‘Ancient, yet timeless’ is the single most accurate description for a garment as versatile as the saree, don’t you agree? Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘sati’, which translates to ‘a strip of cloth’, the saree is one of the oldest known pieces of clothing in world history. Now embraced universally as a fashion statement that never goes out of style, the saree boasts of a history so bountiful- one filled with tales of undying craftsmanship and diversity.
The attire traces its roots back to over 5000 years ago- right from evidence from the Indus Valley civilization suggesting its usage to the garment playing an infamously notable role in the epic Mahabharata. Furthermore, the saree is also intricately described in the Rig Veda, which is often considered the oldest piece of surviving literature. The garment has also found itself to be often mentioned in highly acclaimed Tamil epics such as Kadambari and Silapathikaram.
Transcending beyond the Indian subcontinent, the saree is often drawn parallel to the traditional attire of the ancient Greeks, commonly known as the chiton. The concept of a long unstitched fabric gracefully adorning a body has been interpreted in many ways universally, yet the saree’s significance as the ultimate Indian attire has stood the test of time.
With the growing prominence of the performing arts, the garment over time became the unrelenting attire perfect for dancers and performers of various forms, as mentioned in the Dharmasashtra and the Natyashastra. Right from the dhoti-style draping of Bharatnatyam dancers in the south, to the Kaashta style of draping of Lavani dancers of Maharashtra- the saree soon found its way to the courts of ancient royalty, experiencing its golden age of glory under the patronage of indigenous monarchs of the pre-Independence era.
In what came to be known as the era of darkness by natives of the Indian subcontinent, the British Raj brought about many monumental transformations to the history of the country. With the advent of pro-independence movements like the Swadeshi movement, the indigenous saree saw a shift from being just a garment of fancy to a symbol of national pride and solidarity. Furthermore, the influx of Victorian standards of morality brought about the concept of the blouse and petticoat; a forceful imposition by foreign elements to suit their conservative sensibilities, that eventually became a rudimentary part of the attire as a whole.
The saree survived through the tenure of colonialism and rose back in prominence with multifold. Embraced by prominent personalities of post-Independent India, such as Indira Gandhi and Princess Gayatri Devi of Rajasthan, the saree became a symbol of both power and grace alike. The subsequent popularity of cinema and its influence in the 1960s brought about a revolution in the way many perceived sarees as not just a piece of modest clothing that is suitable for all, but a versatile statement of confidence and stature.
In recent years, the younger generations have seamlessly embraced the garment, under their terms. Often oscillating between generations, the saree is a common factor of unison for any and everyone- young and old alike. Another aspect of the saree that intrigues the young patrons of the garment is sustainability. In a world where awareness of fast fashion's adversities is exponentially growing, the rising generation sees sarees as a durable garment that not only support local artisanal craft but prioritizes quality over quantity.
With such a rich heritage to boast, the saree is a garment that has surpassed centuries, withstanding cultural, economic, and technical transformations. The saree is not just another attire to be revered, but an extension of one’s personality. Next time you wear a saree, remember that you are adorning a piece of the rich lineage that unfolds as you pleat it.Make your nine-yard statement with Theni Anantham’s sarees, carefully crafted to make you feel your absolute best!