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What is a sari, saari, saree or sharee?

A sari, saari, saree or sharee is a women's draped garment from the Indian subcontinent. It consists of an unstitched length of fabric varying from 4.5 to 9 metres (15 to 30 feet) in length and 600 to 1,200 millimetres (24 to 47 inches) in breadth that is typically wrapped around the waist worn over a petticoat (skirt), with one end draped over the shoulder, covering a larger portion of the midriff. There are various styles of sari manufacture and draping, the most common being the Nivi style, which originated in the Deccan region. The sari is worn with a fitted bodice commonly called a blouse or a choli (ravike in southern India, and cholo in Nepal) and a petticoat called ghagra, parkar or ul-pavadai.
In the modern Indian subcontinent, the sari is considered a cultural icon.


How to wear a Saree?

To wear a saree, start with wearing your saree blouse, shoes and petticoat (Skirt). Make sure the petticoat is tied extremely tightly, otherwise it will eventually become loose and saree will fall off.
1. Once you are wearing all of these start by draping saree.
2. Stand straight in front of the mirror and take unfolded top right edge of the saree in both your hands and tuck it inside your petticoat.
3. Start with the 4 fingers away from your right side.
4. Wrap the saree all around, tucking just enough of saree top edge so that it still reaches the floor and is not hanging a few inches above ground (doesn't look elegant)
5.  After you have gone around just ones, stop at center right below your belly button.
6. Now grab the other end of the saree, and pleat it. Pleat the small edge and wrap it around and put it over your left shoulder. Make sure the length on the hanging is below hip level and comfortable for you.
7. Now you will have a lot of saree fabric left to do pleats at center.
8. Make 5-6 inch pleats in the center, you will typically get anywhere from 5-7 overlapping pleats.
9. Make sure the pleats are even and then tuck them all together in the petticoat right below your belly button.
10. Secure front pleats and shoulder pleats with a safety pin and voila you are all set.

Origins and history of Indian Saree


History of sari-like drapery is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished during 2800–1800 BCE around the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. Cotton was first cultivated and woven in Indian subcontinent around 5th millennium BCE. Dyes used during this period are still in use, particularly indigo, lac, red madder and turmeric. Silk was woven around 2450 BCE and 2000 BCE.

The word 'sari' evolved from 'saatikaa' (sanskrit: शाटिका) mentioned in earliest Hindu literature as women's attire. The Sari or Sattika evolved from a three-piece ensemble comprising the Antriya, 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 BCE. This complete three-piece dress was known as Poshak, generic term for costume. Ancient Antriya 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 ghoonghat. Likewise, Stanapatta evolved into choli by 1st century CE.

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.

It is generally accepted that wrapped sari-like garments for lower body and sometimes shawls or scarf like garment called 'uttariya' for upper body, have been worn by Indian women for a long time, and that they have been worn in their current form for hundreds of years. In ancient couture the lower garment was called 'nivi' or 'nivi bandha', while the upper body was mostly left bare. The works of Kalidasa mentions 'Kurpasika' a form of tight fitting breast band that simply covered the breasts. It was also sometimes referred to as 'Uttarasanga' or 'Stanapatta'.

Poetic references from works like Silappadikaram indicate that during the Sangam period in ancient Tamil Nadu in southern India, a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and head covering, leaving the midriff completely uncovered. Similar styles of the sari are recorded paintings by Raja Ravi Varma in Kerala. Numerous sources say that everyday costume in ancient India and till recent times in Kerala consisted of a pleated dhoti or (sarong) wrap, combined with a breast band called 'Kurpasika' or 'Stanapatta' and occasionally a wrap called 'Uttariya' that could at times be used to cover the upper body or head. The two-piece Kerala mundum neryathum (mundu, a dhoti or sarong, neryath, a shawl, in Malayalam) is a survival of ancient clothing styles. The one-piece sari in Kerala is derived from neighboring Tamil Nadu or Deccan during medieval period based on its appearance on various temple murals in medieval Kerala.

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 BCE 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. 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 BCE to 6th century CE 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 colour for wedding saris and are traditional garment choice for brides in Indian culture. Women traditionally wore various types of regional handloom saris made of silk, cotton, ikkat, block-print, embroidery and tie-dye textiles. Most sought after brocade silk saris are Banasari, Kanchipuram, Gadwal, 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 saris 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 saris 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.[55][56] Today, modern fabrics like polyester, georgette and charmeuse are also commonly used.

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Graceful Gorgeous Saree

My mom in a saree during the 1980s.

Styles of draping

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. Ṛta Kapur Chishti, a Sari historian and recognised textile scholar, has documented 108 ways of wearing a Sari in her book, ‘Saris: Tradition and Beyond’. The book documents the sari drapes across fourteen states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. The French cultural anthropologist and sari researcher Chantal Boulanger categorised sari drapes in the following families-

Nivi sari – styles originally worn in Deccan region; 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 sari 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 sari 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 sari after her stay in Bombay. This required a chemise or jacket (old name for blouse) and petticoat to be worn under the sari and made it possible for women to come out of the secluded women's quarters (purdah) in this attire.
Gujarati/Rajasthani – 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
Himalayan - Kulluvi Pattu is traditional form of woolen sari worn in Himachal Pradesh, similar variation is also worn in Uttarakhand.
Nepali: Nepal has many different varieties of draping sari, today the most common is the Nivi drape. The Bhojpuri and Awadhi speaking community wears the sari sedha pallu like the Gujrati drape. The Mithila community has its own traditional Maithili drapes like the madhubani and purniea drapes but today those are rare and most sari is worn with the pallu in the front or the nivi style The women of the Rajbanshi communities traditionally wear their sari with no choli and tied below the neck like a towel but today only old women where it in that style and the nivi and the Bengali drapes are more popular today. The traditional Newari sari drape is, folding the sari till its below knee length and then wearing it like a nivi sari but the pallu is not worn across the chest and instead is tied around the wait and leaving it so it drops from wait to the knee, instead the pallu a shawl is tied across the chest, by wrapping it from the right hip and back and is thrown over the shoulders saris are worn with blouse that are thicker and are tied several times across the front.The Nivi drape was popularized in Nepal by the Shah royals and the Ranas.
Nauvari: 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. This style of draping is called as "Navvari Sari" (Kashta in Konkani). Women in villages of Maharashtra still drape their saris in this manner. 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 and Goa. Nowadays this style has become very famous through Indian cinema and is trending in Maharashtrian weddings.
Madisar – this drape is typical of Iyengar/Iyer Brahmin ladies from Tamil Nadu. Traditional Madisar is worn using 9 yards sari.
Pin Kosuvam - this is the traditional Tamil Nadu style
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 sari 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.

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