An Epic story of saree
I have been always fascinated about saree since mt memories goes back, when I first noticed my mom wearing a beautiful piece of fabric.
Now I am grown up and wanted to know that who was the first one to wear saree and when this style statement called SAREE came into existence?
Since my childhood till I graduated I saw my mom, aunts and other elderly ladies wearing a sari and of course few newly married brides, poor ladies working on construction sites, on television, Bollywood divas and international celebrities in this wonderful and most fascinated clothing.
But my question was why I am not wearing a saree? What is in it that it is a most draped style in India but still young girls not wearing saris?
I decided to research more into it and find out about it. I googled hundreds of pages and read few epic books about Indian history to find more about Saree.
My online research shows that Indian sarees are oldest outfits, surviving till date since Indian civilization 2800–1800 BC.
So here are some interesting and strange findings of this piece of epic clothing called SAREE.
What did my Grand Mother tell me about saree?
When I asked my Grand Mother about saree, she had a smile on her face as she knows something that I didn’t know. She said she has seen ladies wearing 8 to 9 meters long saris as compared to 5.75 to 6 meters these days. She pointed out towards a picture of Radha Krishna and said look, women wearing a saree with dignity.
I asked her “How old the story of Radha and Krishna is?”
She said after thinking for a moment “I have heard that Lord Krishna incarnated approximate 5000 years ago”. And I said “wowwwwwww, so women used to wear it thousands of year ago! wow”
Shakuntla wearing saree
While my grandma was observing me I drifted in my imaginations. I recalled about famous story of Shakuntala and Dushyant, their son Bharata was legendary emperor and founder of Bharata Dynasty.
Sadguru told story Story of Shakuntala beautifully on his blog.
This story of Shakuntala is even older than Krishna.
I asked grandma, did sShakuntala wear a saree? She looked puzzled and said, “yes she would because I can not imagine about any other dresses a woman of India was wearing”.
I was thinking, Krishna was born many generations after Dushyant, therefore, the existence of saree must be even dated back to the unknown era and I came across this lineage tree of Mahabharata. It shows that Dushyant was born 8 generations before Krishna was born.
Meaning of Saree
I also found that the word – Sari, is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘sati’. Sati, means a strip of cloth. Over the course of time and influence of different languages people call it sadi and saree.
Saree during Mahabharata
Another epic story grandma told me that involves Saree, that no Indian can ever forget. A saree being cause of a great Indian War called Mahabharata.
What! Can there be war because of a saree? I uttered hastily to my old lady. Although I remember bits and pieces of Mahabharata but I never thought about this perspective.
Yes that is the truth, she said Mahabharata is the longest known poem in the world, it is a story about right and wrong, brothers and families.
So where does saree fit in? I prompted
She continued, in the game of dice, Yudhisthira lost everything including his queen, Draupadi. Duryodhan ordered his younger brother dushasan to drag her to court. He then ordered him to rip off the clothes from Draupadi’s body. There were many elders in court but no one dared to stop this abusive act.
She argued that the gambling was false. Since her husband had lost himself first and had become a slave, he had no right to wager her later. Dushshashan who was trying to disrobe her, continued to do so. Draupadi kept praying to Lord krishna and so endless piece of saree was coming from Lord krishna. At last he gave up and Draupadi was saved from being disrobed.
I was so thrilled by all these stories and continued my research about sari.
Early Fabric of Saree:
India is growing cotton since 2500bc, and this exactly matches with my finding of origin of saree, therefore Cotton is the one in which first ever saree could be woven.
The remnants found near Indus Valey Civilization shows sculptures wearing fabric wrapped around the body that may be a saree.
How ever Indus valley civilization knew how to make silk, but it was expensive and only riches could afford it. Therefore I can imagine how beautiful wives of kings would appear when they are wearing silk saree.
Over the years, sarees has been an important and glamorous outfit. Lets us see how we derived this beautiful outfit from our ancestors.
Saree in Vedic Period:
In the Vedic age – (1500 to 900 B.C.E) Women wore a cloth wrapped and pinned around themselves much like the outfits of Iranian women 0r Greek women. Stitched clothes were considered inauspicious at that time so concept of choli came later in Vedic period. The lower garment was called Paridhana or Vasana.
It was usually such a cloth secured around the waist with a belt or a string which is called Mekhala or Rasana. Upper garment was called Uttariya.
I found this great slideshow that represents Indian fashion history since Vedic period very creatively.
