally took shape after 14 months, once the weavers had a good work environment, understood the designs and fine-tuned the motifs.
Similarly, the female politicians of India wear the sari in a professional manner. The women of Nehru–Gandhi family like Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi wear the special blouse for the campaign trail which is longer than usually and is tucked in to prevent any midriff show while waving to the crowds.Stylist Prasad Bidapa has to say, "I think Sonia Gandhi is the country's most stylish politician. But that's because she's inherited the best collection of saris from her mother-in-law. I'm also happy that she supports the Indian handloom industry with her selection." BJP politician Sushma Swaraj maintains her prim housewife look with a pinned-up pallu while general secretary of AIADMK Jayalalithaa wears her saris like a suit of armour.
Sharee or saree (in Bengali=শাড়ি) is the national wear of Bangladeshi women. Most women who are married wear sharee as their regular dress while young-unmarried girls wear sharee as an occasional dress. The shari is worn by women throughout Bangladesh. Sari is the most popular dress for women in Bangladesh, both for casual and formal occasion. Although Dhakai Jamdani (hand made shari) is world wide known and most famous to all women who wear shari but there are also many variety of shari in Bangladesh.There are many regional variations of them in both silk and cotton. e.g.- Tanta/Tant cotton shari, Dhakai Benaroshi shari, Rajshahi silk shari, Tangail Tanter shari, Tassar silk shari, monipuri shari and Katan shari are the most popular in Bangladesh.
In Pakistan, the sarees are still popular and worn on special occasions. The Shalwar kameez, however, is worn throughout the country on a daily basis. The sari nevertheless remains a popular garment among the middle and upper class for many formal functions. Sarees can be seen worn commonly in metropolitan cities such as Karachi and Islamabad and are worn regularly to weddings and other business type of functions. Sarees are also worn by many Muslim women in Sindh to show their status or to enhance their beauty.  The sari is worn as daily wear by Pakistani Hindus, by elderly Muslim women who were used to wearing it in pre-partition India and by some of the new generation who have reintroduced the interest in saris.
Sri Lankan women wear saris in many styles. Two ways of draping the sari are popular and tend to dominate: the Indian style (classic nivi drape) and the Kandyan style (or osaria in Sinhalese). The Kandyan style is generally more popular in the hill country region of Kandy from which the style gets its name. Though local preferences play a role, most women decide on style depending on personal preference or what is perceived to be most flattering for their figure.
The traditional Kandyan (osaria) style consists of a full blouse which covers the midriff completely and is partially tucked in at the front as is seen in this 19th-century portrait. However, modern intermingling of styles has led to most wearers baring the midriff. The final tail of the sari is neatly pleated rather than free-flowing. This is rather similar to the pleated rosette used in the Dravidian style noted earlier in the article.
The Kandyan style is considered the national dress of Sinhalese women. It is the uniform of the air hostesses of SriLankan Airlines.
During the 1960s, the mini sari known as 'hipster' sari created a wrinkle in Sri Lankan fashion, since it was worn below the navel and barely above the line of prosecution for indecent exposure. The conservative people described the 'hipster' as "an absolute travesty of a beautiful costume almost a desecration" and "a hideous and purposeless garment".
The sari is the most commonly worn women uniform in Nepal. In Nepal, a special style of draping is used in a sari called haku patasihh. The sari is draped around the waist and a shawl is worn covering the upper half of the sari, which is used in place of a pallu.
Similarities and differences with other Asian clothing
While the sari is typical to Indian traditional wear, clothing worn by South-East Asian countries like Burma, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore resemble it, where a long rectangular piece of cloth is draped around the body. These are different from the sari as they are wrapped around the lower-half of body as a skirt, worn with a shirt/blouse, resembling a sarong, as seen in the Burmese Longyi, Filipino Malong, Tapis, Laotian Xout lao, Thai Sinh's, and Timorese Tais. Saris, worn predominantly in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal are usually draped with one end of the cloth fastened around the waist, and the other end placed over the shoulder baring the midriff.
