Traditional clothing in India and Sri Lanka
In the Mahabharata it is written that the beautiful Draupadi (daughter of the King of Kanchala, Drupada) was won by the opposite clan during a duel. Krishna plighted to defend her virtue and when the duel winners tried to undress her, the fabric that was wrapping her became infinite and wouldn’t stop growing as the men were trying to take it off. This 5000 year-old story is the first known reference to the saree.
The saree is the traditional attire worn by women in India and Sri Lanka. The saree is known worldwide and is typical of the Indian sub-continent but very few know that it can be worn in more than 80 different manners. There are several variations: it can be worn on the shoulder, on the head, it can look like a dress or like pants, etc. These variations often depend on the regions or the tribes.
Silk, cotton or synthetic fabric
In general, the saree is a 5 to 9 meters long piece of fabric and it’s about 1.20 meters high. It is traditionally made of cotton, silk, or a blend of these two materials. Silk is worn to honor Vishnu, while cotton is Shiva's favorite fabric. It is however more and more common nowadays to see synthetic sarees. They are worn over a skirt and a blouse (since the colonial period only). Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the saree is very comfortable when it is properly put, and it is possible to carry out various tasks easily wearing it.
Sarees from Kanchipuram and other places
Some places are known for their quality sarees like Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu. It is said that Kanchipuram weavers descend from Sage Markanda, the Master Weaver of Gods. The Kanchipuram sarees are made of silk sometimes weaved with gold and they can be decorated with drawings of suns, moons, peacocks or swans. Appart from Tamil Nadu, Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) is also renowned for its beautiful sarees. They’re also made of silk and have very intricate designs. The complexity of the design makes them quite heavy.
One of the traditional signs of marriage
The saree is traditionally a sign of marriage along with the necklace (mangalsutra or thaali), the bangles (or churian), the red mark on the hair parting (the sindur) or the rings that are worn on each foot index finger. It is still widely worn in Tamil Nadu but tends to disappear in other regions. The salwar kameez or western clothing often replaces it. The Salwar Kameez is a shirt and pants ensemble, which can be worn with an assorted scarf. It comes from the north of the Indian sub-continent and it is worn both by men and women. Since it offers a modest alternative to the saree, it is nowadays worn in all India.
To learn how to put a saree, go on our Facebook page, our read our article about The Saree Workshop that is on in Sita!