Between 322-185 BC, Mauryan period is the evidence of females wearing sarees. The yakshinis, attender of lord kuber ji is the indication.
During Mauryan period women wear a fabric on body’s lower half, below the waist that was known as Antalya. The other rectangular piece of cloth was the uttariya – which covered the upper part of the body. This reminds me of my Ajanta Ellora trip. Although we have seen some sculptures wearing a saree, but mostly there were two separate garments. These two parts sarees can still be seen in India.
This interesting article is throwing light on different aspect by saying that sarees were influenced by Romans during Mauryan period. It does not state that sarees came from Romans but it is just mentioning about the influence of roman’s costume called palla that gave birth to modern style saree.
From 320 AD to 550 AD, gupta period prevailed, which is considered as golden age of India. Although,Women sometimes wore antariya in saree style, throwing one end of it over the shoulder, but stitched garments became the sign of royal family. Married women started to cover their chest with a band of cloth in this period.
The main feature of this period is that they did not use it to cover their heads as it was prominent in earlier ages. Mainly cut and sew clothes were consumed during Chandragupta period. Extensive use of ivory ornaments like ringlets or a jeweled band or a chaplet of flowers were found. Wish I could have at least one pure ivory ornament.
A great Sanskrit play was written during this period called Vikrama Urvashiyam, a love story of king Pururavas and an Urvashi. I also found a painting depicting this story, in which Urvashi is wearing a saree.
This could only be possible if people during Gupta period wore sarees.
During 7th Century Rajputs were dominating North India and when Mughals started invading India Rajput gave a tough fight and made a strong line of defense that did not last long. Later they built strong relations with Mughal Empire.
The terms Rajput is derived from Rajputana which means “son of kings”. During Rajput period, saree was the main attire for women. It can be proved from paintings done in Rajput eras and most of them wore sarees. Men were mostly warriors so it influenced their dressing.
It reminded me of Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai of Jodha Akbar. One of India’s most popular fashion designer, Neeta Lulla designed the costumes for both Jodha and Akbar.
A beauty parlor next to home, hoarding says, “Jodha Akbar styles available on rent”. From bridal wedding lehengas to heavy Rajputana style necklaces, almost all brides wanted to look like Jodha. I have shared one of the image in next section.
From early 16th to the mid-18th century it was an era when Muslims ruled India and it was second largest empire in Indian Subcontinent during it’s peak period. During Mughal period banarasi fabric was evolved and was the speciality of Banaras in India.
Weaving of Banaras saree is a long process that may take 15 days to many months depending on intricacy of design.
In my research, I could not found traces of banarasi saree were popular during Mughal period. I found paintings of Mughal emperors wearing brocade fabric weaved in Banaras but not found any picture of women in banarasi saree.
In great Indian movie of Jodha Akbar, Jodha was Rajput who married to Akbar and she used to wear saree. But I did not found anywhere that she used to wear banarasi saree. At least I know sarees were still in existence during the Mughal period.
Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur was considered as a fashion icon of the pre-independence era. Being a daughter of Indira Devi, Maharani Gayatri Devi too followed her mother’s style statements and popularized the use of chiffon sarees.
In 2013 Designer Sabyasachi presented limited edition saris inspired by Maharani Gayatri Devi
When we talk of pre-independence, back in my mind, I started thinking of my school days where my social studies teacher narrated a lesson on Khadi movement. For Indians Khadi was not only fabric but a tool to be a self-reliant for cotton clothes. It has been referred to as the ‘fabric of Indian independence. Khadi is associated with India’s struggle for freedom. With this my fingers quickly typed Gandhi’s khadi movement in India.
And, I loved this line from one of the article presented on website :
In this sense, Gandhi can be seen as the first true Indian designer who in a way counseled the people to adorn their bodies with the nation’s fabric—Khadi.
I always find our elderly ladies hopped to the “Khadi mela ustav”. Thanks to various Indian fashion designer that they have realized this invaluable gift of Mahatma Gandhi.
Many politicians like Sonia Gandhi dressed in Khadi saree making it as a part of their daily wear.
In 1956, under the States Reorganisation Act, states were reorganized on a linguistic basis. Since then the Indian structure has remained unchanged. There are so many different ways to wear saree. In India itself, every state has its own way to drape a saree. Almost 80+ ways to wear a saree is noted.
I have managed to find few different styles from Internet and books.
