The Sari and Its Significance to Indians
The Sari and Its Significance to IndiansA Sariis a garment worn by the Hindu women. Also known as saree, shari or share, the dress is marked by drapes of varying length (five to nine yards 60) and breadth (50 centimeters to 1.2 meters). The Sari is is worn such that one of the ends falling on the shoulders, exposing the midriff. It is usually worn over a petticoat, or with a ravike or choli (a blouse or an upper garment). The Nivi style, whose roots trace to Andhra Pradesh, is the most popular Sari style in the world. Othercommon Sari styles include Bengali and Odia, Gujarati/Pakistani/Rajasthani, Nepal,Madisar, Maharashtrian/Kashta/Konkani, Kodagu, Gobbe Seere, Asamese, Manipuri, Khasi, Malayali, Kunbi and Tribal styles (Najmul, Farhana, Afroza & Mehadi, 2014).The name Sari was derived from the word satsi, which means a piece of cloth. There have been various hypotheses for explaining the popularity of Sari. One of the views is its accomplished elegance. In some cases, the dress is perceived as a cultural symbol of glamour and grace (Duin, 2015). To others, Sari is seen as portraying the rich cultural heritagethat has stood the test of time. Indeed, the Sari has exemplified resilience, timelessness, and continuity of the way of life of people in India (Religion Facts, 2016). Indeed, the women from the Indian region, especially those who practice Hinduism, are unlikely to abandon wearing the Sari despite the emergence of other competing fashionable dresses. In light of this view, questions have been raised concerning what would be the most appropriate account for the Sari`s resilience. Could it be religion, elegance, the rich cultural heritage, or the modest design? The purpose of this paper is to explore the Sari and its significance to Hinduism.The Sari and the Indian Culture HistoryThe literature on the significance of the Sari and the Indian culture is documented and points to different elements such as cultural heritage, religion, fashion, and ordinary dress. In the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and Bangladeshi, Sari is regarded as the most sensational outfit or attire for women.In particular, thepractice of wearing the Sari exposes the woman curves and conceals the midriff.Different communities prefer the sari in varied styles. In some cases, these variations can be used to tell the community that the wearer comes from(The Pitlane Magazine, 2016).Notable, the manner in whichpeople from the north India drape the saris in may differ from those from those in southern regions. Moreover, the garment comes in a plethora of designs, fibers, and colors. In many cases, the sari is worn with a Choli (a blouse), covering the upper body with a Chhaya (a petticoat)in which the sari pleats are tucked to hold the garmentinto place.A look at the history of Hinduism reveals different perspectives concerning the significance of the sari to the religion. The history of sari traces to a period at least 40 centuries ago and can be seen as closely associated with the literature on Sanskrit in the Vedic era, which outlined that women needed to put on dresses with pleats, a practice that was aimed at appeasing Vayu, the wind god. Part of the historical significance of the Sari dress has been seen through portraits in paints, carvings, and sculptures and stories of legends. The sari has been featured in numerous of the modern arts and legendary stories, many of which are still being told today. Toa certain extent, the Sari`s history is associated with Indian civilization.The Pitlane Magazine (2016) discusses that, historically, women covered themselves with a long single piece of cloth during the Indus Valley Civilization.In this case, sari was derived from `sattika,` which means cloth.The term would later evolve to `sati,` then into `sari.`The history of thesignificance of sari in Indian historyis evidenced by astatue of a female priest wearing the cloth, which was found in the Indus Valley. At that time, the sari was draped such that the bottom was trouser-like attire. Some sources (e.g., Duin, 2015), have noted that such sariswere mainly worn by troupes of dancers in temples to prevent them from exposing their sensitive body parts, yet it was a sign of modesty, too.Duin(2015) further notes that the sari evolved from one of the older, modern Indian styles of fashion known as `dhoti,` which waspopularly drapedby women and men in the period of up to14th century.The history of the cloth does not stop there: the ancient statues of goddesses have presented evidencethat women draped the sari to show off their beauty in a sensational manner of a mermaid. The sari