Saree ornamentation and decorative accessories
Saris are woven with one plain end (the end that is concealed inside the wrap), two long decorative borders running the length of the sari, and a one to three-foot section at the other end which continues and elaborates the length-wise decoration. This end is called the pallu; it is the part thrown over the shoulder in the nivi style of draping.
In past times, saris were woven of silk or cotton. The rich could afford finely woven, diaphanous silk saris that, according to folklore, could be passed through a finger ring. The poor wore coarsely woven cotton saris. All saris were handwoven and represented a considerable investment of time or money.
Simple hand-woven villagers' saris are often decorated with checks or stripes woven into the cloth. Inexpensive saris were also decorated with block printing using carved wooden blocks and vegetable dyes, or tie-dyeing, known in India as bhandani work.
More expensive saris had elaborate geometric, floral, or figurative ornaments or brocades created on the loom, as part of the fabric. Sometimes warp and weft threads were tie-dyed and then woven, creating ikat patterns. Sometimes threads of different colours were woven into the base fabric in patterns; an ornamented border, an elaborate pallu, and often, small repeated accents in the cloth itself. These accents are called buttis or bhuttis (spellings vary). For fancy saris, these patterns could be woven with gold or silver thread, which is called zari work.
Sometimes the saris were further decorated, after weaving, with various sorts of embroidery. Resham work is embroidery done with coloured silk thread. Zardozi embroidery uses gold and silver thread, and sometimes pearls and precious stones. Cheap modern versions of zardozi use synthetic metallic thread and imitation stones, such as fake pearls and Swarovski crystals.
In modern times, saris are increasingly woven on mechanical looms and made of artificial fibres, such as polyester, nylon, or rayon, which do not require starching or ironing. They are printed by machine, or woven in simple patterns made with floats across the back of the sari. This can create an elaborate appearance on the front, while looking ugly on the back. The punchra work is imitated with inexpensive machine-made tassel trim.
Hand-woven, hand-decorated saris are naturally much more expensive than the machine imitations. While the overall market for handweaving has plummeted (leading to much distress among Indian handweavers), hand-woven saris are still popular for weddings and other grand social occasions.
Sari outside South Asia
The traditional sari made an impact in the United States during the 1970s. Eugene Novack who ran the New York store, Royal Saree House told that he had been selling it mainly to the Indian women in New York area but later many American business women and housewives became his customers who preferred their saris to resemble the full gown of the western world. He also said that men appeared intrigued by the fragility and the femininity it confers on the wearer. Newcomers to the sari report that it is comfortable to wear, requiring no girdles or stockings and that the flowing garb feels so feminine with unusual grace.
As a nod to the fashion-forward philosophy established by the designs of Emilio Pucci, the now-defunct Braniff International Airways envisioned their air hostesses wearing a more revealing version of a sari on a proposed Dallas-Bombay (conceivably via London) service in the late 1970s. However this was never realised due to Halston's resistance to working with a palette outside of his comfort zone. The former Eagan, Minnesota–based Northwest Airlines considered issuing saris to flight attendants working the Minneapolis-Amsterdam-Delhi route that began in the 1990s. This never occurred largely due to a union dispute.
The sari has gained its popularity internationally due to the growth of Indian fashion trends globally. Many Bollywood celebrities, like Aishwarya Rai, have worn it at international events representing the Indian culture. In 2010, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone wanted to represent her country at an international event, wearing the national costume. On her very first red carpet appearance at the Cannes International Film Festival, she stepped out on the red carpet in a Rohit Bal sari.
Even popular Hollywood celebrities have worn this traditional attire. Pamela Anderson made a surprise guest appearance on Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Big Brother, dressed in a sari that was specially designed for her by Mumbai-based fashion designer Ashley Rebello. Ashley Judd donned a purple sari at the YouthAIDS Benefit Gala in November 2007 at the Ritz Carlton in Mclean, Virginia. There was an Indian flavour to the red carpet at the annual Fashion Rocks concert in New York, with designer Rocky S walking the ramp along with Jessica, Ashley, Nicole, Kimberly and Melody – the Pussycat Dolls – dressed in saris.
