Sari might be a fashionable garment now, but it started from being a humble drape used by women thousands of years ago. The origin of the drape or a garment similar to the sari can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, which came into being during 2800–1800 BC in north west India.
The journey of sari began with cotton, which was first cultivated in the Indian subcontinent around the 5th millennium BC. The cultivation was followed by weaving of cotton which became big during the era, as weavers started using prevalent dyes like indigo, lac, red madder and turmeric to produce the drape used by women to hide their modesty.
The garment evolved from a popular word 'sattika' which means women's attire, finds its mention in early Jain and Buddhist scripts. Sattika was a three-piece ensemble comprising the Antriya - the lower garment, the Uttariya - a veil worn over the shoulder or the head and the Stanapatta which is a chest band. The three-piece set was known as Poshak, the Hindi term for costume. Antriya resembled the dhoti or the fishtail style of tying a sari. It further evolved into Bhairnivasani skirt, which went on to be known as ghagra or lehenga. Uttariya evolved into dupatta and Stanapatta evolved into the choli.
Women traditionally wore various types of regional handloom saris made of silk, cotton, ikat, block-print, embroidery and tie-dye textiles. Most sought after brocade silk sarees are Banarasi, Kanchipuram, Gadwal, Paithani, Mysore, Uppada, Bhagalpuri, Balchuri, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Mekhela, Ghicha, Narayan pet and Eri etc.
Years later with the advent of foreigners, the rich Indian women started asking the artisans to use expensive stones, gold threads to make exclusive saris for the strata, which could make them stand out clearly. But sari did remain unbiased as a garment and was adapted by each stratum, in their own way. That was the beauty of the garment, that still remains.
With industrialisation entering India, with the Britishers, synthetic dyes made their official entry. Local traders started importing chemical dyes from other countries and along came the unknown techniques of dyeing and printing, which gave Indian saris a new unimaginable variety.
The development of textiles in India started reflecting in the designs of the saris - they started including figures, motifs, flowers. With increasing foreign influence, sari became the first Indian international garment.
What started as India's first seamless garment, went on to become the symbol of Indian femininity.
A sari consists of an unstitched drape varying from 4.5 to 9 metres (15 to 30 feet) in length and 600 to 1,200 millimetres (24 to 47 inches) in breadth that is typically wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder, partly baring the midriff. It is traditionally worn in the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. There are various styles of sari manufacture and draping, the most common being the Nivi style, which originated in the Deccan region. The sari is worn with a fitted bodice commonly called a choli and a petticoat called ghagra, parkar, or ul-pavadai. In the modern Indian subcontinent, the sari is considered a cultural icon.
Red is the most favoured colour for wedding saris and is a traditional garment choice for brides in Indian culture. Women traditionally wore various types of regional handloom saris made of silk, cotton, ikat, 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 sarees known as Bandhani, Leheria/Leheriya, Bagru, Ajrakh, Sungudi, Kota Dabu/Dabu print, Bagh and Kalamkari were traditionally worn during monsoon season.
Gota Patti is a 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 occasions. Today, modern fabrics like polyester, georgette and charmeuse are also commonly used.