was wrapped at their waists to cover the legswhile leaving an attractive appearance in front. Before the 14 century, the garments were draped to expose some parts. Indeed, in some areas of India, such as the states of Kerala, many people, especially women still wear two-piece ancient saris, consisting only of a shawl and a lungi.However, following the influence of the Muslims dressing style, the Indiansstarted embracing the stitched fashions such as the petticoat. Prior to the influence of theBritish and Muslims, stitching of clothes was never famous and was mostly considered a sign of the lack of purity. The sari has evidenced new sari designs or styles, which have been emerging over time. However, the core aspects of the cloth such as the inclusion blouse have still accompanied the modern designs and styles.Najmul, Farhana, Afroza and Mehadi (2014) also assert that sari has been the favorite garment for assuring beauty, especially the hips. The author further notes that both women and men continued to wear three garments that were pure (unstitched clothes) as people in the Vedic times did. The main garment (Antariya) was made of pure white cotton, flowered muslin, or embroidered with precious stones and gold. For men, the clothing was draped between the legs (Kachcha style), extending towards the ankles or the calf. The main garment, Antariya, was fastened at the waist using a piece of cloth known as Kayabandh or Sash that is fixed and positioned at the center and waist. Uttariya, which was mainly made from fine cotton, was a long piece of cloth that was primarily utilized as a scarf to drape the upper part of the body.According to Duin(2015), the origin of saris is obscure due to the limited records on the Indian subcontinent. However, it is established that, before the introduction of tailored clothes, the people from India were using long unstitched pieces of clothes that were often draped. However, history reveals that as of 100B.C. women in the Northern Indiawere wearing a tight sari covering her entire body just like modern-day trousers. The temple dancers are believed to have adopted the body-hugging style as it enabled them to move freely while maintaining their dignity and modesty. Besides, many Graeco-Indian Subcontinent and Gandharan civilization sculptures portray different draping styles of the sari. The author concurs that the Muslim and the British invasion of India led to the introduction of stitched clothes such as petticoats and blouses, transforming the Zari. Moreover, the author discusses that a majority of women in India still wear the saris, as oppose to men who have embraced tailored clothes. The increasing population of financially stable women in the 20[th] has increased dependency and adoption of Western clothing and draping styles. Some of the common changes include slim blouses and fitted petticoats. The fashion industry dynamics had also led to the invention of the transparent chiffon Saris in the 20[th] century.Mohapatra (2012)also notes that, in the ancient India, the concept of beauty among women was associated with having a large bust and a small waist as exemplified by the early sculptures. The sari was the perfect dress that flaunted those factors or proportions as it emphasized and exposed the bust and waist of a woman with its pleated fabrics. In some occasions, belts and different accessories with intricate designs were added around the waist to expose the hip area. Mahabharata epic is regarded as the most modern recorded reference to the memorable and attractive story of Sari in Indian culture. The colors of the sari were obtained from locally available as Katha color derived from plants. Similarly, coloring and weaving were done using locally available technologies involving colorful threads, using cotton, which happened by one of the conventional cash crops grown by the Indians.Najmul, Farhana, Afroza,and Mehadi (2014) suggest that Saris are as old as western civilization in the Indian Subcontinent. The authors note that according to the Vedas, the oldest surviving literature, written 3000 BC, the Indian Sari is the oldest of dresses worn currently, dating over than 5000 years. It is estimated that over 75 percent of the Indian population wear sari that is stitched in different styles. Now, various designs of sari styles have been invented. For instance, they are being worn as trousers, shorts, skirt-wise, and gown-like with varying lengths. In the 20[th] century, wearers of the Sari had been tying saris loosely, pleated and folded to suit different occasions such as party wear, working dress and for household chores using manual labor (Najmul, Farhana, Afroza & Mehadi, 2014)Sari in Different AgesThe first century AD witnessed one of the earliest forms of the Sari. It was a simple garment (piece of cloth) with a veil. Varma (one of the earliest painters in India) was requested to paint different goddesses of the Hindus. He embarked on looking for a suitable wear for each goddess that he was supposed to paint. After going to India searching for the best outfit, he picked on the Sari, which he noted that was the perfect wear for females (The Pitlane Magazine, 2016). Besides, stories of Indian historical battles involvinglegends such as Queen Laxmibai Jhansi, Kittur Chennam ma, and Belawadi Mallamma have hinted they wore the Sari attire when going to war. Their Saris were tightly tucked like a trouser to enable them to move freely and climb on the backs of the horses. However, the early Saris were longer compared to the current ones (Najmul, Farhana, Afroza and Mehadi, 2014).Duin (2015) discusses that Sari is still the most elegant garment and is preferred by most brides. In Indian marriages, the rich ancient heritage is usually evidenced by the brides wearing the Saris that are draped in different styles, highlighting various cultural diversities across the Indian subcontinent. Moreover, the patterns and colors of the fabrics of the Sari imply different beliefs that are embedded in the cultures of the Indians. The Indians believe that the brides` charms are enhanced in a neat and beautiful Sari. Various ranges of Sari such as Mysore silks and gold, silver, crystal, mirrors, and beads were used to embellished Saris. Some of the common varieties of Mysore silk Saris include Kanjivarams, Pochampallis, Zardosis, Jamawars, Banarsis, Gharcholas, Paithanis, Balucharis, Tanchois, Patolas, and Tangails.Nevertheless, the cloth associated with different events and memories in the Hindu communities. Every rustle of the Sari garment carries its meaning and story — stories both of sad and happy moments. The garment shares with the wearers their gradations of experiences of people — the happiness and joy of marriage and also the sadness or sorrow of parting ways, the satisfaction and pleasures of motherhood, the trying moments during adversities, and the happy moments when life was `kind` with typical stoicism of people in the Indian subcontinent. For instance, a nine meter (yard) Sari with gold design,embroidery and embellishments exemplified connoisseurs pleasure. It was regarded to be safe and preserved the dignity and femininity of women by covering their entire bodies (The Pitlane Magazine, 2016). A cloth or gold-silver belt was tied around the waist to fasten the upper cover (Pallu) and keep the folds intact. The Jhansi`s Queen Kittur Chennamma, Belawadi Mallamma, and Laxmibai wore the Sari and the belt when engaging enemy troops. Raja Varma, who was one of the popular painters of the 19th century, selected one of the nine-yard Sari as the ideal wear for women on his mission to identify the best dress for different goddesses of the Hindu religion (Religion Facts, 2016).The Sari that he picked draped the body `beautifully.` The Sari communicatedparticular occasions, events, and moods. Particularly, the color usually reflects the event while the draping style is signaling the community. Moreover, brocades symbolize happy moments or celebration for marriage or newborn baby. Festivals or occasions such as Durga Puja or Diwali exemplify colorful dreams through Sari that are woven with gold between magnificent rainbow-hued mazes of silk. Pure white Sari indicated sorrow, death, divorce, or breaking an engagement. For immediate family members, pure white Sari spoke of a state of sadness and empathy for people that come to mourn with the bereaved. The garment could be molded to suit any occasion, and thus it is universal (Najmul, Farhana, Afroza & Mehadi, 2014).Sari in the 20th CenturyThe tradition and culture of the Indian Subcontinentare vast and rich. The cultural traces are associated with old age practice of wearing the Sari. Dressing code is one of the aspects of Indian culture. Even in the civilization era, the dressing across the majority of the women is mainly the Sari. However, during the last decade of the 20[th] century, noticeable changes in dressing were witnessed in the manner the women dress. With the influence of globalization and other Western cultures, traditional and ethnic Indian Subcontinent women clothing has incorporated the Western fashion, resulting in new designs and styles of the Sari. However, the old style of the Bangladeshi and the Indian Subcontinents have shown resilience. The old fashion and styles in clothes have tended to disappear for