History of Saree
by Manthan Thummar on Feb 06, 2023
The origin of the saree dates back to the Indus valley civilization and is considered one of the oldest forms of garment across the world. Sari has been described in Sanskrit as ‘Śāṭī’, meaning a strip of cloth. The ‘Sari‘ also termed as ‘Saree’ can be defined as an unstitched single piece of garment varying in length from four-and-a-half to eight meters. It is draped around the lower part of the body, gathered into pleats in front and the other end draped as a pallu over the shoulders. The women’s attire described in Buddhist literature as ‘Jatakas’ and ‘Sattika‘ in Sanskrit literature can be deemed to be similar to modern-day Saree. The present-day knowledge on the evolution of Indian clothing comes from the sculptures and paintings in ancient cave monuments. These sculptures show goddesses wearing a cloth wrapped around the waist similar to the modern-day sari. Even lehengas are considered to have their roots in this attire.
As mentioned in Buddhist literature and Sanskrit literature, the saree evolved from 3 piece attire during the 6th century B.C. The lower garment is known as Antariya, chest band known as Stanapatta, and a veil for shoulder or head as Uttariya. As mentioned in Pali literature, between 2nd century B.C. to 1st century A.D., Antariya and Uttariya merged into a single garment, serving the purpose of a two-piece garment into one, know as a present-day sari.
The Evolution of Sari can be traced back through different civilizations:
Indus Valley civilization:
The women during this period used to wear long pieces of clothes similar to loincloths. The cloth would be draped around the waist and one end of the cloth would be passed between the legs and folded and tucked behind to give more movement to the wearer.
Like Indus valley civilization, they adopted the tradition of wearing cotton weaves. The fabric worn around the waist by women was known as ‘neevi’.
Introduction of Pitamber:
The neevi and kanchuki were the main outfits for the women. As the quest for the affluent people to wear elegant clothes, the dyeing of clothes originated. The natural dyes were used to dye the clothes. Yellow silk neevis were called Pitamber and purple silk shawls as Patola.
The Mughal Period:
The pallu to cover the head or as a veil may have been introduced. The 3 piece clothing of unstitched garments or stitched garments was carried by Mughals in India.
The Modern Age:
Hand-painted clothes were replaced by hand block printing. At the beginning of the Portuguese and British era, sarees were hand block printed using vegetable dyes. The European themes influenced the introduction of multiple prints on the sarees.
There exist more than 80 variations of draping a saree from pleatless Odia and Bengali styles, the Kodagu style, the Malayali style, and the classical style. The saree comes in a variety of fabrics ranging from cotton, silk, Kanchipuram, Banarasi, Linen, Raw Silk, Mangalgiri Cotton, etc. These also come with a variety of hand embroidery and prints – Kantha, chicken work, shisha, tie and dye, etc to name a few. It is one of the leading attire on the ramp during fashion shows, in Bollywood, and equally famous among working and non-working class.