Indian traditional saree: History, Importance and etiquette

The traditions, customs, and culture of India are something to take pride in. People respect and pursue each tradition with utmost sincerity. From a simple Namaste to celebrating every festival with enthusiasm, to even proudly wearing clothes of their own culture; these clothes symbolize their roots, history, and the feelings that associate with them. Though we find that women wear Sari and men traditional Dhoti-Kurtas throughout the country, the origin of all attires has a story to tell; a history to relate, and a feeling attached to it. When one talks about “The nine-yard wonder,” Sari, the most consistent and beautiful attire of the Indian land in ages. Though years changed, centuries have passed, but what hasn’t changed is the charm of the Indian traditional Saree.

The way women across the country carry out sari is impeccable. Yes! Styles may differ from region to region, generation to generation but beauty has not compromised itself with the ravages of time.

Indian traditional saree

Indian traditional saree and their legacy:

The history:

A classic and vibrant sari is the most ubiquitous piece of female Indian clothing. It is a piece of unstitched cloth draped over the body in various styles and measures four to nine metres in length. The fashion or tradition of draping sari is not a recent phenomenon; rather Indian women have worn this attire since roughly 300 BC, during the Maury and Sunga dynasties. The depiction of men and women of the earliest period is with a draped rectangular cloth draped over their lower body; and nothing covering their upper body.

In Sanskrit, the term “sari” means “strip of cloth. These swaths of cloth however are more than just plain robes for the Indian women—and a few men—who have been enveloping themselves in silk, cotton or linen for millennia. The traditional Indian saris are suitable for every climate, and any situation, be it doing household chores wearing a sari or running a marathon in a sari. The tradition of wearing a sari has come a long way. If we look back into history, for example, Rani Lakshmibai fought the revolt against the British army merely wearing a Kachche style of traditional sari famous in the state of Maharashtra. A marathon runner, Kranti Salvi broke the Guinness World Record of the Fastest Marathon run in a sari. Kranti’s aim as an avid runner was to race at a competitive level, along with dressing traditionally in a nauvari sari (9-yard sari).

kranti Salvi in saree


Evolution of saris:

As soon as the word ‘sari’ pops into our minds, we tend to associate every woman covered in a sari as Indian. It evocatively conjures up the image of an Indian. Yes, the sari is the traditional Indian clothing worn by women across the world, but it is so much more. Like the country itself, the sari has persisted, developed, and continues to adapt, embracing the changing world while remaining faithful to its inherent traits.

Saris through the lens Mughal period to per-modernism:

Starting from the Mughal period! One could distinguish between a Hindu and a Muslim woman based on her style of draping sari. While the Hindu women wore saris with pleats, on the other flip Muslim women wore Persian inspired loose trousers with long tops (today famous as Salwaar Kurta) with a shorter, thinner, scarf-like fabric covering the head called the Dupatta. While with the transfer of powers to the British, came a transformation in the draping of a traditional Indian sari. They thought Indian women’s finer, more diaphanous saris were excessively titillating and immodest. So, Indians were met with the ‘blouse’ and ‘petticoat,’ which were worn under the Indian sari.

Indian traditional saree in post-Independence India underwent the influence of Bollywood movies and some major experimentation with fabrics, patterns, weaves and drapes. Nutan, Madhubala and Nargis all wore diverse varieties, and Indian women, for the first time, had the opportunity to adopt their style. Yet, during the period of the 1970s-1980s, once again saris went through yet another metamorphosis. The basic muted monotones of weaves and dark traditional colours as bold, flamboyant and colourful prints were no longer in the run. Rather, with the inspiration of on-screen styles worn by actresses, printed saris emerged gradually that were easily accessible at different price points to all Indian women. Saris in the 1990s saw a return to their original variability and sheerness. With the rejection of their opaque patterned saris, Indian saris saw a shift in favour of these single-coloured flowing variants with a hint of sensuality.

