Saree is the symbolic gesture of feminity in India. Though many other South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mayanmar, etc. have a fascination over saree, but still Indian always tops the list of all saree wearing nations. We all know that this country had a chance to get some European and Middle East touch, but this tradition and culture of wearing sarees remained pristine. Over the years of Indian history, this dress had undergone a lot of variations in colors, designs and styles of draping it around the body. Today it is not only an attire for rituals and festivals, but also the attire for fashion and an element of fashionable creativity.
Sarees of the Indus Valley Civilization
Saree is the world’s oldest and perhaps the only existing unstitched garment from the past. The earliest record of sarees in India is found during the Indus Valley Civilization, where the historians got proofs of women wearing sarees. Some say that cotton and the art of weaving came to India from Mesopotamian civilization, but the Indus Valley people were also familiar with cotton.
Sarees during the time of the Aryans
The entry of Aryans in India sets a milestone and is one of the most important events to change the history of India forever. They were the first to bring the word, 'Vastra' in this country. As they moved towards the Southern part of India, they adopted the style of draping the cloth around the waist. It was during this period when the use of vegetable dyes over fabrics became popular. Women started to wear colourful sarees with skillful touch of embroidery. The word “Patta” which means silk in almost all South Indian dialects seems to have originated during this time.
Sarees during the time of the Persians and the Greeks
The Persians and Greeks were able to bring a huge change in the fashion of sarees. Greeks used to wear a belt like cloth (cummerbund) and the Persians wore clothes that held together at the shoulder and were belted at the waist. These sorts of dresses fascinated the Indian women and they also started to blend this style with their fashion. The art of stitching and wearing stitched clothes started in India. It is said that the Persians were the first one to introduce the art of stitching in India. During this period, the culture of wearing tight fitting blouses called 'Cholis' were introduced for the first time along with the then existing sarees. The Persians also introduced the elegant art of encrusting fabrics with pearls and other precious stones in India. Royal women of that time wore gem-encrusted clothes that were a combination of weaving and embroidery.
Sarees during the Mughal Period
The Mughals are probably the most notable rulers in India, who contributed to every aspect of Indian life, be it monuments, warfares, food or dresses. During their reign, India faced another major change in sarees. The Mughals were fond of lavish styles and elegant fashion. They perfected the art of stitching and had a great fascination with silk clothes. The modern style of draping sarees originated during this period. This is the style that makes an Indian woman look graceful. It is reported that there existed more than five hundred natural dyes for fabric during this period.
Sarees of the post Mughal Period
Kadambari Devi, the sister in law of Rabindra Nath Tagore brought a little, but notable variation in the culture of wearing sarees. She taught the society a new way of draping a saree. In earlier days, the six-yard cloth was worn in a single sheath with no concept of pleats. She was the first one to introduce the draping of sarees with pleats. It is heard that she even advertised in newspapers to inspire women of that era to wear saree like this and if necessary they can come up to her in order to learn that art of saree draping. Such was her contribution to the society of women that even today that trend of draping saree is followed.
This is how sarees have taken different forms of designs, colors and draping, to establish a pattern that we see today. Everyday fashion designers are trying to make innovative contributions to make this dress look more beautiful and acceptable to the women of the Indian society. A day will come when Indian women in the future years will wear sarees, with designs yet unborn and styles yet unknown.