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Maharani Chimnabai of Baroda with her daughter Indira Devi This article is about the garment. For other uses, see Sari (disambiguation).
"Saris" redirects here. For other uses, see Saris (disambiguation).

A sari (sometimes also saree or shari) is a women's garment from the Indian subcontinent, that consists of an un-stitched stretch of woven fabric arranged over the body as a robe, with one end attached to the waist, while the other end rests over one shoulder as a stole (shawl), sometimes baring a part of the midriff. It may vary from 4.1 to 8.2 metres (4.5 to 9 yards) in length, and 60 to 120 centimetres (24 to 47 inches) in breadth, and is form of ethnic wear in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. There are various names and styles of sari manufacture and draping, the most common being the Nivi style. The sari is worn with a fitted bodice also called a choli (ravike or kuppasa in southern India, and cholo in Nepal) and a petticoat called ghagra, parkar, or ul-pavadai. It remains fashionable in the Indian Subcontinent today.

Table of contents
  1. Etymology
  2. Origins and history
  3. Styles of draping
  4. Professional style of draping
  5. Bangladesh
  6. Sri Lanka
  7. Nepal
  8. Pakistan
  9. Similarities with other Asian clothing
  10. Ornamentation and decorative accessories
  11. Saris outside the Indian subcontinent
  12. Handloom and textiles
  13. See also


The Hindustani word sari (?????, ????), described in Sanskrit ???? sati which means 'strip of cloth' and ???? sadi or ???? sadi in Pali, and which evolved to sari in modern Indian languages. The word satika is mentioned as describing women's dharmic attire in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist literature called Jatakas. This could be equivalent to the modern day sari. The term for female bodice, the choli evolved from ancient stanapatta. Rajatarangini, a tenth-century literary work by Kalhana, states that the choli from the Deccan was introduced under the royal order in Kashmir.

The petticoat is called saya (????, ????) in Hindi-Urdu, parkar (????) in Marathi, ulpavadai (?????????) in Tamil (pavada in other parts of South India: Malayalam: ?????, romanizedpavata, Telugu: ????, romanizedpavada, Kannada: ??????, romanized: pavude), saya (?????) in Bengali and eastern India, and saya (???) in Sinhalese. Apart from the standard "petticoat", it may also be called "inner skirt" or an inskirt.

Origins and history

History of Sari-like drapery is traced back to the Indus Valley civilisation, which flourished during 2800-1800 BCE around the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. Cotton was first cultivated and woven on the Indian subcontinent around the 5th millennium BCE. Dyes used during this period are still in use, particularly indigo, lac, red madder and turmeric. Silk was woven around 2450 BCE and 2000 BCE.

The word sari evolved from satika (Sanskrit: ??????) mentioned in earliest Hindu literature as women's attire. The sari or satika evolved from a three-piece ensemble comprising the antariya, the lower garment; the uttariya; a veil worn over the shoulder or the head; and the stanapatta, a chestband. This ensemble is mentioned in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist Pali literature during the 6th century BCE. Ancient antariya closely resembled the dhoti wrap in the "fishtail" version which was passed through the legs, covered the legs loosely and then flowed into long, decorative pleats at front of the legs. It further evolved into Bhairnivasani skirt, today known as ghagri and lehenga. Uttariya was a shawl-like veil worn over the shoulder or head. It evolved into what is known today known as dupatta and ghoonghat. Likewise, the stanapatta evolved into the choli by the 1st century CE.

The ancient Sanskrit work Kadambari by Banabhatta and ancient Tamil poetry, such as the Silappadhikaram, describes women in exquisite drapery or sari. In ancient India, although women wore saris that bared the midriff, the Dharmasastra writers stated that women should be dressed such that the navel would never become visible, which may have led to a taboo on navel exposure at some times and places.

It is generally accepted that wrapped sari-like garments for lower body and sometimes shawls or scarf like garment called 'uttariya' for upper body, have been worn by Indian women for a long time, and that they have been worn in their current form for hundreds of years. In ancient couture the lower garment was called 'nivi' or 'nivi bandha', while the upper body was mostly left bare. The works of Kalidasa mention the kurpasaka, a form of tight fitting breast band that simply covered the breasts. It was also sometimes referred to as an uttarasanga or stanapatta.

