More expensive saris had elaborate geometric, floral, or figurative ornament created on the loom, as part of the fabric. Sometimes warp and weft threads were tie-dyed and then woven, creating gorgeous baluchari patterns. Sometimes threads of different colors were woven into the base fabric in patterns an ornamented border, an elaborate pallu, and often, small repeated accents in the cloth itself on various qualities of , cotton, georgette, chiffon etc. These accents are called buttis or bhutties (spellings vary). For fancy saris, these patterns could be woven with or silver thread, which is called zari work. Modern zari work is usually executed with glittering synthetic fibers rather than real gold or thread (made by wrapping gold or silver around a base thread).
Sometimes the saris were further decorated, after weaving, with various sorts of embroidered works. Resham, zari or zardousi work is embroidery done with colored silk, golden, copper or silver thread for gorgeous bridal or wedding sarees or dulhan saris. Zardozi embroidery uses gold and silver thread and sometimes pearls and non-precious . Cheap modern versions of zardozi use synthetic metallic thread and imitation stones, such as fake pearls, sequin beads and Swarovski crystals.
The word 'sari' is believed to derive from the Sanskrit word 'sati', which means strip of cloth. This evolved into the Prakrit 'sadi' and the sound later decayed into 'sari'.
Some versions of the history of Indian clothing trace the
sari back to the Indus valley civilization, which flourished in 2800-1800 BCE. One
ancient statue shows a man in a draped robe which some sari researchers believe
to be a precursor of the sari.
Ancient Tamil poetry, such as the Silappadhikaram and the Kadambari by Banabhatta, describes women in exquisite drapery. This drapery is believed to be a sari. In the Natya Shastra (an ancient Indian treatise describing ancient dance and ), the navel of the Supreme Being is considered to be the source of life and creativity. Hence the stomach of the dancer is to be left unconcealed, which some take to indicate the wearing of a sari.
Odissi dancer wearing a fishtail wrap. Some costume historians believe that the men's dhoti, which is the oldest Indian draped , is the forerunner of the sari. They say that until the 14th century, the dhoti was worn by both men and women.
Sculptures from the Gandhara, Mathura and Gupta schools (1st-6th
century CE) show goddesses and dancers wearing what appears to be a dhoti
wrap, in the "fishtail" version which covers the legs loosely and
then flows into a long, decorative drape in front of the legs. No bodices are
Other sources say that everyday costume consisted of a dhoti or lungi (sarong), combined with a breast band and a veil or wrap that could be used to cover the upper body or head. Some argue that the two-piece Kerala mundum neryathum (mundu in malayalam is the same as dhoti or sarong and neryath means a cloth to cover the upper body similar to a ) is a survival of ancient Indian clothing styles, and that the one-piece sari is a modern innovation, created by combining the two pieces of the mundum neryathum.
It is generally accepted that wrapped sari-like garments, shawls, and veils have been worn by Indian women for a long time, and that they have been worn in their current form for hundreds of years.
One point of particular controversy is the history of the choli, or sari blouse, and the petticoat. Some researchers state that these were unknown before the British arrived in India, and that they were introduced to satisfy British ideas of modesty. Previously, women only wore the one, draped cloth and casually exposed the upper body and breasts. Other historians point to much textual and artistic evidence for various forms of breast-band and upper-body shawl.
It is possible that the researchers arguing for a recent origin for the choli and the petticoat are extrapolating from South India, where it is indeed documented that in some areas, women wore only the sari and exposed the upper part of the body. Poetic references from works like Shilappadikaram indicate that during the sangam period in ancient South India, a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and head covering, leaving the bosom and midriff completely uncovered. In Kerala there are many references to women being topless, including many pictures by Raja Ravi Varma. Even today, women in some rural areas do not wear cholis
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