Saree – Doorway to Understand India’s Culture and Heritage

by Shatika, April 1, 2015

History of handloom and sari:

The tradition of handloom has been known to almost all cultures for thousands of years. In historical context, a wide variety of handlooms have been around since time immemorial. Every culture, no matter how primitive, has woven on handlooms. What influenced their development? How did they travel from one geographic area to another? Were they invented independently by different cultures? While these questions do arouse a lot of curiosity, there is not much information except for some evidences revealing incredible technical achievement of primitive cultures that created magnificent textiles with the crudest of tools. It is said that the art of weaving came to India from the Mesopotamian civilisation. After that, finely woven and dyed cotton fabrics were found in Mohenjo Daro proving that the men and women of the contemporary Indus Valley Civilisation were familiar with cotton fabrics. There were some more excavations that speak of the golden history of Indian handloom. In fact, traditional handloom style has been one of the oldest forms. Even, the Vedic literature has a mention of Indian weaving styles. Indian floral prints, dating back to the 18th century A.D were discovered by Sir Aurel Stein in the icy waters of Central Asia. These evidences show that of all the arts and crafts of India, traditional handloom textiles are probably the oldest.

While the handloom textile has been from the time of Indus valley civilasition, sari as we know it today, evolved over the ages with passing eras. The simple loin cloth worn by the women of the Indus Valley civilisation was the early precursor of the many-splendoured Indian sarees. This evolved into colourful neevis (style of wearing a length of cloth around the waist with pleats and passing of the cloth between the legs and the tucking of the central pleats behind.) and beautiful kanchukis (a piece of cloth worn across the breasts) made from silk enthrusted in gold and gems, the two piece attire adorned by women in the vedic period. Later in the puranic age, women continued wearing neevis and kanchukis with a slight variation where the neevi did away with the tucking of the central piece behind and was left hanging in front, touching their toes in a graceful fall. Then, influenced by the Persians who also introduced the art of stitching in India, women in India started wearing the stitched snugly fitted short jacket known to be called choli. However, sari’s final form, as is seen today, came about only in the Moghul period when women’s garments went through a major revolution with a natural mixture of the three-piece unstitched garment of the earlier times and the stitched clothing brought into India by the Moghuls. The pallu or daman as the upper end of the saree is called, may have been invented to cover the head for this was required by the Muslim society in an empire ruled over by Muslim dynasties. Thus Saree which is mainly identified with India today had its inspiration from Greece, Persia and many other central Asian countries. With all the rich influences, they were embellished with gold and silver wires and gems to create resplendent designs.

All through our literature, women have been praised for their grace, sensuality and beauty when they wore this extraordinary beauty woven out of silk, cotton and other natural fibres. Soon, each weave and garment began to acquire specific names and with passing time, many new designs and techniques of weaving, dyeing and printing came into being. Sari since eternity has inspired the weavers to let loose their imagination. Constantly conceptualising, innovating and upgrading, they have made sure that it never goes out of fashion. As a result, centuries have passed since sari was conceived as the Indian woman’s hereditary costume but even today, there is no garment as enduring as a sari. The fluidity and fluency of a sari not just accentuates the beauty of a woman who adorns it but also reflects the beauty of her soul and this is the reason why in spite of changing times and preferences, sari has remained a timeless legacy. In the modern world, it continues to be an economical and easy-to-wear garment, suitable for work, leisure or luxury. Over a period of time, several cities in India have become renowned saree manufacturing centres. Be it the Madras checks from Tamil Nadu, ikkats from Andhra and Orissa, tie and dye from Gujarat and Rajasthan, brocades from Banaras, jacquards form Uttar Pradesh. Dhakai from West Bengal, and phulkari from Punjab, these weaves which have been there for centuries have constantly upgraded themselves and brought in new flavours to keep pace with the ever changing trends.

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