Indian Saree: Everything You Wanted to Know
Revered as the hallmark Indian women wear, sari has been going strong since centuries
in the sub-continent. It’s an unstitched drape with a dimension of 2-9 yards of length & 2-
4 ft in breadth. The saree has always been an expression of elegance & grace that have
resulted in its heightened popularity not only across India but also internationally. It’s
rightly said that no other ethnic costume than saree can complement the feminine aura at
History of saree
The term “saree” or “sari” has been derived from the Sanskrit word “śāṭī” implying a
cloth strip & Prakrit term “sāḍī”- that was being further corrupted to Hindi word “sari”.
The ancient Jataka stories bear mention of “Sattika” women wear of ancient India which
was somewhat equivalent to the contemporary “sari”. Ancient Indian history testifies to
the prevalence of saree since the days of Indus Valley Civilization (2800 to 1800 BC)
that flourished in western India.
How the saree is worn?
The saree is mainly draped around a petticoat and is worn with a tight fitting upper
garment called choli or blouse or ravika. This blouse is generally cropped at midriff. It
should be note that originally the saree cloth was just draped around the bare body,
without any additional garments- it was the Chola reign of South India which introduced
the blouse or “choli” system. The trendy Indian women love to have their “cholis” shaped
in different interesting neck and backlines.
Indian saree fabrics
The Indian sarees are available in a wide variety of fabrics- ranging from cotton to silk to
satin to georgette to crepe to chiffon to velvet and so on. The contemporary Indian sari
market even extends drapes made from jute.
Indian saree design
The saree wear comes in a wealth of designs to pick from. You will get printed sarees,
embroidered sarees in threadwork and zariwork as well as sarees studded with stones,
pearls, crystals etc. Albeit saree originated centuries ago yet it doesn’t imply that the
saree scene has not updated itself as per the trendy aspirations. Added to traditional
designs, the contemporary Indian sarees also carry urbane motifs like Aztec prints or
geometrical patterns -assuring the perfect edgy look even with an archaic wear.
The best bits about Indian saree
o Enhances feminine grace
The Indian damsels are famous for their gorgeous hourglass shape and saree is the ideal
wear to complement their stunning feminine grace at its best. The unstitched drape wraps
around the body beautifully accentuating the hourglass shape like probably no other
apparel can. Famous Indian couturier once remarked- “The saree is the most versatile
garment in the world. It can, with a sweep of the head, be conservative or with a flash of
the navel, trendy”.
o Elegant & classy
Saree epitomizes Indian women wear and represents the flawless elegance of rich Indian
culture. It’s one of the rare apparels which can be classy and chic simultaneously. Given
its exclusively sophisticated aura, saree has been able to amaze the Western world as well
– a bevy of Hollywood celebrities like Pamela Anderson, Ashley Judd etc. have preferred
the Indian saree for some of their special public appearances.
o Suits any shape
A great bit about the Indian saree is that the drape is meant to match up with any sort of
portfolio. It complements a petite frame with the equal ease & beauty of draping a slender
portfolio- thus enabling women of any shape to don and shine in the gorgeous attire.
o Matches Indian climate
Saree is the perfect women wear evolved in accordance with the hot and humid ambience
presented by the sub-continent. As the drape bares the midriff, it creates a breezy feel for
the wearer even she is draped right from the shoulder to the feet.
Probably there is no other apparel than saree that can flatter the body is so many diverse
ways- It’s to note here that sari can be draped in as many as 80 varied styles.
o Nivi style
The nivi style is the most popular style of draping a saree today. In this case, one edge of
the drape is tucked into petticoat’s waistband followed by a drape around lower half once
– then it is hand-gathered into a number of even pleats tucked into the waistband again.
