The word “sari” means “strip of cloth” in Sanskrit. But for the Indian women—and a few men—who have been wrapping themselves in silk, cotton, or linen for millennia, these swaths of fabric are more than just simple garments. They’re symbols of national pride, ambassadors for traditional (and cutting-edge) design and craftsmanship, and a prime example of the rich differences in India’s 29 states.
The sari both as symbol and reality has filled the imagination of the subcontinent, with its appeal and its ability to conceal and reveal the personality of the person wearing it,” says Delhi-based textile historian RtaKapur Chishti, author of Saris of India: Tradition and Beyond and co-founder of Taanbaan, a fabric company devoted to reviving and preserving traditional Indian spinning and weaving methods.
The first mention of saris (alternately spelled sarees) is in the Rig Veda, a Hindu book of hymns dating to 3,000 B.C.; draped garments show up on Indian sculptures from the first through sixth centuries, too. What Chishti calls the “magical unstitched garment” is ideally suited to India’s blazingly hot climate and the modest-dress customs of both Hindu and Muslim communities. Saris also remain traditional for women in other South Asian countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
– Tejasvi Gurjar