Poetic references from works like Silappadikaram indicate that during the Sangam period in ancient Tamil Nadu in southern India, a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and head covering, leaving the midriff completely uncovered. Similar styles of the sari are recorded paintings by Raja Ravi Varma in Kerala. Numerous sources say that everyday costume in ancient India until recent times in Kerala consisted of a pleated dhoti or (sarong) wrap, combined with a breast band called kurpasaka or stanapatta and occasionally a wrap called uttariya that could at times be used to cover the upper body or head. The two-piece Kerala mundum neryathum (mundu, a dhoti or sarong, neryath, a shawl, in Malayalam) is a survival of ancient clothing styles. The one-piece sari in Kerala is derived from neighbouring Tamil Nadu or Deccan during medieval period based on its appearance on various temple murals in medieval Kerala.

Early Sanskrit literature has a wide vocabulary of terms for the veiling used by women, such as Avagunthana (oguntheti/ogunthika), meaning cloak-veil, Uttariya meaning shoulder-veil, Mukha-pata meaning face-veil and Sirovas-tra meaning head-veil. In the Pratimanataka, a play by Bhasa describes in context of Avagunthana veil that "ladies may be seen without any blame (for the parties concerned) in a religious session, in marriage festivities, during a calamity and in a forest". The same sentiment is more generically expressed in later Sanskrit literature. Sudraka, the author of Mrcchakatika set in fifth century BCE says that the Avagaunthaha was not used by women everyday and at every time. He says that a married lady was expected to put on a veil while moving in the public. This may indicate that it was not necessary for unmarried females to put on a veil. This form of veiling by married women is still prevalent in Hindi-speaking areas, and is known as ghoonghat where the loose end of a sari is pulled over the head to act as a facial veil.

Based on sculptures and paintings, tight bodices or cholis are believed to have evolved between the 2nd century BCE to 6th century CE in various regional styles. Early cholis were front covering tied at the back; this style was more common in parts of ancient northern India. This ancient form of bodice or choli are still common in the state of Rajasthan today. Varies styles of decorative traditional embroidery like gota patti, mochi, pakko, kharak, suf, kathi, phulkari and gamthi are done on cholis. In Southern parts of India, choli is known as ravikie which is tied at the front instead of back, kasuti is traditional form of embroidery used for cholis in this region. In Nepal, choli is known as cholo or chaubandi cholo and is traditionally tied at the front.

Red is the most favoured colour for wedding saris, which are the traditional garment choice for brides in Hindu wedding. Women traditionally wore various types of regional handloom saris made of silk, cotton, ikkat, block-print, embroidery and tie-dye textiles. Most sought after brocade silk saris are Banasari, Kanchipuram, Gadwal, Paithani, Mysore, Uppada, Bagalpuri, Balchuri, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Mekhela, Ghicha, Narayan pet and Eri etc. are traditionally worn for festive and formal occasions. Silk Ikat and cotton saris known as Patola, Pochampally, Bomkai, Khandua, Sambalpuri, Gadwal, Berhampuri, Bargarh, Jamdani, Tant, Mangalagiri, Guntur, Narayan pet, Chanderi, Maheshwari, Nuapatn, Tussar, Ilkal, Kotpad and Manipuri were worn for both festive and everyday attire. Tie-dyed and block-print saris known as Bandhani, Leheria/Leheriya, Bagru, Ajrakh, Sungudi, Kota Dabu/Dabu print, Bagh and Kalamkari were traditionally worn during monsoon season. Gota Patti is popular form of traditional embroidery used on saris for formal occasions, various other types of traditional folk embroidery such mochi, pakko, kharak, suf, kathi, phulkari and gamthi are also commonly used for both informal and formal occasion. Today, modern fabrics like polyester, georgette and charmeuse are also commonly used.

