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The Sari Story
Published on 18 Oct,2015

5000 years old and still in the running, the saree is a force to be reckoned with. And interestingly enough, this singular piece of fabric has experienced evolutions and modifications in many ways – from its name, to who used it and how it was worn. Asha Sampath, an educator-turned-storyteller describes her fictional version of the saree’s history across the ages. The story of the saree begins at the home of an average weaver in the Indus Valley Civilization, who miraculously succeeds in lacing together strings of cotton into one long strip of cloth. And when he draped himself with his masterpiece, the first ever saree was born. However it wasn’t called that back in the day – the term used for it was chira (‘cloth’ in Sanskrit).

The story takes a small twist in its path, where in its initial stages the chira was worn exclusively by men and only after a certain period of time did both genders indulge the elegant clothing item. And as the women creatively toyed with their draping styles and fabric designs, the men began to wear only single piece of cloth around their wait, in full appreciation of their bare muscular upper body – thus, giving way to the trends of dhotis. Away from the commotion of fashion and excitement, the weavers were having a blast in the booming fashion industry, with women suggesting various inventive ideas on the design, material and lengths of the saree. And discovery of silk fibres tremendously accelerated their commerce, marking the start of India’s trademark female attire, the silk saree.

The silk saree, known as shati, like every other commodity had to be put to the test of adaptability and underwent major changes post the Vedic period. The ‘saree tree’ had now grown into multiple branches of audiences and uses, with field workers wearing short ones that fell just below their knees and warriors who wore the whole nine yards to give them a trouser-fitting when the pleats were tucked in. And it wasn’t until much later that the blouse – the saree’s ‘second half’ – gained currency, as the shati already covered the chest. The blouse became a necessity during India’s colonial period due to the influence of societal pressures and modesty, and this in turn generated huge business for the fashion industry.

Despite the import of western trends in wardrobe, the saree remains the only unstitched garment across its history of 5,000 years that has never gone completely out of commission. Still looked upon with reverence and pride, the saree continues to hold together several threads of rich heritage, creativity and history.

To read the article in Culturama, Click here
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