Modern-day Sari draping:

As globalization has now perfect control over the country’s economy and market, the concern with Indian women is now to choose from a vast variety of modern versions of saris. To appease the astute connoisseurs of Indian fashion who are now exceptionally well-travelled, educated overseas, and prepared to spend on style, sari has become the canvas for fusion clothing such as Lehenga-Saris and Saris-Gowns. Though western wear has a place in the market today, the Indian traditional saree has not lost its podium. Indian women still wear silk, cotton, banarasi, Kanjeevaram and many other varieties of saris on different occasions and in different styles. A more comfortable, yet classic way of styling sari has developed with time. Young girls and even ladies often wear traditional saris with matching western wear, such as crop tops and heels.

mordern day saree drapinng


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Diverse versions of Indian traditional saree:

Since India is rich in its cultural diversity; the Sari is ornamented and produced in a variety of ways, depending on the culture and influence of the area or state where one lives. Almost every Indian state has its own individual sari weaving process, giving them a distinct look and feel. Fine craftsmanship, specialised fabric, exclusive patterns, and unique procedures go into each regional sari.

Banarasi sari, Kanjeevaram sari, Eri silk, Paithani sari, and what not! Whichever state you count on, it will amaze you with your style of sari and its history. For instance, within the state of Andhra Pradesh, there are 5 types of saris that Andhra women wear in each corner of the state. These are namely, Guntur sari, Kalamkari sari, Mangalgiri sari, Uppada sari, and Venkatgiri sari. Similarly, if we head towards Rajasthan and Gujarat, they somewhat share the prints and fabric of the sari along with its name. There is a Bandhani sari of mash cloth with floral print on it, worn both in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Another example could be the Lehariya sari made of cotton that one can spot both in Rajasthani and Gujarati culture.

The fabric and print and the style of draping sari are different in the states across India. While women in Maharashtra drape sari in a way that it emerges out looking like a Dhoti, at the bottom i.e. Paithani sari, in Bengal one may find that the art of sari draping is a mix of an authentic Indian with a little bit of Maharashtrian touch. A Bengali sari often turns out to look like a flower, which adds to the beauty of an Indian traditional saree.

Some of the famous Saris across different states of India:

Baluchari saris: Baluchari saris of the Bengal state are exquisite silk saris. The print on their pallus represents the scenes of mythological epics, Ramayana and Mahabharat.

Bomkai saris: they decorated the square blocks on the border with thread embroidered motifs. The ethnic Bomkai saris are one of a kind with patterns of the unique interwoven motifs of tortoise, ancient fish, lotus, peacock, and birds in red, white and black dyed backgrounds.

Chanderi saris: Pure silk, fine cotton and zari make the Chanderi sarees. The fine cotton Chanderi fabric makes this one of India’s lightest sarees, with a sheer texture and glossy transparency.

Chikankari saris: Chikankari sarees have evolved from white muslin cloth attire to a range of textiles with a vibrant palette. Chikankari embroidery is popular for the variety of effects it achieves by combining different types of thread and stitches. The delicate embroidery work, expertly done by skilled artisans, is the epitome of elegance and beauty.

Patola saris: These royal saris are made of pure silk and hand-dyed with natural dyes for a niche market, making them rather pricey. The Patola saris, which feature motifs and designs such as parrots, flowers, elephants, zigzag figures, and geometric patterns inspired by Gujarat’s massive step wells, are a sight to behold.

Saris: Their significance and etiquette:

Even after a prolonged period of wearing a traditional Indian sari, people are now questioning their custom of sari draping with globalisation at feet. The influence of western wear and inclination towards western culture has turned the table. The art of weaving or designing a sari with handloom is in a danger now. To answer their perplexities, science–on whom modern culture relies most–has come ahead.

Also, check out and explore the brilliance imbued in the traditional dresses of India.

What does science have to say?

The style of clothing has a significant impact on our mind, body, soul, and society. The healthy energy movement in our bodies, the Earth, and the Universe all circulates in circles in the same way. As a result, a woman’s figure is more curvaceous. The energies in our bodies should continue to move circularly to stay healthy. Any energy that comes towards our body first contacts our clothes then enters the body and its energy channels. Sari is worn around the body in a circular motion. It continues to encircle till it is almost at the conclusion. It’s clear to see how when energy meets the sari, it goes in circles around the body, assisting the energy in moving in the right direction; thus making the sari a winner to clothe.

