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The Story of the Saree. Bonus – 5 Indian Ways to Drape a Saree
Thursday, May 28th, 2015

various ways to drape a saree #100sareepactWhen one thinks of traditional attire of Indian women, the saree is the first image that comes to mind. As symbolic of India as Namaste, the saree has a staying power that perhaps is unrivaled in the history of garments.

This long piece of unstitched garment is elegant, sexy and agile, all at the same time. While the saree never went out of fashion in India, it has recently become the focus of a social and public pact (the #100sareepact). If you are from India or have Indian friends, you might have seen the many avatars of saree, and the story behind each piece; the stories and images flooding your social media timeline.
Did that ever make you wonder about the story of The saree itself? Deepa Padmanaban, in her well researched article, takes us back in time to the origin of the saree, and trust us, the story is just as enchanting as a saree. This is one story that you’ll want to read, whether or not you have been part of the #100sareepact.
As a bonus, you’ll also get to learn 5 ways of draping a saree.

By Deepa Padmanaban

Timeless, graceful and sensuous, the saree, the Indian woman’s traditional garment traces its history back to the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished during 2800–1800 BC. Indian literary works and scriptures dating to the 1st century make references to women in exquisite drapes. In fact, the saree is the only unstitched garment that has survived for several centuries, although it has undergone many transformations.

In ancient India, women only wore a lower garment called ‘nivi’, while the upper body was mostly left bare. With time, as social mores changed towards more modest cultures, the outfit became a three part ensemble. In addition to the nivi, a piece of cloth called the kanchuki, was tied across the breasts and a shawl-like garment, called the Uttariya, that was worn over the Kanchuki , completed the outfit.

This three part ensemble became the everyday wear for Indian women and was probably the earliest version of the present day saree and the kanchuki , the origin of the present day blouse or choli.

Later the uttariya was fused with the nivi to form a single cloth of nine yards and when the art of stitching was introduced; women started wearing loosely fitted jackets in place of the kanchuki. In recent history, queens such as Rani Laxmi Bai, the famous warrior queen of Indore rode horses and fought their way to glory wearing nine yard saree, a version in which the saree passes between the legs and is tucked at the waist at the back, allowing free movement as with trousers.

In new India, grandmothers and indeed all other women who came before wore soft nine yards of handspun cotton sarees draped around their slender bodies every day.

As women stepped out of their homes to take up jobs and careers, the nine yard saree gave way to the more convenient and shorter six yard saree. Plain or embellished sarees with intricate designs, a border on one end or sometimes both and a distinct pallu the part that hangs over the shoulder; this is the modern saree, though with many variations, weaves and designs, each characteristic of a particular place in India.

Although the modern Indian woman has taken to Western outfits such as jeans, trousers or the more practical salwar kameez, even today, the choice of an Indian bride’s trousseau are silk sarees. These sarees, created with exquisite skill, craft and expertise often take days and even weeks to be completed. The brocades of the Benares silk, the rich weaves of the Kanchipuram sarees and the soothing colors of Assamese silk sarees, akin to a masterpiece painting, are cherished and often passed down as family heirlooms because of their superior quality and long life.

Bollywood, the Indian film industry has also played its part in inspiring saree fashions with the leading ladies often sashaying around in lustrous transparent sarees as they romance the leading man.

There are over 50 styles of draping the saree. In most, it is worn over a plain colored skirt, called the petticoat to match the color of the saree and a blouse, plain or embroidered, in matching or contrast colors.

5 Indian Ways of Draping a Saree

1) Draping a Saree Nivi style:

The most common and popular style is still called the nivi. To drape a saree in this style, one end is first tucked into the petticoat, and after a 360 degree rotation around the skirt, the saree is bunched neatly into pleats, and the rest is draped, across the chest to let the pallu fall elegantly over the shoulder.

Most popular way of draping a saree in India  - the Nivi style.
Most popular way of draping a saree in India – the Nivi style.

Image credit: Khusboo Sharad

draping a saree indian style monika manchanda
Monika is seen with a Nivi style drape, a contrast blouse and a statement necklace.

2) Draping a Saree Gujarati style:

Worn commonly by the women originating from the Western state of Gujarat. After tucking in the pleats similar to the nivi style, the loose end is taken from the back, draped across the right shoulder, and pulled across to be secured in the back.

3) Draping a Saree Bengali style:

In this style, there are no pleats, the saree is folded from the right to left in front a couple of times before it is draped over the shoulder, the length much longer than usual such that the pallu is taken from the front across the other shoulder as well.

bengali style saree draping monika manchanda #100sareepact
Monika shows how to get the Bengali style Saree draping right.

4) Draping a Saree Coorg Style:

This is worn by the woman of the Kodagu region in the Southern state of Karnataka. In this style, the pleats are formed at the rear, instead of the front. The loose end of the sari is draped from the back to the front over the right shoulder, and is pinned to the rest of the sari.

Monika manchanda coorg style saree draping #100sareepact
Coorg style drape!

5) Draping a Kerala/Malayali Saree:

This is a two-piece sari, worn in the southern state of Kerala, usually white cotton saree with gold or coloured stripes and/or borders. Locally it’s more popular by the name “Settu Mundu” or “Set Mundu”.

While selecting a saree, one needs to keep in mind the time of day and type of occasion. Silk sarees with zari (gold) border are the norm for traditional events such as weddings and pujas. For a semi-casual event, tussar silks, cottons, organza or light silks can be worn. While chiffons, georgettes, sarees embellished with sequins or embroidery and net sarees are perfect for formal events and parties.

Jewelry is a vital accessory to the saree. Traditional silks can be teamed with traditional gold jewelry, while more modern sarees go well with silver or diamond jewellery. For heavily embellished sarees, jewelry can be kept to a minimum , teamed with only a pair of long earrings such as chandeliers.

From traditional to the fashionable, there is a saree for every occasion, and when paired with the right accessories, it can bring out the diva in every woman.


A big thank you to Monika Manchanda for letting us use her personal pics to illustrate the Saree drapes. Monika aka Mon, as she is addressed by near and dear, runs a baking business and offers food consultation services.

Her popular blog Sin-A-Mon Tales has hundreds of recipes as well as cooking tips. 


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My name is Sudha Mathew. I'm an ex-banker who quit the rat race after a decade to follow my passion for travel and to combine it with my experience in understanding client requirements and exceeding their expectations.


While our content is mostly about the holiday experience, the accommodation and services, there's so much more to a journey. I have discovered a whole new me through travel. So I've reserved this corner of the website to share the unexpected aspects of travel. This space is also to hear from you about your journeys and discoveries. Bon Voyage!

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