The word sari described in Sanskrit शाटी śāṭī which means 'strip of cloth' and शाडी śāḍī or साडी sāḍī in Pali, and which was corrupted to sāṛī in modern Indian languages. The word 'Sattika' is mentioned as describing women's attire in ancient India in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist literature called Jatakas. This could be equivalent to modern day 'Sari'. The term for female bodice, the choli evolved from ancient Stanapatta. 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 petticoat is called 'parkar' (परकर) in Marathi, lahaṅgā or lehenga in the north; pavadai (பாவாடை) in Tamil, pavada (or occasionally langa) in Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu, chaniyo, parkar, ghaghra, or ghagaro in the west; and shaya in eastern India.
In the history of Indian clothing the sari is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, which flourished during 2800–1800 BC around the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. Cotton was first cultivated and woven in Indian subcontinent around 5th millennium BC. Dyes used during this period are still in use, particularly indigo, lac, red madder and turmeric. Silk was woven around 2450 BC and 2000 BC. The earliest known depiction of the sari in the Indian subcontinent is the statue of an Indus Valley priest wearing a drape.
The sari evolved from a three-piece ensemble comprising the Antariya, the lower garment; the Uttariya; a veil worn over the shoulder or the head; and the Stanapatta, a chestband. This ensemble is mentioned in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist Pali literature during the 6th century B.C. This complete three-piece dress was known as Poshak, generic term for costume. Ancient Antariya closely resembled dothi wrap in the "fishtail" version which was passed through legs, covered the legs loosely and then flowed into a long, decorative pleats at front of the legs. It further evolved into Bhairnivasani skirt, today known as ghagri and lehenga. Uttariya was a shawl-like veil worn over the shoulder or head, it evolved into what is known today known as dupatta and ghoongat. Likewise, Stanapatta evolved into choli by 1st century A.D. Between 2nd century B.C to 1st century A.D, Antariya and Uttariya was merged to form a single garment known as sari mentioned in Pali literature, which served the purpose of two garments in one-piece.
The ancient Sanskrit work, Kadambari by Banabhatta and ancient Tamil poetry, such as the Silappadhikaram, describes women in exquisite drapery or sari. 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. 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.
Early Sanskrit literature has a wide vocabulary of terms for the veiling used by women, such as Avagunthana (oguntheti/oguṇthikā), meaning cloak-veil, Uttariya meaning shoulder-veil, Mukha-pata meaning face-veil and Sirovas-tra meaning head-veil. In the Pratimānātaka, a play by Bhāsa describes in context of Avagunthana veil that "ladies may be seen without any blame (for the parties concerned) in a religious session, in marriage festivities, during a calamity and in a forest". The same sentiment is more generically expressed in later Sanskrit literature. Śūdraka, the author of Mṛcchakatika set in fifth century BC says that the Avagaunthaha was not used by women everyday and at every time. He says that a married lady was expected to put on a veil while moving in the public. This may indicate that it was not necessary for unmarried females to put on a veil. In 3rd century CE, Mahayana Buddhists attempt to counter this growing veiling practice (oguntheti/oguṇthikā) in Lalitavistara Sūtra. This form of veiling by married women is still prevalent in Hindi-speaking areas, and is known as ghoonghat where the loose end of a sari is pulled over the head to act as a facial veil.
Based on sculptures and paintings, tight bodices or cholis are believed have evolved between 2nd century B.C to 6th century A.D in various regional styles. Early cholis were front covering tied at the back; this style was more common in parts of ancient northern India. This ancient form of bodice or choli are still common in the state of Rajasthan today. Varies styles of decorative traditional embroidery like gota patti, mochi, pakko, kharak, suf, kathi, phulkari and gamthi are done on cholis. In Southern parts of India, choli is known as ravikie which is tied at the front instead of back, kasuti is traditional form of embroidery used for cholis in this region. In Nepal, choli is known as cholo or chaubandi cholo and is traditionally tied at the front.
Red is most favored color for wedding saris and are traditional garment choice for brides in Indian culture. Women traditionally wore various types of regional handloom sarees made of silk, cotton, ikkat, block-print, embroidery and tie-dye textiles. Most sought after brocade silk sarees are Banasari, Kanchipuram, Paithani, Mysore, Uppada, Bagalpuri, Balchuri, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Mekhela, Ghicha, Narayan pet and Eri etc. are traditionally worn for festive and formal occasions. Silk Ikat and cotton sarees known as Patola, Pochampally, Bomkai, Khandua, Sambalpuri, Gadwal, Berhampuri, Bargarh, Jamdani, Tant, Mangalagiri, Guntur, Narayan pet, Chanderi, Maheshwari, Nuapatn, Tussar, Ilkal, Kotpad and Manipuri were worn for both festive and everyday attire. Tie-dyed and block-print sarees known as Bandhani, Leheria/Leheriya, Bagru, Ajrakh, Sungudi, Kota Dabu/Dabu print, Bagh and Kalamkari were traditionally worn during monsoon season. Gota Patti is popular form of traditional embroidery used on saris for formal occasions, various other types of traditional folk embroidery such mochi, pakko, kharak, suf, kathi, phulkari and gamthi are also commonly used for both informal and formal occasion. Today, modern fabrics like polyester, georgette and charmeuse are also commonly used.
