Culture / Fashion / India

ode to the saree

i had been interested in the saree for years. when i was finally graced by wearing one, i was overcome by how much information, history, and beauty there was to digest for this one garment. no-where on the internet could i find a comprehensive guide about sarees.

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basics:

the saree (otherwise commonly spelt as sari) is a quintessential traditional south-asian garment. for many, it symbolises the eternal grace, beauty and charm of a modest, sensual woman.

ancient folklore has a beautiful way of describing the fabrication of the sari.

the saree, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver. he dreamt of woman. the drape of her tumbling hair. the colours of her many moods. the shimmer of her tears. 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.

the saree is actually made up from three pieces – a blouse (often midriff baring), petticoat (underskirt), and a long unstitched piece of material between 5-9 yards in length – the saree. 

at first, the concept of a choli, or blouse, wasn’t part of the saree. stitching clothes was not normal practise in ancient hinduism, and only came with the persians, and was later again revolutionised by the moguls. the saree has evolved right up until this century, where more drapes are coming into use and woman are experimenting with contemporary blouses; but it still remains the oldest unstitched continuously worn garment in the world. isn’t that incredible!

it’s practical, graceful, excellent for the humid climate, modest, sensual, adaptable, and suits every single body shape; every single age, every single woman. you can wear a saree for business, for pleasure, for occasion.

sarees are dress for a woman – there is usually a certain age you must reach before you are old enough to master the art of draping a saree and carry it perfectly.

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regional fabrics, prints and drapes:

oftentimes, you can tell from where in india or south asia someone comes from by the style of saree they are wearing. there are countless ways to drape your saree, countless weaves, patterns, designs, fabric, and colours which are all symbolic. for example, a saree with fish embroidery may be worn proudly in fisherman villages on the coast of india.

there are some sarees which are famous all over india. banarasi sarees from banaras – otherwise known as varanasi – have the most intricate golden zari embroideries on the finest silk, and often make up a bridal wardrobe. likewise, kanjivarem sarees from south india’s kanchipuram city are made of the most beautiful heavy silks. the tie dye method of bandhani sarees from rajasthan and gujarat, paithani from maharashtra – each state has it’s own saree style which is famed.

in maharashtra, special 9 yard (nauvari) sarees are worn wrapped around the legs like dhoti to offer the wearer more freedom of movement. sometimes traditional brides will wear their wedding sarees in this style, and other times they are worn for lavani dance. in the far east, some bengali women will drape their sarees with the pallu going from back to front. we can see there is a lot of variation and many ways to wear the saree.

colours:

in hinduism, different colours symbolise many different things. namely, it is traditional and considered auspicious and prosperous to wear a red saree, lehenga or wedding suit – just as in england, white symbolises purity and a clean state for the new bride. red is also the colour of love and passion. brides of other religions and regions may wear different colours – christian brides in india may wear the traditional white.

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