The pleats create a very graceful sight which many poets have compared to fine flower
petals. The loose edge of the drape, called “pallu”, is further draped diagonally over
shoulder. The midriff stays revealed & the navel could be revealed as well or concealed
with little adjustment on the pallu. The Nivi style actually originated in Andhra Pradesh
in the form of “kaccha nivi” drape -where the saree pleats were passed through legs &
tucked into waistband at back.
o The other styles of drapes include- Bengali & Oriya style, Rajasthani/Gujrati style,
Konkani, Madisar, Kodagu, Gobbe, Gond, Malayali, tribal style & Kunbi style.
o The contemporary fashion scene & Bollyeood divas have brought along some very
trendy and dramatic draping styles- Lehenga style saree, double style saree, Indo-
Western style, Mermaid style and Mumtaz style. The Indo-Western style is
generally tried over a trouser instead of the conventional petticoat.
Occasions to wear Indian sarees
Indian sarees can complement almost any occasion. Whether it’s a traditional puja
ceremony or a wedding or an office meet or a formal dinner or some lavish parties- saree
is always a magnificent choice given its poised & sophisticated aura. Indian women even
wear saree in their day-to-day activities. While silk sarees are mostly preferred for grand
traditional occasions, the georgette, chiffon, velvet, satin & net drapes serve the best for
formal arrangements. The cotton sarees are comfortable for regular wear in the hot &
humid Indian climate.
The Indian style divas (read Bollywood heroines) mostly prefer to don an Indian saree
these days for the red carpet while attending the international film festivals or cultural
Royal patronage received by Indian saree
Since its evolution centuries back, the Indian saree has nourished much under royal
patronage in different parts of the subcontinent.
The Mughal era popularized the zardousi sarees. Actually these medieval rulers believed
in opulence which was grandly echoed in the gaudy golden zari artwork of the zardousi
sarees. This gorgeous Zardousi craftsmanship especially flourished during the reign of
great Mughal Emperor Akbar.
Then there was Bengal’s Tant drape which received huge patronage from Murshidabad
The South Indian kingdoms also appreciated the unstitched drape- as mentioned earlier, it
was the Chola dynasty that introduced “choli” system with saree. The Pallavas introduced
the style of draping the sari till shoulder & hence the loose end hanging from the shoulder
is termed as “pallu” after the Pallavas.
Maheswari sarees were highly patronized by the Maratha dynasties. It was Ahilyabai
Holkar, the famous Maratha queen who introduced Maheswari silk sarees with gorgeous
zari motifs. The western royals of the subcontinent like Baroda, Gwalior & Nagpur
regimes are credited for the heightened brandishing of Chanderi sarees- that were heavily
appreciated stretching as far as the eastern zone to Bengal.
The Jodhpur dynasties must be mentioned for their popularization of the very chic and
classy wispy French styled chiffon sarees, which are still a favorite of the modern-day
Famous Indian saree designers
The Indian fashion designing scene has taken up a lot of endeavor to revive and maintain
the classic aura of sarees- thanks to the iconic Indian couturiers the Indian saree is
making waves in the global style scene as well.
Ritu Kumar- It was the esteemed couturier lady Ritu Kuman who was the first to
successfully revive saree in the fashion scene. Kumar is heavily credited for the revival of
the lost Zardousi work in 1970, that was once so popular in the Mughal era.
Satya Paul- Satya Paul is another name of repute in the Indian saree scene. Splashed in
vibrant hues, Paul’s sarees are a celebration of contemporary free-spirited smart Indian
Sabyasachi Mukherjee- Indian saree would stay forever indebted to Sabyasachi
Mukherjee for its esteemed position in the contemporary style scene today. The iconic
Bengal designer brought a modern twist on sari designs introducing a bohemian feel-
mixing the abstract feel with indigenous methods such as block printing, gotawork, hand
dyeing , bandhani etc.
The other great names in the Indian saree fashion scene are Manish Malhotra, tarun
Tahiliani, Masaba Gupta, Gaurang Shah etc.
Online portals for saree shopping
The momentous popularity of sarees has led to the evolution of many saree stores over
the virtual space. The internet saree stores are mostly the virtual face of some famous
brick & mortar saree house while independent saree stores are available as well. The
virtual saree portals today are no less than their land based counterparts & offer a
versatile selection of modern as well as traditional sarees to pick from. Online saree
shopping is getting really popular enabling you to browse, choose, buy & get your saree
delivered right at your doorstep. Many of these online stores promise a global reach
enabling easy saree shopping for internationally settle sari connoisseurs as well.