From Kitchen to Runway, The History and Significance of The Saree

Let’s talk about numbers.

In 2018, the Indian saree market was valued at 400 billion Rupees, with eight out of every ten households purchasing at least one saree in the year. According to official reports, 85% of rural households bought at least one saree, while only 74% did so in urban India. To say the saree is an Indian staple is an understatement.

 

Source: Statistica

In a country with multiple cultures, religions, customs, languages and more, the saree is one thing that unites us. From the north to the south, east to the west, in varying degrees, the saree is much loved and is seen as the epitome of ethnic wear. Let’s go beyond the weave and find out when, where and how the saree came to be.

Threads from the past – the history of saree

The origins of the saree can be traced back to its first appearance during the Indus Valley Civilisation, circa 2800-1800 BC. Its emergence coincided with the discovery of cotton and the subsequent weaving into clothing in the Indus Valley. Around that time, weavers also began to use dyes like indigo, red, and yellow to add colour to their cotton weaves in the Indus Valley. And thus, was born ‘the drape’ that Indian women used to cover their modesty. In addition, the unstitched garment fitted in well with the ancient Hindu belief that stitching cloth can make it impure. Over time, the saree evolved from plain white cotton to dyed cotton to embroidered sarees that showcased the person’s wealth, eventually made from different materials with a range of embroidery work.

What’s in a name?

According to Wikipedia, the name ‘saree’ has evolved from the term śāṭikā (Sanskrit: शाटिका) mentioned in early Jain and Buddhist literature. It meant women’s attire. The Sattika was a three-piece ensemble comprising the antarīya, the lower garment; the uttarīya; a veil worn over the shoulder or the head; and the stanapatta, a chestband. The Antriya resembled the dhoti or the fishtail style of tying a saree. It evolved into the Bhairnivasani skirt, which went on to be known as ghagra or lehenga. Uttariya evolved into the dupatta, and Stanapatta evolved into the choli.

Foreign influence

Every ruling group has had a part to play in making the saree what it is today. The Persians introduced ancient Indians to the art of stitching. They also wore clothing that was belted at the waist and held together at the shoulder. The saree soon adapted these modifications. The Persians also introduced ancient Indians to the art of encrusting gems and jewels on to cloth. Greeks wore cummerbunds or cloth belts around their waist. This, too, was adapted into the Indian way of wearing the saree. The Mughals had a great fascination for silk clothes and elegant fashion. The modern saree, as we know it, evolved during this time. It is reported that there must have been over five hundred natural dyes for fabric during the Mughal period. Then Kadambari Devi, the sister-in-law of Rabindra Nath Tagore, was said to have introduced the art of pleating the saree. Up till that point, the saree was worn as a single sheath or single piece. It is said that she pleated the saree and even advertised in newspapers to inspire women to wear the saree in that manner.

Today, there are over 100 style variations of wearing the saree and many more options in terms of material, embroidery, and embellishments. 

Sarees by region

While the modern saree is commonly worn across the country, there are subtle regional differences that are visible in terms of style of draping, colours, occasions, material and more.

“Each region brings forth a trunk full of sarees, with a strong identity and their own traditional designs, motifs, and colours,” says 73-year-old Laila Tyabji, co-founder of Dastkar, an NGO established in 1981 that supports traditional Indian craftspeople. “Even from village to village, there is a different weave. Every saree has a story about society and the people around it. It is a history book that tells you about the region, the community, the craftsmen, and the geography of the place.”[i]

While machine-produced sarees are in abundance in the market today, traditional handloom sarees are produced in regions by artisans who’ve finetuned their craft over generations. Here are some popular sarees by region:

Northern and Central Regions

  • Banarasi – Uttar Pradesh
  • Pattu - Himachal Pradesh
  • Chanderi saree – Madhya Pradesh
  • Kosa silk – Chhattisgarh