While an international image of the modern style sari may have been popularised by airline stewardesses, each region in the Indian subcontinent has developed, over the centuries, its own unique sari style. Following are other well-known varieties, distinct on the basis of fabric, weaving style, or motif, in South Asia:
- Chanderi sari – Madhya Pradesh
- Maheshwari – Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh
- Kosa silk – Chhattisgarh
- dhokra silk - madhya pradesh
- Tangail Tant Saree – Bangladesh
- Jamdani – Bangladesh
- Muslin – Bangladesh
- Rajshahi silk (Eri Silk) – Bangladesh
- Tussar silk saree - Rajshahi Bangladesh
- Dhakai Katan - Bangladesh
- Khadi saree - Comilla Bangladesh
- Jute cotton - Bangladesh
- Mooga silk – Assam
- Mekhla Cotton - Assam
- Dhaniakhali Cotton – West Bengal
- Shantipuri cotton- Shantipur, West Bengal
- Phulia Cotton - Phulia, West Bengal
- Begumpur Cotton - Begumpur, West Bengal
- Garad Saree (korial) - Murshidabad, West Bengal
- Tant Saree - Farshganj, West Bengal
- Murshidabad Silk – West Bengal
- Baluchari Silk – Bishnupur, Bankura West Bengal
- Kantha silk & cotton saree – West Bengal & Bangladesh
- Batic Saree - West Bengal & Bangladesh
- Sambalpuri Silk & Cotton Saree – Sambalpur, Odisha
- Ikkat Silk & Cotton Saree – Bargarh, Odisha
- Bomkai Silk & Cotton Saree - Bomkai, Ganjam, Odisha
- Khandua Silk & Cotton Saree – Nuapatna, Cuttack, Odisha
- Sonepuri Silk & Cotton Saree – Subarnapur, Odisha
- Berhampuri silk– Behrampur, Odisha
- Mattha Silk Saree – Mayurbhanj, Odisha
- Bapta Silk & Cotton Saree – Koraput, Odisha
- Tanta Cotton Saree – Balasore, Odisha
- Manipuri Tant Saree - Manipur
- Bandhani – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Pakistan
- Kota doria - Rajasthan, Pakistan
- Lugade – Maharashtra
- Patola – Gujarat, Pakistan
- Ilkal saree - Karnataka
- Molakalmuru Sari – Karnataka
- Kanchipuram sari (locally called Kanjivaram pattu) – Tamil Nadu
- Kumbakonam – Tamil Nadu
- Thirubuvanam – Tamil Nadu
- Thanjore – Tamil Nadu
- Madurai – Tamil Nadu
- Coimbatore cotton Tamil Nadu
- Chinnalapattu or Sungudi Tamil Nadu
- Balarampuram – Kerala
- Mundum Neriyathum – Kerala
- Venkatagiri – Andhra Pradesh
- Mangalgiri Silk Sarees - Andhra Pradesh
- Uppada Silk Sarees - Andhra Pradesh
- Chirala Sarees - Andhra Pradesh
- Bandar Sarees - Andhra Pradesh
- Bandarulanka - Andhra Pradesh
- Kuppadam Sarees - Andhra Pradesh
- Dharmavaram silk saree - Andhra pradesh
- Pochampally Sari or Puttapaka sari– Telangana
- Gadwal sari – Telangana
- Narayanpet – Telangana or Maharashtra
- The name of the garment in various regional languages include:
Bengali: শাড়ি shaṛi, Hindi: साड़ी sāṛī, Oriya: ଶାଢୀ sāddhi, Kannada: ಸೀರೆ, sīre, Konkani: साडी, कापड, चीरे, sāḍī, kāpaḍ, cīre, Malayalam: സാരി sāri, Marathi: साडी sāḍī, Nepali: सारी sārī, Punjabi: ਸਾਰੀ sārī, Tamil: புடவை puṭavai, Telugu: చీర cīra, Urdu: ساڑى sāṛī
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At times, even use of different fabrics like crêpe, Georgette, tissue and satin are used.
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