Styles of draping

There are more than 80 recorded ways to wear a sari. The most common style is for the sari to be wrapped around the waist, with the loose end of the drape to be worn over the shoulder, baring the midriff. However, the sari can be draped in several different styles, though some styles do require a sari of a particular length or form. Rta Kapur Chishti, a sari historian and recognised textile scholar, has documented 108 ways of wearing a sari in her book, 'Saris: Tradition and Beyond'. The book documents the sari drapes across fourteen states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. The French cultural anthropologist and sari researcher Chantal Boulanger categorised sari drapes in the following families:

The Sari Series, a non-profit project created in 2017 is a digital anthology documenting India's regional sari drapes providing over 80 short films on how-to-drape the various styles. Nivi style

The Nivi in most common style of sari worn today, which originated in Deccan region. In the Deccan region the Nivi existed in two styles, a style similar to modern Nivi and the second style worn with front pleats of Nivi tucked in the back.

The increased interactions during colonial era saw most women from royal families come out of purdah in the 1900s. This necessitated a change of dress. Maharani Indira Devi of Cooch Behar popularised the chiffon sari. She was widowed early in life and followed the convention of abandoning her richly woven Baroda shalus in favour of the unadorned mourning white as per tradition. Characteristically, she transformed her "mourning" clothes into high fashion. She had saris woven in France to her personal specifications, in white chiffon, and introduced the silk chiffon sari to the royal fashion repertoire.

Under colonial rule, petticoat was adopted, along with Victorian styles of puffed-sleeved blouses, which was commonly seen among the elites in Bombay presidency and Bengal presidency. Nivi drape starts with one end of the sari tucked into the waistband of the petticoat, usually a plain skirt. The cloth is wrapped around the lower body once, then hand-gathered into even pleats below the navel. The pleats are tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. They create a graceful, decorative effect which poets have likened to the petals of a flower. After one more turn around the waist, the loose end is draped over the shoulder. The loose end is called the aanchal, pallu, pallav, seragu, or paita depending on the language. It is draped diagonally in front of the torso. It is worn across the right hip to over the left shoulder, partly baring the midriff. The navel can be revealed or concealed by the wearer by adjusting the pallu, depending on the social setting. The long end of the pallu hanging from the back of the shoulder is often intricately decorated. The pallu may be hanging freely, tucked in at the waist, used to cover the head, or used to cover the neck, by draping it across the right shoulder as well. Some Nivi styles are worn with the pallu draped from the back towards the front, coming from the back over the right shoulder with one corner tucked by the left hip, covering the torso/waist. The Nivi sari was popularised through the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. In one of his paintings, the Indian subcontinent was shown as a mother wearing a flowing Nivi sari. The ornaments sometimes worn in the midriff region on top of a sari are waist chains. They are sometimes worn as a part of bridal jewellery.

Professional style of draping

Because of the harsh extremes in temperature on the Indian subcontinent, the sari fills a practical role as well as a decorative one. It is not only warming in winter and cooling in summer, but its loose-fitting tailoring is preferred by women who must be free to move as their duties require. For this reason, it is the uniform of Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Air India uniform for air hostesses. An air hostess-style sari is draped in similar manner to a traditional sari, but most of the pleats are pinned to keep them in place. Bangladeshi female newsreaders and anchors also drape their sari in this particular style.

Saris are worn as uniforms by the female hotel staff of many five-star luxury hotels in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh as the symbol of Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi culture, respectively.

Similarly, the female politicians of all three countries wear the sari in a professional manner. Bangladeshi politicians usually wear saris with long sleeve blouse while covering their midriff. Some politicians pair up saris with hijabs or shawls for more coverage.

The women of the Nehru-Gandhi family like Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi have worn a special blouse for the campaign trail which is longer than usual and is tucked in to prevent any midriff showing while waving to the crowds. Stylist Prasad Bidapa has to say, "I think Sonia Gandhi is the country's most stylish politician. But that's because she's inherited the best collection of saris from her mother-in-law. I'm also happy that she supports the Indian handloom industry with her selection."

