The saree is a major part of Indian tradition and culture and dates back to as early as the Indus Valley Civilization. A saree is an unstitched piece of cloth that is typically between six and nine yards and worn by women. They are believed to be the predecessors of lehengas and ghagra cholis. Before sarees came along, women in India would traditionally wear a three-piece outfit—one piece of cloth worn over the head or across the shoulder, another long unstitched cloth draped around the lower body, and a third piece of cloth covering the chest. Over time, different saree draping styles have evolved, based on different regions, their cultures, and climate. Sarees are not just costumes, they represent style, heritage and culture, and people have innovated various draping styles of sarees. Most women however, follow the traditional saree draping styles.
The saree draping style that is most popular is the nivi draping style. Here the saree is worn with additional pieces, namely the blouse and the underskirt or petticoat. The blouse covers the top half of the body or sometimes the entire torso. The underskirt or petticoat covers the lower body and acts as a support for the saree. The saree is first tucked into the waistband of the underskirt and then wrapped around, pleated. One end of the saree remains loose and is thrown over the left shoulder, called pallu. There are different designs that are stiched, printed or embroidered on the saree. The pallu is usually the most intricately decorated, heavily embroidered and designed. Most sarees also have thick or thin borders along the edges.
Classic Saree Draping Styles Across The Different States in India
1. For The Warriors: Nauvari, Maharashtra
The word nauvari means nine yards, so this unique saree draping style’s name came from its length. Back in the day, Maharashtrian women wore this saree only in a few colours like green and blue, but it is now available in different colours with varied embroidery. This saree is draped like a dhoti, a lower garment worn by men, where one end is brought between the legs and inserted around the waistband to allow easy movement. It is also believed that this saree draping style came up during Maratha rule where women assisted the men in war. Therefore, this type of saree allows women to move freely and engage in physical activity. Maharashtrian women wear the Nauvari style saree along with accessories like thick gold jewellery and a bunch of flowers. It is worn by the bride in Maharashtrian weddings, during festivals like Gudi Padwa and while performing the regional folk dance lavani.
2. Of Sweat And Toil: Gochi Kattu, Telangana
This saree draping style has a rural and rustic look. Originating from Telangana, Gochi Kattu is a saree draping style that belongs to working-class women. This style of saree draping is similar to the Nauvari as it is draped like a dhoti and allows women to work freely in the fields. Today women above 40, in rural areas in Siricilla region, Karimnagar district, Nizamabad and Adilabad districts are seen wearing this attire. The Gochi Kattu draping style of sarees requires a special type of saree called the navvar. They are made of cotton and come in various bright colours. This saree is worn by different women across castes and social strata and thereby has a sense of equality attached to it.
3. The Bright Red And Beautiful: Atpoure Saree, West Bengal
Unlike usual Indian saree draping styles, the Atpoure style has the pallu on both shoulders instead of just one. This style uses a traditional Bengali saree that is traditionally white in colour with a thick red border. The pallu is on the left shoulder and taken from behind and draped on the right shoulder. Until only a few decades ago, and possibly even today in a few households, Bengali women, who are the head of the household, tied a bunch of keys on the end of the pallu on the right shoulder. These keys meant that she was a powerful woman. This style of draping a saree is accompanied by a bright, big, and round bindi.
4. For The Young South Indian Girl: Pavadai Dhavani
A traditional draping style belonging to Tamil households, the Pattu Pavadai is a half saree. It’s mostly worn by south Indian girls. Tamil Nadu is famous for its silk sarees sold in Kancheepuram, Thirubhuvanam, and Arani. Traditionally young girls wore the Pavadai Sattai which is a skirt and blouse, respectively. Older girls wore the Pavadai Dhavani, where along with the pavadai and sattai, another cloth, the dhavani, was draped around the upper body. Pattu is a special silk used in south India, and sarees made of this material are worn on special occasions like weddings and festivals. Pattu Pavadai Dhavani is a half saree made of this silk. The pavadai and dhavani have thick and bright borders and are woven with colours that contrast each other.
