The garment evolved from a popular word ‘sattika’ which means women’s attire, finds its mention in early Jain and Buddhist scripts. Sattika was a three-piece ensemble comprising the Antriya – the lower garment, the Uttariya – a veil worn over the shoulder or the head and the Stanapatta which is a chest band. This ensemble can be traced to Sanskrit literature and Buddhist Pali literature during the 6th century BC. The three piece set was known as Poshak, the Hindi term for costume.
The sarees is one of the world’s oldest and perhaps the only surviving unstitched garment from the past. Over the millennia, it has not only become a sensuous, glamorous all-time-wear for women, but also the ‘canvas’ for weavers and printers to create artistic weaves, prints and jewelled or gold-silver embellishments!
They say cotton and the art of weaving it into fabric came to India from the Mesopotamian civilisation. The men and women of the contemporary Indus Valley Civilisation were therefore familiar with cotton fabrics and wore long pieces of material which could best be described as loin cloths.
These lengths of fabric were worn in the kachcha style, meaning that after draping it around the waist, the wearer passed one end of the cloth or the centre pleat between the legs and tucked it up behind to facilitate freer movement of the lower body and the legs.
Kanjeevaram from Tamil Nadu
The queen of sarees, Kanjeevaram sarees are made from a traditionally woven silk from the region of Kanjeevaram. The sarees are rich in colour and texture. They are elegant, refined and graceful, all in one drape.
Early history records that this style of clothing was not only limited to Mesopotamia or the Indus Valley but was common to Egypt, Sumer, and Assyria. The relics of all these civilisations, now available in seals and figurines, prove this fact.
Women of most of these civilisations, it seems from available evidence, wore only such loin cloths, leaving the upper part of the body bare, except in winter when animal skins or woollen shawl-like garments were used for protection from harsh weather.
The journey of sari began with cotton sarees, which was first cultivated in the Indian subcontinent around 5th millennium BC. The cultivation was followed by weaving of cotton which became big during the era, as weavers started using prevalent dyes like indigo, lac, red madder and turmeric to produce the drape used by women to hide their modesty.
Kasavu from Kerala
Also called Settu saree, it was traditionally only a mundu (a dhoti), a blouse and a stole that went across the blouse.