India: Traditional Sari

The origins of the sari can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. The traditional female garment derived its name from a Sanskrit word meaning “strip of cloth,” which aptly describes the way the sari is worn. A sari is a strip of unstitched cloth of about 13 to 29 feet (4 to 9 m) long that is draped around the body in various styles. One wears a sari by wrapping this fabric around the waist and shoulder. A petticoat and fitted blouse are worn underneath. In India, the sari represents an integral part of Indian culture, signifying grace. The idea of the sari gained population during 2800-1800 BC, around the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. Before the introduction of silk in 2450 BC, people used woven cotton dyed with lac, red madder, turmeric and indigo. The modern concept of the sari the world knows today originally evolved from a three-piece ensemble called a “Poshak.”


Although there are over 80 ways to wear a sari, the most popular style today is the “nivi” style, originally from the Andhra Pradesh region of India. In the nivi style, the sari is worn over a choli, a tight-fitting blouse with an exposed midriff, and a drawstring petticoat. The draping begins with one end of the sari tucked into the petticoat and then wrapped around the waist, while the other end, known as “pallu,” can be left hanging freely, thrown over the shoulder, or used to cover the head for modesty. For weddings, brides use a specially modified version of the sari. These are often made of silk, in red, and lined with golden embroidery.