5. Another Gem From The Handloom Industry: Mekhela Chadar, Assam
The conventional Assamese saree draping style is worn only with Assamese handwoven sarees. These handloom sarees are a part of a tradition in Assamese families that is passed from mothers to daughters. There are two parts of this draping style, the mekhela, the bottom half that has pleats in a criss cross manner. The second part is the chadar that covers the torso, and is draped on the shoulder.
6. From The House Of Iyer And Iyengar: Madisaru, Tamil Nadu
Most commonly worn by women in Iyer and Iyengar communities, conventionally after marriage, during festivals and special occasions. In this style of saree draping women don’t wear a petticoat, because the saree is draped like a dhoti around the lower body and the upper half has pleats like a regular saree. The saree is knotted to keep it in position.
7. Drape Like None Other: Nivi And Kappalu, Andhra Pradesh
Nivi is the most common style of wearing a saree today and has its roots in Andhra Pradesh. A more interesting saree draping style is the Kappulu. This draping style is unique in the sense that unlike most of the Indian traditional draping styles of sarees that drape the sarees from right to left, this is draped from left to right. The draping style is very stylish with the pallu on the right shoulder that you can let hang or wrap around your shoulder. Women in Kappulu caste still wear the saree in this style. The saree is pleated behind, and is draped around the body twice.
8. Grace And Style: Seedha Pallu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, And Odisha
Seedha Pallu is famous and liked by women across all ages. The pallu comes from behind over the right shoulder and is pinned on the waist near the left arm. This pattern is similar to the lehenga choli as the dupatta is also pinned in the same manner as the pallu. The Seedha Pallu draping style can also accommodate a veil in the drape. This saree allows free movements of the upper body and hands.
8. The Style With A Myth: Coorgi Style, Karnataka
The Coorgi style drape is worn with a full-sleeved blouse. The saree has narrow pleats at the back. The Coorgi style saree also features in Hindu mythology in the tale of the sage Agastya and his wife Kaveri (the river). According to legend, Kaveri wanted to sacrifice herself and turn herself into a river to quench the thirst of her people. To prevent her from doing so, Agastya tried to stop her and in the ensuing tussle, pushed the pleats of her saree from the front to the back. Since then, Coorgi women followed this tradition and incorporated it in their saree draping style. Coorgi brides wear red and gold silk sarees in this style. The style also emerged to accommodate climbing the steep hills of the region.
9. Beauty And Opulence: Gol Saree, Parsi Community
This traditional Parsi drape is worn on festive occasions. The pallu is taken from the back and draped over the blouse such that it falls close to the hem of the saree. The pallu has intricate designs and embroidery that is displayed on the beautiful folds that cascade around the torso.
10. An Exclusive Style: Namboothiri, Kerala
This Kerala saree style stands out as it has no concept of pallu. The Namboothiri saree draping style is not seen as much in recent times, except during folk dances at festivals in Kerala. It was traditionally worn during Kerala’s new year, Vishu, and the harvest festival, Onam. The Settu Mundu and Kasuva draping styles are more popular, with a typical white saree with gold borders. But the Namboorthiri style is a two-piece saree, where the larger piece of cloth is inserted into the petticoat so the golden border is visible on the left and the smaller piece is tucked into the blouse.
11. For Arid Regions: Pin Kosuvam
This is another back pleated saree draping style that is worn by women in Tamil Nadu. Typically, the saree is wrapped around the lower half one and a half times, and the pleats are taken from the inside so they hang on the waist. Sometimes the saree is also draped at ankle or knee-length and no petticoat was worn because the knots made kept the saree in place. It was worn in hot and humid weather and thick handloom cotton sarees were used to help keep the body comfortable and cool.
Reminiscing The Good Old Days
Myriad saree draping styles give us an idea of various traditions and cultures across our country. They also reflect the different physical activities that were and still are required of women, and how those gave birth to these saree draping styles. Even though these styles are no longer worn daily, they are brought out on events and occasions when it’s time to honour tradition.