Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Indian Saree

The Sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver. He dreamt of a woman. The shimmer of her tears, the drape of her tumbling hair, the colors of her many moods, the softness of her touch. All these he wove together. He couldn't stop. He wove for many yards. And when he was done, the story goes, he sat back and smiled and smiled and smiled".

Friends, let me tell you the tale of the Indian Sari, the 9 yards of unstiched cloth that graces the feminine figure with ardour across our country and even at times on the international ramps.The etymology of the word sari is from the Sanskrit word 'sati', which means strip of cloth. This evolved into the Prakrit 'sadi' and was later anglicised into sari. There is ample evidence of the sari in the earliest examples of Indian art. Sculptures from the Gandhara, Mathura and Gupta schools (1st- 6th century AD), suggest that the sari in its earlier form was a briefer garment, with a veil, and usually no discernable bodice.
There are also several references to the fact that in Southern part of India the sari had been for a long time one piece of material that served as both skirt and veil, leaving the bosom bare.
In North Indian miniature paintings, (particularly Jain, Rajasthani and Pahari schools from the 13th to the 19th centuries) the sari consisted of the diaphanous skirt and an equally diaphanous veil draped over a tiny bodice.

Gradually this skirt and veil were amalgamated into one garment, but when and how this happened is not precisely clear. One theory, not fully substantiated, is that the style was created by Noor Jahan (d. 1645) wife of the Mughal emperor Jehangir (reigned. 1605-27). Perhaps it would be more accurate to speculate that the confrontation between the two cultures, Islamic and Hindu, led the comparatively relaxed Hindus to develop a style that robed the person more discreetly and less precariously.Indian civilization has always placed a tremendous importance on unstitched fabrics like the sari and dhoti, which are given sacred overtones. The belief was that such a fabric was pure; perhaps because in the distant past needles of bone were used for stitching. Hence even to the present day, while attending pujas or other sacred ceremonies, the men dress up in dhotis while women wear the sari. Thus even though the different waves of Islamic expansion (13th - 19th century AD) resulted in new versions of stitched garments, the primacy of the sari and its gently changing form couldn't be changed. Even today, when the Islam influenced Salwar-kameez (loose trousers with a tunic) is an increasingly popular garment, the Sari continues to hold its sway. The flow it confers to the natural contours of the female form enhances the gracefulness of the fairer sex, as no other apparel can.
In the following posts on this page we shall continue to bring forth the various weaves, textiles and drape forms of the saree as is worn in the different parts of our country.

The images used in this post are courtesy Paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and also copies of folklore paintings from India.

Posted by Sujata


  1. Sujata, the tale of the saree was beautifully told! I was mesmerised .. I love sarees, feel so special & good in them ;-)

  2. Excellent post sujatha.Never knew about the history of sari,thanx for the info :)

  3. great .. simply superb ...
    it s one dress that should make every woman beam with contentment ... though many, rather most try to avoid ...!

    there was a wonderful article by Shashi Tharoor on it in one of the news papers .. oops i forgot which one ...

  4. Nice post.Loved reading the history of Sari.

  5. that's a real good post!

    'Indian civilization has always placed a tremendous importance on unstitched fabrics like the sari and dhoti, which are given sacred overtones. The belief was that such a fabric was pure; perhaps because in the distant past needles of bone were used for stitching'
    not only indian civilization- the arabic also, i think. the seamless cloak worn by Christ was a much sought after commodity that the soldiers put lots for its ownership!


  6. tale of saree? well, ok catch u next time..bye

  7. Interesting post! But what do dhoti look like? My Indian friend showed me how to make pleats in front of the waistline so the sari will flow gently. Beautiful garment!

  8. love learning about the sari, there is so much history and culture to understand. thanks

  9. I enjoy learning about the history and culture of India. Your writing style is so smooth.

  10. Great story, but I would think the lady wearing the Sari would have to have a nice slim figure for it to look well on her. And if there is no stitching, I'm afraid mine would fall off, not because I am too thin, far from being thin, I am too heavy and it would take more to cover me.

  11. I have always seen the sari to be worn by the most gorgeous women in the world. Thank you for the brief history of this garment. Your posts are always informative and delightfully well written.

