History of sari


Saris have been in our generation for more than 5000 years now. It’s an entrenched part of not only Indian culture but the beginning of women’s attires. From prior colonization to the millennial era, the craze for sari seems to be an everlasting love affair. The history of the sari is as old as civilization, as the Initial drape worn by Indian women was none other than the sari. Though being this aged, sari remained an integral part of a woman’s life. From fashion shows to your own ramp stroll, from ambitious lady to the conservative grandmothers, College, or the slum girl- the fashion around sari is widely appreciated.

But just like anything else, sari too has a long-lost history of the distant past that you might find fascinating to know about. The word sari was the first mention in the Rig Veda as ‘sattika’ which meant women’s attire, but is the love for sari limited to just ‘women attire’? We doubt so!

The Long Lost History of Sari

As a part of India’s cultural fabric, sari has been embraced for centuries. Sari-like drapery is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished during 2800–1800 BC around the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. As first mentioned as Sattika, it was the early precursor of the many years-long legacies of Sari. Sari then was just a long piece of unstitched fabric that helped women to hide their bodies- though partially. The concept of the blouse was introduced much later. At first, the sari was just a running fabric that women ought to wrap around their lower body, as a part of the fashion of yesteryear. The early beliefs suggest that weaving of clothes together was considered impure; therefore people remained loyal to the single running unstitched fabric.

The saris soon become the garment of choice for every woman and it started being enhanced by several individuals. Inspired by the Greek fashion, the word belt (traditionally known as kamarband) to which the long fabric can be stacked, got introduced in India. During this time Persians also introduced the concept of stitching which was highly appreciated by the women of the country. The Mughals too had their share in beautifying the structural sari by donning it with several jewels and also introducing the embroidery game into it. Women from the high-class society also started including the gold yarns and precious stones to be woven into the fabric, to wear a fancier piece of cloth to stand out. People also started dying saris with vegetable dyes to add the extra bounce.  


But sari soon evolved into the three-piece attire by the British colonization, who labeled the sari as an inappropriate garment for women. This introduced the concept of blouse and petticoats with the sari. Women then had to cover their upper body along with their lower body to be considered appropriate out in public. Antalya – the lower garment, the Uttariya – a veil worn over the shoulder or the head and the Stanapatta which is a chest band became parts of the everyday sari. The lehengas, ghagras, and cholis are also believed to be rooted in the history of saris. But with this restriction, the fashion of sari globalized and reached beyond the borders as many women embraced the fabric.

Women traditionally started weaving sari from several materials made of silk, cotton, or embroidery. The dye textiles and block prints also gained recognition in the race.  People also sought sari’s as regional handloom such as Banarasi, Kanchipuram, Gadwal, Paithani, Mysore, Uppada, Bagalpuri, Balchuri, Maheshwari, Chanderi, or Narayan- based on the proximity of the fabric. Though the designs and fashion of sari were segregated according to the class, the initial fabric remained unbiased. It was around this time that British synthetic dyes made their official entry. But as time evolved, so did the sari.  

The Modernization Of Sari

Since modernization, everything from salwar kameez to Dhoti kurta got replaced by modern garments such as jeans and t-shirts, yet the sari remained intact. As a matter of fact, from Bollywood celebrities to the roadside momo-aunty, the fashion of sari isn’t going anywhere. Not only this but the politicians, businesswomen even the spokespersons, the love for sari is everywhere. Many designers have come up with great ideas for adorning a sari in a modern way. Today there are more than 108 ways to drape a sari across the subcontinent.  

Atpoure Shari, Nauvari saree, Seedha pallu, Mekhela chadar, Pinkosu, Madisaru, Kappulu, Gol saree, Halakki Vokkaliga, Coorgi style, and Kunbi drape are among the most popular. The presentation of the sari in each style requires a blouse and a semi-covered petticoat, on which the fabric is wrapped. Among the techniques for wearing a sari, the most common is the Nivi drape which is pleated, wrapped around the waist, with the pallu flung over the left shoulder.


The craze over sari is so ubiquitous in India, that from the cheapest of fabric to the costliest one- both are saris. This directly means that 9 in 10 households in India (rural and urban) purchase a minimum of one sari each year. Even the tourist gets seduced by the vibrancy of the outfit that visiting India and not buying a sari is as uncommon as it sounds. The retail value of the women market in India is around INR 122,600 crores in 2017, of which sari contributed to nearly 33% amounting to INR 38,000 crore. This segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5% to 6% from 2018 to 2023 owing to increasing demand for the sari.

As it is quoted ‘A saree has the power to convert a girl next door into an artist’s muse!’ the complex dance between the bygone era to the millennial world, sari reminds us of the legacy of our mothers and their mothers we carry to our daughters and their daughters.  


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