After the luxury French brand Hermes launched 28 sari designs in Mumbai, India, Amrita Dasgupta explores the world of the elegant sari. The versatility of this quintessential garment has a great deal to do with its popularity, and the blank canvas provided by nine yards of unstitched cloth acts as a potential arena for art and creativity.
In the history of Indian clothing the sari can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, which flourished during 2800-1800 BC around the western part of the Indian subcontinent. The earliest known depiction of the sari in the Indian subcontinent is the statue of an Indus Valley priest wearing a drape. Ancient Tamil poetry, such as the Silappadhikaram and the Sanskrit work Kadambari by Banabhatta, describes women in exquisite drapery or sari.
Sculptures from the Gandhara, Mathura and Gupta schools (1st-6th century AD) show goddesses and dancers wearing what appears to be a dhoti wrap; the ‘fishtail’ version which covers the legs loosely before flowing into a long, decorative drape in front. In this version no bodices are shown.
Sources state how everyday costume would consist 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. The two-piece Kerala mundum neryathum (mundu, a dhoti or sarong, neryath, a shawl, in Malayalam) is a survival of ancient Indian clothing styles. The one-piece sari is a modern innovation, created by combining the two pieces.
Why The Sari Survived
In the subcontinent, the famous ‘Indian Summers’ tend to be sunny and sultry and therefore the sari is well-suited. Yards of cloth draped around the body protects it from the sun in summer and the cold in winter, while the cropped choli has a cooling effect.
The versatility of this quintessential garment has a great deal to do with its popularity. The sari’s potential to be draped in nearly a hundred ways means the wearer can use it for many occasions; styling it to appear formal and elegant before its transformation into a relaxed and informal outfit.
Though most of the world has adopted western wear for its practicality, the sari in the subcontinent never seems to go out of fashion. Saris continue to be worn by Indian women for everyday wear, traditional celebrations and weddings. It is now considered a global attire due to its popularity with celebrities, both Indian and international.
A Pan-Indian Art Form
Much of its popularity can also be attributed to the blank canvas provided by nine yards of unstitched cloth as a potential for art and creativity. Over the centuries, each region in the Indian subcontinent has developed its own unique sari style, weave and texture. The Ikkad and the Sambalpuri from Orissa, the Bengal cotton from West Bengal, the Tussar Silk from Bihar, the Pochampally from Andhra Pradesh and many more. The sari has woven itself intrinsically into all sections of Indian society by transcending class, religion and socio-political divisions.
By Amrita Dasgupta
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.