Eastern Regions

  • Tant – West Bengal
  • Shantipuri cotton – Shantipur, Phulia, West Bengal
  • Rajshahi silk / Eri – Rajshahi, Bangladesh
  • Mooga silk – Assam
  • Mekhla Cotton – Assam
  • Sambalpuri Silk & Cotton saree – Sambalpur, Odisha
  • Ikkat Silk & Cotton saree – Bargarh, Odisha
  • Berhampuri silk – Behrampur, Odisha
  • Manipuri Tant saree – Manipur

Western Regions

  • Paithanpattu – Maharashtra
  • Yeola saree – Maharashtra
  • Khun fabric – Maharashtra
  • Karvati tussar saree – Maharashtra
  • Bandhani – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Pakistan, Sindh
  • Kota doria – Rajasthan, Pakistan, Sindh
  • Patola – Gujarat
  • Bagru – Rajasthan

Southern Regions

  • Mysore silk – Karnataka
  • Kanchipuram Silk (locally called Kanjipuram pattu) – Tamil Nadu
  • Ilkal saree – Karnataka
  • Sulebhavi saree – Sulebhavi, Karnataka
  • Venkatagiri – Andhra Pradesh
  • Mangalagiri Silk sarees – Andhra Pradesh
  • Uppada Silk sarees – Andhra Pradesh
  • Chettinad sarees – Tamil Nadu
  • Kumbakonam – Tamil Nadu
  • Thirubuvanam – Tamil Nadu
  • Coimbatore cotton – Tamil Nadu
  • Salem silk – Tamil Nadu
  • Madurai cotton sarees – Tamil Nadu
  • Tiruchirappalli sarees – Tamil Nadu
  • Nagercoil sarees – Tamil Nadu
  • Kerala saree silk and cotton – Kerala
  • Balarampuram – Kerala
  • Mundum Neriyathum – Kerala
  • Mayilati silk – Kerala
  • Kannur cotton – Kerala
  • Kalpathi silk sarees – Kerala
  • Pochampally saree or Puttapaka saree – Telangana
  • Gadwal saree – Telangana
  • Narayanpet – Telangana

The list is endless. Each region has a specific reason for how they make and drape sarees. Factors such as weather conditions, history, language, culture and more, impact the way they make and style their sarees. Sometimes the region even impacts the colour of the saree.

Sarees by colour

Sarees and colours are hand-in-glove. Many modern sarees have prints in a variety of colours, while formal occasions still follow traditions. For example, certain colours are considered auspicious for specific occasions.

Red-coloured sarees are typically worn at weddings and special occasions. The colour for vibrancy, fertility and passion, red sarees are very popular when the wearer wants to make a statement. Blue-coloured sarees depict a soothing and peaceful persona. Green-coloured sarees denote greenery and lushness and are typically worn during harvest festivals. Yellow-coloured sarees are typically worn in the daytime and denote light and warmth. Orange-coloured sarees are non-traditional and are again worn during daytime occasions. Black is ridiculously exotic and is worn at any time for any occasion. Pink is a definite feminine colour and can be worn at any time. White has a spiritual significance in the country and can be worn for multiple occasions. 

Saree by occasion

The humble saree is worn while slaving over a hot stove or while walking the ramp at an exclusive fashion show.  

Every day sarees are light and easy to wear. Typically made from cotton or a cotton blend, they need to be breathable and easy to keep clean. Partywear sarees are all about glitz and glamour. Popping colours and rich embroidery rule the fashion trends there. Wedding wear sarees fall into two categories—the traditional and the non-traditional. Traditional wedding wear sarees include classics like silks, while non-traditional could include velvet. Festive-wear sarees include designer sarees in silk or net material. 

With so much history and tradition woven into this six-yard wonder, the saree will live on through our traditions and culture. At Koskii, it is our pleasure to contribute in some way to this illustrious tradition. We house both handcrafted and machine-produced sarees. Explore our collection to find sarees that fit your style and budget.

[i] https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/fashion-beauty/article/3105494/history-saree-ancient-india-fashion-runways-simple


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