Most female MPs in the Sri Lankan Parliament wear a Kandyan osari. This includes prominent women in politics, the first female premier in the world, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Contemporary examples include Pavithra Wanniarachchi, the sitting health minister in Cabinet. The adoption of the sari is not exclusive to Sinhalese politicians; Muslim MP Ferial Ashraff combined a hijab with her sari while in Parliament.


The sari is traditional dress for Bangladeshi women.

There are many regional variations of saris in both silk and cotton. e.g., Dhakai Banarasi sari, Rajshahi silk, Tangail sari, Tant sari, Tassar silk sari, Manipuri sari and Katan sari.

However, most working women choose to wear western clothes whilst Muslim Bangladeshi women opt for the shalwar kameez.

The sari is reserved as the dress of choice for important occasions and events.

In 2013, the traditional art of weaving jamdani was declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In 2016, Bangladesh received geographical indication (GI) status for Jamdani sari.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan women wear saris in many styles. Two ways of draping the sari are popular and tend to dominate: the Indian style (classic nivi drape) and the Kandyan style (or Osariya in Sinhala). The Kandyan style is generally more popular in the hill country region of Kandy from which the style gets its name. Though local preferences play a role, most women decide on style depending on personal preference or what is perceived to be most flattering for their figure.

The traditional Kandyan (Osariya) style consists of a full blouse which covers the midriff completely and is partially tucked in at the front. However, the modern intermingling of styles has led to most wearers baring the midriff. The final tail of the sari is neatly pleated rather than free-flowing. This is rather similar to the pleated rosette used in the Pin Kosuvam style noted earlier in the article.

The Kandyan style is considered the national dress of Sinhalese women. It is the uniform of the air hostesses of SriLankan Airlines.

During the 1960s, the mini sari known as 'hipster' sari created a wrinkle in Sri Lankan fashion, since it was worn below the navel and barely above the line of prosecution for indecent exposure. The conservative people described the 'hipster' as "an absolute travesty of a beautiful costume almost a desecration" and "a hideous and purposeless garment".


The sari is the most commonly worn women's clothing in Nepal where a special style of sari draping is called haku patasihh. The sari is draped around the waist and a shawl is worn covering the upper half of the sari, which is used in place of a pallu.


In Pakistan, some women wear saris on special occasions. Whilst the styling of the sari in Pakistan mimics the traditional Indian ways, Pakistani women wear fuller tops which do not bare the midriff or back in keeping with religious sensitivities.

Pakistani traditional dress, the Shalwar kameez is worn throughout the country on a daily basis.

Black Sari Day, is an celebration of Iqbal Bano a women who fought in a Black sari in Lahore against Zia. She sang Hum Dekhenge. Although this event is to bring family closer and to enjoy the day of Iqbal Bano.

Similarities with other Asian clothing

While the sari is typical to traditional wear for women in the Indian subcontinent, clothing worn by women in Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos resemble it, where a long rectangular piece of cloth is draped around the body. These are different from the sari as they are wrapped around the lower-half of body as a skirt, worn with a shirt/blouse and resemble a sarong, as seen in the Burmese longyi, Filipino malong and tapis, Laotian xout lao, Laotian and Thai suea pat and sinh, Cambodian sbai (Khmer: ????) and sampot and Timorese tais. Saris, worn predominantly in the Indian subcontinent are usually draped with one end of the cloth fastened around the waist, and the other end placed over the shoulder baring the midriff.

Ornamentation and decorative accessories

Saris are woven with one plain end (the end that is concealed inside the wrap), two long decorative borders running the length of the sari, and a one to three-foot section at the other end which continues and elaborates the length-wise decoration. This end is called the pallu; it is the part thrown over the shoulder in the nivi style of draping.

In past times, saris were woven of silk or cotton. The rich could afford finely woven, diaphanous silk saris that, according to folklore, could be passed through a finger ring. The poor wore coarsely woven cotton saris. All saris were handwoven and represented a considerable investment of time or money.