a couple generations or decades and then re-emerge. In the ancient period, style was limited to certain types of saris, and in the late 20[th]century,notable variations have been evidenced as a result of globalization (Mohapatra, 2012).The combination of the Indian and western fashion has seen the emergence of the Indo-Western fashion and style, a mixture the Indian traditions and western modernity. The period saw the amalgamation of various Indian clothing such as the salwar and the low-waist trousers (especially, jeans). Despite the existing variations or styles in the designs and cuts of the saris, its design still resembles the old age saris. It is also worth noting that many communities have embraced wearing the saris, especially during special events such as social and religious festivals and weddings. According to the Indian cultures, it is a ritual or formal procedure that women wear saris on their wedding day. Modern saris are made from different types tailoredfabrics. However, some designs such as Jamdani and Benarasi are hand woven.Some of the most common types of Indian saris are Parsi, Phulkari, Patola, Baluchari, Handloom, Hakoba, Chikan, Chanderi, Bandhej, Kanjeevaram, and Benarasi saris. Moreover, some of the most popular kinds in Bangladeshi continent include Tangail, Silk, Rajshahi, Katan, Dhakai and Jamdani, among others. However, most of the saris that are available in the markets are designer saris such as mirror work, butterflyPallu, and embroidered saris. The saris are of different materials such as chiffon, georgette, silk, and crepe. The majority of women are attracted to the modern look of saris. For instance, most women tend to prefer butterfly pallu saris becauseit gives them a `hot look` (Bhandari, 2012).Therefore, Saris can be seen as cultural heritage dress and conventional clothing.Sari as a Cultural HeritageOne end of the saris is left plain, with two decorated edges along the agdes. In the nivi draping style, the pallu is the piece that is left to touch the shoulders. During the ancient period, most saris were made from cotton and silk. Finely woven, such as the silk saris, were worn by the wealthy. On the other hand, people from humble background wore cotton saris with a rough or coarse texture. During this period, saris were hand-made (hand-woven) although the process involved a significant amount of money and time. The cloths had simple decorations of woven stripes and checks. Tie-dyeing, which includedvegetable extracts, were also used to make block prints on saris. Expensive garments and fabrics had elaborate floral, geometric and figurative brocades and ornaments. In some occasions, weft and warp threads were dyed before they were used to make saris with ikat patterns. In addition, various colors were used to make the base, with ornamented borders, together with multiple accents across the piece of cloth to make the pallu. The accents are commonly known as Bhuttis or buttis in Hindi. Fancy saris were woven with either, silver or gold threads (Zari work). Additionally, saris could be further decorated using different kinds of embroidery such as the colored silk, silver, precious stones, pearls and gold threads. The Zardozi embroidery used imitation stones and metallic threads from fake Swarovski crystals and pearls (Linda, 2012).In the modern world, mechanical looms are being used to make saris using nylon, polyesters, and rayon that do not necessarily require ironing or starching. Most of the dying is done using machines or woven using simple patterns, creating an elegant appearance in the front part. The machine-made saris are relatively inexpensive compared to the hand-woven ones. For this reason, the saris woven by hand are preferred for grand social functions such as weddings (Linda, 2012).Sari as a DressSari is used as a daily or casual wear in almost the entire part of the Indian subcontinent. Casually, they are used as clothes for household chores such during cooking and baby-sitting, as well as sleeping dresses. They are also used as wedding gowns. Weddings are held in high regards in many communities theyare mostly accompanied by gaiety and joy. The sari, when worn, is a sign of great prominence and happiness of a person attending the event as well as the bride. The majority of women and even teenage girls from the Indian continent wear saris during weddings. Wedding saris are varied in style, colors, fabrics,and designs. Brides and women attending weddings prefer embellished saris. Other saris that are popular for thewedding include gold zari-decked saris, patchwork saris, cut work saris, traditional silk saris, and embroidered Saris. Preferred colors