Another benefit is that when energy travels through 5-6 yards of cloth, negative energies from the inside become caught in the cloth, which is then washed away. These weighty energies are sluggish and unable to hasten. It moves across the atmosphere on air. A textile with many stitches confuses energy and is hazardous to one’s health. Every fitness clothing comprising lycra and synthetic fibres is harmful to your health.

A typical Indian traditional Saree leaves the mid-section of the torso open, which some people believe exposes the skin. There is, in fact, an interesting explanation for this. The “Brahmasthan” of the body is the stomach portion that is left uncovered. This location provides a significant amount of life force energy to the body. This should always be left open. Even in Vaastu Science, the centre of the home is the “Brahmasthan” and is open to the sky.

Importance of draping Sari in Hindu tradition:

The nine-yard wonder, Sari has a very prominent space in Hindu culture and tradition. It is the heart and soul of it, whose emergence is a pure gift to the world. The beauty and elegance of Indian women can be best revealed in a sari. Indian saris have never been out of style in the fashion business, from the time of the Mahabharata to the present day of artificial intelligence.

Wearing a sari not only inculcates virtues like:

  1. Generation of humility.

  2. Stability of mind and improvisation of Chitta’s concentration (Subconscious mind).

  3. A reawakening of the sense of becoming a mother.

  4. Feeling as if a sari is a Deity’s emblem.

  5. The growth of bhav.

  6. Kshatravrutti (spirit of a warrior) increases.

  7. Awareness of one’s genuine form causes an increase in introversion and a decrease in extroversion of oneself

But also, an individual imbibes sattvikta (Spiritual purity) and Chaitanya (Divine consciousness) in the environment by wearing a sari. Therefore, in Hindu culture, wearing a sari is equal to attaining a divine image.

Indian etiquette of wearing a sari:

Designers in India are currently modernizing the saris. They also aim to set new standards on runways and at international events where they must dress celebrities. But the traditional way of sari draping does not have a match!

The sari serves both a utilitarian and ornamental purpose because of the great weather variations in the Indian subcontinent. It’s not only warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Women who need to move freely to fulfil their responsibilities prefer loose-fitting tailoring. The most popular way is to wrap the sari around the waist and wear the loose end of the drape over the shoulder, uncovering the stomach. Though each region has a slightly different wrapping style, during special occasions such as weddings or festivals. However, most Indian women prefer wearing traditional Indian sari in their styles. One can also ornament these saris with traditional Indian jewellery like kamarbandha, Mangtika, bangles, etc. These ornaments double the beauty of the Indian sari. Also, the look it gives to Indian women is the cherry on the cake.

Therefore, it has become one of those garments that never ceases to evolve in shape and form in response to current fashion trends and people’s lifestyles. Its traditional importance is the reason this outfit is present in every Indian home, from grandma’s shelves to granddaughter’s closets.

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Challenges to wearing an Indian traditional saree:

Sure, many new ideologies have set in; the modern-day world has a lot to offer in terms of garments. There is ‘n’ number of tops, dresses and western wears circulating in the market. Sari takes a setback when it comes to casual wear; more and more young girls and ladies now prefer wearing a kurta or any t-shirt on an ordinary day rather than going for a simple sari. The reason they give, however, is very simple. It’s difficult to wear and carry. But eventually, the natural fabrics, the traditional handlooms also bring out their elegance. Therefore, it places sari in a unique position in the commercial market compared to the clothing made synthetics that are quite harmful to overall health.

Present-day scenario

We can find the inclination of the present world towards synthetic clothing. But there are still brands and communities working towards preserving the authenticity and ethnicity of Saris. The sari has recently been the centre of a Twitter campaign encouraging women to tweet images of them wearing Indian traditional saree with the hashtag #SareeNotSorry.  There is also an overflow of new trends on social media of intertwining modern and traditional wears altogether. Women now are experimenting with their styles, setting a statement. They often tend to match sari with western blazer coats and hoodies.

‘Sari’ is not merely a piece of cloth that Indian women wear in their daily life. It has a sentiment that attaches to it. It is a relic of India’s past, present and future, and represents a culture altogether. Call it old or complex, but when worn, every Indian woman takes pride in its fabric, design and art of creation.



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