  12. I always thought that the words could never describe the beauty and the glory of a Saree....but i was wrong !In love with this post...awesome SUJATA.

  13. Saree is no doubt the statement of Indian Fashion which represents Indian woman, but it has its demerits( when compared to other dresses).

    I feel saree is here to stay but its popularity would be limited and it would become a novelty. In coming times it would be just worn during festivities or special functions like weddings. I speak from my experience. My wife finds it very difficult and wears only on very special functions. Nice writup. Thanks for this informative post. :)

  14. Thanks @Lostworld There is so much to a saree, Like everything precioius it needs time and care.

    @Varunavi thanks for appreciating

    @Deeps Have to read what Shashi tharoor has to say..

    @Bhavya B. Thanks

    @Kochutherissma thanks for appreciating, I think the long seamless robe was used everywhere at a point in time.

  15. @gigihawaii thanks, the best part of the saree is that it hides all the excess and brings out all that is the best in your body!! Will put up a picture of a dhoti.

    @Lin Floyd thanks

    @#167dad thanks

    @Patty the sari looks beautiful on any figure, I at times feel it looks better on a fuller figure. So you shoud definitely try it out once.

    @Clytie thanks

    @Kavita you are too generous with your praise.

    @ZB thanks, everything has its own demerits, but overall I find the Sari the most graceful garment ever.

  16. I just saw a show about the sari on TV and was mesmerized by it. It's so beautiful but looks really difficult to wear correctly.

  17. glorious
    just marvellous
    everything .....
    the saaree,
    every word about it,
    total description
    c o n g r a t s !!

  18. I never knew so many details/history of a saree. Thank you Sujatha!

  19. What a captivating tale of the saree. I love the rich colors and exquisite fabrics, they're so beautiful.

    Thanks for another lesson in your culture. I learn things from you I would otherwise never know.

  20. Some really beautiful designs !This is a nice post !! Well Kavita Didi any time you want me to be a Guest Writer i am ready.Aap jab chaho !!

  21. This made delightful reading.
    I love wearing a saree though it is difficult to maintain at times. And no matter how many sarees I own, there is always space in my cupboard for another one.

  22. interesting and very informative post..that spells Indian culture...

  23. This blog is information storehouse. I just love way you girls present bits of culture, philosophy, thoughts and anything under the Sun in the simplest way.

  24. I came to you through Lin's blog. I love the Sari. I've wanted one since I was a little girl...but, as a child, somehow felt that it should be honored more than played with.

    I don't think a more beautiful garmet has ever graced the shoulders of a woman. You describe it so sumptuously! The story of the fanciful weaver will be told and retold by this reader at many a's enchanting. The entire post held me. So, so interesting!

  25. Back again...
    Does it take long to get into?? Is it difficult to remove for...ummm delicate necessities that pop up during the day? How are they cleaned? Washed by hand?
    How much trim is on the average Sari? Do women of all class wear them? Are they made of many fabrics? The second picture looks like it's a bit heavier and worn a little differently. Can you wrap and wear them different ways? DO they have hooks or snaps? I really can't quite let go of this post... I love, love, love it!!!

  26. I love saris but still unable to wrap it around me without some help... the 9 yard no way, 5 is a better bet...the woman looks the sexiest in it, I say!

  27. Beautiful post on the Saree!
    Thank you .....I so enjoyed it!


  28. kavita says right. these words are as beautiful as saree. the nine yard wizard is unbelievable.

  29. @kay thanks, its really simple once you learn it!!

    Thanks @Muflis

    Thanks @Sandhya

    Thanks @Dellgirl

    Thanks @Unseen Rajesthan

    @Aparna I know exactly what you mean when you say about there being space always for another saree in the cupboard

    @Sathis Kundan thanks

    @The Holy Lama thanks

    @mom/caryn thanks or the appreciation and also am so glad that you have raised so many questions, through the blog posts that follow we hope to answer each of your queries, you dont have to be tall or thin or anything at all except a woman to wear a saree and look beautiful!!

    @pins n ashes I agree

    @margie thanks

    @varsha thanks

    @nishant nishchal thanks

  30. A lovely tale about the tailor weaved his dream...that was just beautiful...I am in love with this blog! :)