The Iconic Sari
By: Prof. Ruby Kashyap Sood
Sari, a distinctive unstitched draped clothing item certainly holds a special place in every Indian woman’s closet. The classic attire donned since antiquity continues to thrive in modern India with subtle modifications adapting to changing women preferences and their lifestyles. There are different sentiments attached to a sari for a wearer, playing a significant role at different phases of a woman’s life. In urban India, the sari signifies the transition from adolescence to adulthood when a young adult looks forward to draping a sari on her school farewell. The sari is an important part of a young bride’s trousseau, and is also gifted on procreation. The handcrafted luxurious saris are preserved for their memories and emotional connect as heirlooms that are passed on from grandmothers to mothers to daughters. The smartly draped sari is also recognized as a typical uniform for women employed in the hospitality, aviation, healthcare and other industries across India, conveying preciseness, efficiency and elegance. Sari, symbolic of Indian culture, traditions and values is also the preferred attire for the political women leaders. The versatile sari embodies different avatars: power and sophistication, sensuous and captivating, dignified and modest, and heritage and culture.
The word ‘sari’ originates from the south-western Dravidian word sire. Other indigenous names for the sari include pudava in Kerala, selai in Tamil Nadu, lugda in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, lugdi in Uttar Pradesh, saarhi in Orissa, among others. The sari is a rectangular length of fabric with its measurements ranging from 4 to 9 yards along the length and about a yard widthwise. Due to its seamless quality, the sari conforms to the principles of purity laid down by Hindu culture.
The fluid sari is available in an array of fabrics and textures and draped in a variety of styles, which have originated from different states of India. The saris of India can be categorized according to the production technique specific to a particular region. There are a range of traditional saris that are hand-woven, embroidered, resist-dyed or printed. There are exquisite handloom saris like Benaras brocades from Uttar Pradesh, Jamdani from West Bengal, Kanjeevarams from Tamil Nadu, Paithani from Maharashtra, Ashavali from Gujarat, Chanderi and Maheshwari from Madhya Pradesh, to name a few. Some of the embroidered saris include Chikankari from Uttar Pradesh, Kantha from West Bengal, and Ilkal Kasuti sari from Karnatakaa. The intricate resist-dyed saris ranging from yarn resist-dyed like Patola from Gujarat, Bandhas from Odisha, Pochampalli from Andhra Pradesh to fabric resist-dyed saris like the Bandhanis from Rajasthan and Gujarat are fascinating. A variety of block printed saris from regions like Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan add to the extensive list of this draped garment.
It is interesting to observed different sari styles and draping methods emanating from a multitude of regional, ethnic and tribal communities across India. The rectangular sari demarcated into three sections, the field, lengthwise borders and the end-piece, when draped in a variety of ways, spectacularly transforms the two-dimensional fabric into a structured garment. A well known French anthropologist, Chantal Boulanger has catalogued more than 100 different sari drapes prevalent in India. Some of the popular draping styles include the nivi with pleats tucked in the front and end-piece pleated and draped over the left shoulder and hanging down at the back; Maharashtran kachchha style with hind pleats creating a forked trouser-like effect; Northern style with the end-piece draped from the back to front, covering the chest, and the Dravidian style with a pleated flounce around the waist. Rta Kapur Chishti, a textile historian has mastered the art of draping a sari in 108 different ways making it appear like a gown, skirt or palazzos-like silhouette in order to attract the younger generation to don the classic sari.
The journey of the sari from a traditional dress to a chic garment is visible with a plethora of saris created by Indian couturiers who have experimented with the fabric, value-addition, style of draping and the accompanying blouse. There is a lot of scope to experiment with the rectangular piece of cloth, and the dramatic changes have instilled interest in the younger generation who are comfortable in a sari and are creating their own style statements. Amalgamating tradition and modernity, the sari will remain timeless and an iconic Indian attire for the world.
The writer is associated with Textile Design, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India, New Delhi, India