Sarees in Modern World
In today’s India saree is still most worn attire, though in cities we may not see many woman wearing sarees where it is considered as an ethnic wear to be worn during religious ceremonies, festivals and weddings. However in rural India it is still daily attire for a woman as price of a saree starts from Rs. 100, that is less than $1.5.
Today India’s youth prefer easy to wear outfits and opt for western outfits in contrast many bollywood actresses, politicians, common women have made saree as a part of their daily attire.
Lets have a brief overview of sarees in modern India.
Various Indian famous and powerful politicians such as Indira Gandhi, Jayalalita, also wore sarees in their daily life.
Sarees in Indian TV Shows:
While I was still digging the history of saree, my mom rushed to Living room and grabbed the remote control to switch her favorite serial. Damn, I got to see so many beautiful sarees played by serial actresses.
Unlike movies, Indian TV shows are a part of daily routine for not only in India but Indians living abroad. It creates a great impact on audience because of daily presence. In-fact, there are some daily soaps which are running successfully with lots of seasons such as:
Ye Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, KumKum Bhagya, Taarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma
The leading characters of these shows Hina Khan, Disha Vakani and Sriti Jha are popular for their acting skills but also for their selection of saris.
Sarees in Movies:
Agreed that unlike movies, TV serials have great impact on audience due to daily presence. But movies like Chennai Express was much talked for the pattu sarees worn by Deepika Padukone. Rajkumar movie featuring sonakshi sinha and shahid kapoor danced on tunes of “saree k fall sa…” received millions of views.
Great actresses like Rekha, Hema Mailin, Jaya Bacchan still gracefully drape sarees, among which sarees of rekha always outstand any other bollywood actress.
Sarees for working woman:
I also observed some working women who always wear sarees at their workplace. Professional ladies prefer to wear banarasi silk sarees with wide border or sarees in dull colours with borders.
E.g. Chanda kochar, ceo of ICICI bank wears crepe, silk, cotton sarees. Arundhati Bhattacharya, chair of State Bank of India wears simple banarasi silk, cotton sarees in daily life.
I have seen labourers working on construction sites, making roads or in farms and women here work shoulder to shoulder with men from farms to multi national companies.
International celebrities in sarees:
When firangi celebs wear sarees, they just create an elegance by wearing it with so much of zeal. I can never forget Pamela Enderson in white saree, on her appearance in Bigg Boss.
Pussy Cat Dolls sizzled in Sarees at Fashion Rocks 2008 in New York City. I had read in newspaper that Aishwarya Rai helped Oprah to wear saree saree during her visit to India.
Super expensive sari:
When you are super rich you can afford anything, why not make a super expensive saree? Nita Ambani spent Rs. 40lakh (approx. $60000) to make a saree for he using real gold threads and it took 12 months to make this super expensive saree.
There are designers who can make saree for you as expensive as you want. I could not think about most expensive fabric for saree, but I could imagine use of real gold and silver threads, real gold zardosi, swarvoski or real diamonds, ruby, pearls could make it exorbitant. But why not have few in wardrobes if you have so much money in your bank.
Saree designers of India:
The best Indian designers who are master in designing superb sarees collection whose arts and crafts of this sarees designers are indeed inspiring. Indian fashion designer, Masaba Gupta has always won hearts with her stylish saree designs. To show her love towards sarees, Mandira Bedi, entered the fashion world with her label ‘Sarees by Mandira Bedi‘
Buying A Saree
If you have read this post so far, you must be thinking of buying a saree for yourself if you have not one in your wardrobe. If you are living in India you have plenty of shops around you.
If you are not living in India you might have some sari shops around but with limited choices. For you best option is to buy sarees online, there are number of good stores but make sure you do your research about seller before you buy a sari online.
Saree is not only a piece of fabric, it has been core of Indian Civilization for thousands of years. Although not many woman in cities wearing sarees but it is still daily attire of women in villages where 70% of Indian population lives. Saree industry has grown as population of India was shooting up in last many decades.
Even though today’s girls do not wear saree every day, but every Indian girl will have few sarees in her wardrobe for sure.
We have gone through a journey of finding what is saree, where it came from, who wore it and who is wearing it today. Its been incredible journey though I still have many questions in my mind, I will be researching more about it soon and share my findings.
I will love to hear from you, this will encourage me to keep sharing my research about Indian cloths. Please leave your comment below and share this post with your friends.
Thank you so much for reading my post.