for wedding saris are maroon, red, purple, blue, green and gold. White and black colors are perceived to be inauspicious in Indian Subcontinent. Nevertheless, typical wedding fabrics include chiffon, silk, Georgette, polyester, and sati. Sari styles for weddings are a personal choice.Saris are the most appropriate wear for women in offices for their elegance, modesty, and dignity. Cotton saris are mostly preferred for this purpose. Some small prints can accompany formal saris. Besides, pastel color or light color cotton saris are suitable during formal occasions.Apart from the official and wedding purposes, they saris can be worn on unofficial occasions such as simple Get-together parties involving friends, colleagues, and families. The outfit is supposed to be elegant or glamorous, but simple at the same time (not completely casual or formal). Women usually wear their preferred colors, designs, styles, sleeve lengths, necklines during these events. The critical attributes that are considered when choosing outfits for simple to get together occasions include the ability of the cloth to bring out attitude and confidence. Evening party saris have a glamorous, stylish, elegant, and chic look or appearance. Some of the common evening party saris include mermaid design, fish cut, and lehnga style saris (Parthasarathy, 2013).Relationship and Significance of the Sari to HinduismOne of the most intriguing questions is whether wearing a sari would make one a Hindu. The answer to the question is not straightforward. Indeed, on the one hand, it is not uncommon to find the Christian and Muslims in India wearing the dress. On the contrary, however, wearing sari can be seen as one way of identifying and co-existing with the Hindu communities, yet one would not be allowed to enter the Hindu temple without the sari. Such a scenario, then evokes the question of what the significance of the sari could be.The Sari has been featured in different folk tales, which altogether play a crucial role in helping understand the importance of Sari to the Hindu religion. In one of the folktales, a weaver fell asleep and dreamt of women with a slivery shimmer and draping flow of a silk-like hair. He also dreamt about different colors of moods of a woman, including her soft touch. The thought would later inspire him to weave a sari. The Sari also features is a Hindu epic, Mahabrata. Here, Draupadi, who also happens to be the wife to the five Pandava brothers, finds herself lost in the destructive gamble with the Kauravas. In the attempt to humiliate the woman, the Kauravas tried stripping her sari off. Engulfed in the anguish and helplessness, she resorted to praying to Lord Krishna, the Hindu deity, for protection. Interestingly, her prayers were quickly answered by the besieging of Kauravas. As can be seen, in both cases, Sari is portrayed as a means of protecting the modesty of a woman, yet when draped in an appropriate manner, the cloth becomes carries the essence of womanhood. Indeed, the sari depicts women as beautiful, and this is evidenced by the way in which the fabric is designed. The material isdesigned in the manner such that it reveals as much about a woman as it hides.Other plausible accounts have been offered regarding the significance of sari. For instance, part of the popularity of the sari follows from the limited use of stitched design. Another account is that the Indians saw the need to create a bridge between the rich and the poor. Consequently, the traditional Hindu society endeavored to create a piece of clothing that would unite all the all the Indians when draped around the body. Indeed, this reason could be plausible considering every woman in the community, regardless of status, can wear the cloth. The piece of fabric is also fashionable because it makes fat women appear to be slim.The Evolving Sphere of the SariIt is worth noting that there are different ways of draping the sari. Indeed, literature points at various styles of draping, which also happen to vary with geographical regions. The design by the Bengali women is perhaps the most outstanding form. In this design, Pallu is brought forward to the chest, leaving several inches of the cloth hem to flap over the left shoulders. Another kind of Sari design is the Aiyar Sari, which wields a lot of religious importance. This design is popular among the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, as well as the students of Shankaracharya, a spiritual teacher. It is also worn by the Aryans, the priests of the Hindu gods, Smarta Brahmins, the artisans, and Gurukkal Brahmin. This design of the Sari is about nine yards and comprises of five different