The Sari Nothing identifies a woman as being Indian so strongly as the sari.
The Hindu lifestyle is governed by ancient beliefs and traditions. The correct dress for religious activities and social behavior was prescribed by ancient law givers. There are many subtle variations, however. The wearing of a particular type of dress will be influenced by the caste (class) of a person. Women of all castes wear the sari, but the style, ornamentation, and floral motifs used are influenced by the caste of the wearer and the region where the wearer lives.
The sari is a length of cloth measuring 13-26 feet long and about 4 feet wide which is draped around the entire body. Most of the fabric is pleated at the waist and then wound around to make a skirt or a pair of trousers, with the remaining yards swept across the upper body, covering at least one shoulder and sometimes veiling the head.
The sari's actual dimensions are influenced by its quality, and the region where it was made. A good quality sari made of expensive fabric will be broader and longer than one that is less costly; the less expensive mill-made saris are noticeably shorter in length and width.
Historically, the Hindu woman's dress has evolved from contacts with other cultures. Spinning and weaving machines, mechanized printing and new chemicals from the West have influenced the availability of dress materials. However, this has not altered the traditional values that favor the women's saris and other garments which retain their traditional appearance. The sari continues to remain the preferred and most important item of dress for most Indian women.
Sari Design Structure
Sari fabric is highly structured with a sophisticated vocabulary. The fabric is divided into three areas: the longitudinal borders, the end piece and the field. Traditionally, each area communicated a woman's social and family status, as well as her regional identity, because certain colors and motifs were region and community-specific. Its size and elaboration was also an indication of her family's wealth since added ornamentation takes more weaving time, adding to the sari's cost.
Borders usually extend the full (longitudinal) length of the sari. They may be either woven, printed, or embroidered. The end piece, or pallu, is the area of the sari that is draped over the shoulder and left to hang over the back or front. The degree of embellishment in this area traditionally depends on how the sari is draped, as well as the occasion used. The sari's field is also embellished according to regional rules, and in many parts of India is traditionally unadorned, with designs woven, embroidered, or printed onto it only when the sari has been made for a wedding.
Indian Apparel Terms
Although the sari is the predominant form of dress for Indian women, it is not the only one. Other Indian garments include the following: