The Sari

So as some of you may remember, I asked for suggestions of what you might like posts about. One of my readers suggested hearing more about the history of some garments like the sari and kimono that keep re-appearing and evolve over time into different renditions. I have also met a number of young and emerging designers who have respectfully incorporated traditional crafts and garments into their modern designs.  So I have asked these remarkable young people to do some guest posts. I am happy to share with you the first of two posts about the sari. This first post will cover the history and the second will look at how it has been updated for use as a modern garment. Many of you have met the lovely author of today's posts, Bhaavya of Hannan.

Wrap. Pleat. Tuck. Drape. Ta-da!

The video library of my mind is stocked with memories of watching my mum tie the nine yards of fabric into a sari, none of them being remotely as simple as this sounds! 

All of us, here in India, have grown up around women elegantly draped in saris, be it our mothers at home, our teachers in school or the actors in soaps and Bollywood movies.  This journey of a growing familiarity with the sari has effortlessly turned into an ever-evolving love affair.

A traditional sari is (mostly) nine yards of fabric finished on the four sides with intricately embroidered borders, lace trims and other details. The fabric is pleated on the center front and then wrapped around the body, with the finishing end draped across one shoulder flowing into a palla (pul-lah). It is worn with a blouse (crop-top) and an underskirt, called a petticoat (petty-coat).  The fluidity of the sari makes it an ideal choice for women with varying aesthetics, exuberating a timeless sophistication while still being sensual in it’s appeal.

History /

     Although draping an unstitched cloth on the body, by both men and women, goes back to the initial times of existence of the Indian subcontinent, the origin of the sari as a garment dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished between 2800-1800 BC. The earliest recorded portrayal of the garment is a sculpture of a priest from the Indus Valley wearing the drape. 

 The first sari styles were made of Cotton, which was first cultivated and woven in India during the 5th millennium BC. The fabrics were dyed using natural pigments like indigo, lac and turmeric. Later, when silk was woven between 2400-2000 BC, saris were made in the luxurious fabric. Ancient Sanskrit literature like Kadambari by Banabhatta as well as the Dharmashastras (treatises of Hinduism on Dharmas), depict women in elegant drapes. Sculptures and paintings from those times consist of exquisitely draped saris on women, with the blouses evolving over time.  Decorative embroideries adorn the fabrics; gota patti, mocha, kharak, gamthi, phulkari etc., all of which are traditional, handcrafted embellishment techniques from different regions of India. There are over 84 different recorded ways of tying the sari, each state having a unique style of draping.

Design /

Red is an auspicious color for traditional occasion-wear in India, it being the most popular choice for bridal in most regions. In South of India, brides wear white Kanchipuram silk saris with rich red and gold borders. Similarly, each region or state have different weaves, fabrics and embroidery techninques that make their saris unique. Moga silk sarees from Asaam, Banarasi silk from Varanasi, Bandhani cotton-silk from Rajasthan and Gujrat, Bhagalpuri silk from Bhagalpur, Bomkai from Orissa, Chanderi from Madhya Pradesh, Kota from Rajasthan, Patola from Gujrat are few of the many different weaves and fabrics. The embroidery techniques range from the use of silk thread, metallic wire, metallic ribbons, beads and crystals to real gold threads.

Modern India / 

The sari’s elegance has only magnified over time, making it an intrinsic part of Indian fashion. It has evolved in its aesthetic appeal as Indian designers continue to experiment with construction and draping techniques. The essence of the sari has been juxtaposed with modern sensibilities paving way for interesting eveningwear styles like sari style gowns, jumpsuits with sari drapes, and pre-stitched drapes with pants and crop separates.

The nine yards have a grace that is timeless, a fluidity that is magnetic and sentiments that are deep-rooted. Time will continue to evolve its design, yet it magically preserves the emotion. 


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