sheds of colors. The five sheds of colors are a symbol of the five sacred devotees of Shiva (Duin, 2015).Apart from the styles employed in draping the cloth, the colors used also carry certain cultural symbols that are significant to the Indian culture. For instance, in the ancient India, the red color was associated with the class of warriors and was mostly won to depict valor. However, over time, the culture has changed, creating an allowance for them to be worn by the brides because it is considered an auspicious color. On the other hand, the white color is seen as a symbol of purity and was worn by priests to show how they were pure before the gods, yet the while saris were also worn by the morning widows. In contrast, the black color was associated with bad omen and, as a result, few Indians would wear black Saris. Yellow was regarded as the religion`s color, and saints wore saris with saffron yellow to show how religious they were and would be worn by the new mothers a week after birth. Nevertheless, the Saris that are worn today now heavily embroidered, beaded and even sequined to suit different diverse needs of the consumers. Even the Choli sari, which is characterized by the eclipsing of the original Sari style, has evolved into new styles such as neckline cuts. Indeed, the Sari styles have been persistently changing over time, shifting from the Nivi drape to the mermaid-like styles (Najmul, Farhana, Afroza & Mehadi, 2014). All these developments show that, tosome degree, Sari is not just being worn for areligious purpose, but also for the beauty and cultural identity.ConclusionThe goalof this paper has been to examine the significance of Sari, questioning its relevance to Hindu religion. The discussion has revealed that although the cloth signifies one`s affiliation to the Hindu religion, it is now increasingly worn for other purposes, including for cultural identity and fashion elegance. The fabriccontinues to be worn by the Hindus entering the temple to worship their gods. Without it, one will not be allowed into the temple. Such a scenario sends a very strong message that sari and Hinduism are inseparable from each other. Nevertheless, different accounts have been given for the popularity of the sari among the Indians. For instance, it could be a way of getting along with the Indians or acculturation to their customs. It could also be a way of bridging the differences between the rich and the ordinary Indian communities. More importantly, the Sari has been worn for different occasions and, to acertain extent, the purpose of the sari depends on its color. For example, the white Saris were worn to signify their purity before the gods by the priests, yet they are also worn by women to depict their purity in their weddings. The yellow saris are worn by the saints to portray their religious affiliations. The black saris are not famous because they are associated with black omen. The most striking feature about the sari is its elegance and fashionable nature that makes to be worn by other non-Hindu communities such as the Christians and Muslims. In this regard, it can be inferred that there is no boundary as to what the purpose the sari is intended to serve. Over time, the religious and cultural practices have been evolving, marked by the development of new ways in which the saris are draped not only to portray religious orientation, but also the social status and fashion.ReferencesBhandari, V. (2012). Costume, textiles and jewellery of India: traditions in Rajasthan. Mercury Books. p. 84.Duin, J. (2015). Saris reflect Hindu values. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/sep/14/saris-reflect-hindu-values/Linda, L. (2012). The Sari: Styles, Patterns, History, Techniques. Mercury BooksMohapatra, R. (2012). Fashion Styles of Ancient India: A Study of Kalinga from Earliest Times to Sixteenth Century Ad. B.R. Publishing Corporation.Najmul, K. K., Farhana, S., Afroza H. D. & Mehadi, H. K., (2014). Sari-The Most Draping Attire Of Indian Sub Continental Women. Retrieved from http://iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol19-issue12/Version-3/D0191231824.pdfParthasarathy, R. (2013). The Tale of an Anklet: An Epic of South India – The Cilappatikaram of Ilanko Atikal, Translations from the Asian Classics. New York: Columbia Univ. PressReligion Facts (2016). Hindu Goddesses. Retrieved from http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/goddessesThe Pitlane Magazine (2016). The History and Significance of the Sari. Retrieved from http://www.pitlanemagazine.com/cultures/the-history-and-significance-of-the-sari.html
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