There are more than 80 recorded ways to wear a sari. 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 and Karnataka; 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 Odia style is worn without any pleats. Traditionally the Bengali style is worn without pleats where the saree is wrapped around in an anti-clockwise direction around the waist and then a second time from the other direction. The loose end is a lot longer and that goes around the body over the left shoulder. There is enough cloth left to cover the head as well. The modern style of wearing a saree originates from the Tagore family. Jnanadanandini Devi, the wife of Rabindranath Tagore's elder brother Satyendranath came up with a different way to wear the saree after her stay in Bombay. This required a chemise or jacket (old name for blouse) and petticoat to be worn under the saree and made it possible for women to come out of the secluded women's quarters in this attire.
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
Nepal - Nepali sari is worn in various forms of traditional nivi style, saris are worn with Nepali blouse known as cholo.
Maharashtrian/Konkani/Kashta; this drape is very similar to that of the male Maharashtrian dhoti, though there are many regional and societal variations. The centre of the sari (held lengthwise) is placed at the centre 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. The style worn by Brahmin women of differs from that of the Marathas. The style also differs from community to community. This style is popular in Maharashtra, Goa, parts of Karnataka.
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.
Assamese – This sari style is three-set garment known Mekhela chador. The bottom portion, draped from the waist downwards is called Mekhela and veil is known as Chadar and is worn with long sleeve choli.
Manipuri - This sari style is also worn with three-set garment known as Innaphi viel, Phanek lower wrap and long sleeved choli.
Khasi - Khasi style of sari is known as Jainsem which is made up of several pieces of cloth, giving the body a cylindrical shape.
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 Kerala sari, 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.
The nivi is today's most popular sari style from Andhra Pradesh. 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 unadorned mourning white as per tradition. 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 indigenising the sari. In most of the courts the sari was embellished with stitching hand-woven borders in gold from Varanasi, delicate zardozi work, gota, makaish and tilla work that embellished the plain fabric, simultaneously 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.
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 clothing 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, Śāṛi ) 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 worldwide 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 Banarasi sari, Rajshahi silk, Tangail Tant saree, Tassar silk shari, Manipuri shari and Katan shari are the most popular in Bangladesh. It is the uniform of the air hostesses of Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
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's clothing in Nepal where a special style of sari draping is 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.
While the sari is typical to South Asian traditional wear, clothing worn by South-East Asian countries like Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos 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 and resemble a sarong, as seen in the Burmese Longyi, Filipino Malong and Tapis, Laotian Xout lao and Suea pat, Thai Sbai and Sinh, Cambodian Sampot 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.
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. Fashion designer Aaditya Sharma declared, "I can drape a sari in 54 different styles".
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.
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.
The sari has gained its popularity internationally because of 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. in 2014, American singer Selena Gomez was seen in a sari for an UNICEF charity event at Nepal.
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
Paithani – Maharashtra
Bandhani – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Pakistan
Kota doria – Rajasthan, Pakistan
Lugade – Maharashtra
Patola – Gujarat, Pakistan
Bagru – Rajasthan, Pakistan
Gharchola Saree – Gujarat
Mysore silk - Karnataka
Ilkal saree - Karnataka
Molakalmuru Sari – Karnataka
Venkatagiri – Andhra Pradesh
Mangalagiri 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
Kanchipuram sari (locally called Kanjivaram pattu) – Tamil Nadu
Kasaragod saris- Kerala
Kumbakonam – Tamil Nadu
Thirubuvanam – Tamil Nadu
Coimbatore cotton Tamil Nadu
Chinnalampattu or Sungudi Tamil Nadu
Balarampuram – Kerala
Mundum Neriyathum – Kerala
Mayilati silk -Kerala
Kalpathi silk sarees -Kerala
Maradaka silk -Kerala
Samudrikapuram silk and cotton -kerala
Pochampally Sari or Puttapaka sari– Telangana
Gadwal sari – Telangana
Narayanpet – Telangana or Maharashtra
Banarasi – Uttar Pradesh
Shalu – Uttar Pradesh
Tanchoi – Uttar Pradesh