Simple hand-woven villagers' saris are often decorated with checks or stripes woven into the cloth. Inexpensive saris were also decorated with block printing using carved wooden blocks and vegetable dyes, or tie-dyeing, known in India as bhandani work.

More expensive saris had elaborate geometric, floral, or figurative ornaments or brocades created on the loom, as part of the fabric. Sometimes warp and weft threads were tie-dyed and then woven, creating ikat patterns. Sometimes threads of different colours were woven into the base fabric in patterns; an ornamented border, an elaborate pallu, and often, small repeated accents in the cloth itself. These accents are called buttis or bhuttis (spellings vary). For fancy saris, these patterns could be woven with gold or silver thread, which is called zari work.

Sometimes the saris were further decorated, after weaving, with various sorts of embroidery. Resham work is embroidery done with coloured silk thread. Zardozi embroidery uses gold and silver thread, and sometimes pearls and precious stones. Cheap modern versions of zardozi use synthetic metallic thread and imitation stones, such as fake pearls and Swarovski crystals.

In modern times, saris are increasingly woven on mechanical looms and made of artificial fibres, such as polyester, nylon, or rayon, which do not require starching or ironing. They are printed by machine, or woven in simple patterns made with floats across the back of the sari. This can create an elaborate appearance on the front, while looking ugly on the back. The punchra work is imitated with inexpensive machine-made tassel trim. Fashion designer Aaditya Sharma declared, "I can drape a sari in 54 different styles".

Hand-woven, hand-decorated saris are naturally much more expensive than the machine imitations. While the overall market for handweaving has plummeted (leading to much distress among Indian handweavers), hand-woven saris are still popular for weddings and other grand social occasions.

Saris outside the Indian subcontinent

The traditional sari made an impact in the United States during the 1970s. Eugene Novack who ran the New York store, Royal Sari House told that he had been selling it mainly to the Indian women in New York area but later many American business women and housewives became his customers who preferred their saris to resemble the full gown of the western world. He also said that men appeared intrigued by the fragility and the femininity it confers on the wearer. Newcomers to the sari report that it is comfortable to wear, requiring no girdles or stockings and that the flowing garb feels so feminine with unusual grace.

The sari has gained its popularity internationally because of the growth of Indian fashion trends globally. Many Bollywood celebrities, like Aishwarya Rai, have worn it at international events representing India's cultural heritage. In 2010, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone wanted to represent her country at an international event, wearing the national costume. On her very first red carpet appearance at the Cannes International Film Festival, she stepped out on the red carpet in a Rohit Bal sari.

Many foreign celebrities have worn traditional sari attire designed by Indian fashion designers. American actress Pamela Anderson made a surprise guest appearance on Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Big Brother, dressed in a sari that was specially designed for her by Mumbai-based fashion designer Ashley Rebello. Ashley Judd donned a purple sari at the YouthAIDS Benefit Gala in November 2007 at the Ritz Carlton in Mclean, Virginia. There was an Indian flavour to the red carpet at the annual Fashion Rocks concert in New York, with designer Rocky S walking the ramp along with Jessica, Ashley, Nicole, Kimberly and Melody - the Pussycat Dolls - dressed in saris. in 2014, American singer Selena Gomez was seen in a sari for an UNICEF charity event at Nepal.

In the United States, the sari has recently become politicised with the digital-movement, "Sari, Not Sorry". Tanya Rawal-Jindia, a gender studies professor at UC Riverside, initiated this anti-xenophobia fashion-campaign on Instagram.

While an international image of the modern style sari may have been popularised by airline flight attendants, each region in the Indian subcontinent has developed, over the centuries, its own unique sari style. Following are other well-known varieties, distinct on the basis of fabric, weaving style, or motif, in the Indian subcontinent

Handloom and textiles

Handloom sari weaving is one of India's cottage industries. The handloom weaving process requires several stages in order to produce the final product. Traditionally the processes of dyeing (during the yarn, fabric, or garment stage), warping, sizing, attaching the warp, weft winding and weaving were done by weavers and local specialists around weaving towns and villages.

Northern and Central styles Eastern styles Western styles Southern styles
See also

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