The forgotten art
Over 100 different ways to drape a sari
A foreword by
Chantal Boulanger, author of
"Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping"
In an age where great efforts are made to preserve animal species and human
cultures, there is one art that has been completely ignored: Draping. Few people even
know what the word means. It means adorning with graceful folds, and has been used to
describe clothes that are not stitched, but wrapped around the body.
In the Ancient World, whether in Rome, Greece, Egypt or Mesopotamia, this art was
considered the utmost civilised way to wear clothes. Instead of simply putting on a
tailored garment, it was an art of the elite to gracefully arrange the folds of subtle drapes.
Aiyangar Brahmin sari
from Tamil Nadu
In past times, most
drapes were "dhoti".
But these days are long gone. Nowadays, not only do many people think that the
only meaning of the word "drape" is "curtains" (a much more recent meaning of the word),
but most think that the only reason the Ancients wore unstitched clothes is that they did
not know how to stitch. This was not true in the antiquity, and was never true in India,
where the Art of Draping has flourished like nowhere else in time or place.
Kannagi Sari (Dhoti)
Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism had an aversion for needles, because they could
be used as weapons. But if "simple" drapes like the toga were elegant, they were
unfortunately very impractical. To the ancient Indians who had committed themselves
to draped clothes not only because of their elegance, but also as a religious need,
there was a need for practical drapes.
The dhoti, which neatly wraps each leg separately, and thus looks like a pair of
trousers, was thus born long before the beginning of the Christian Era. Other
draped clothes were worn in those days, such as the veshti (which in turn became the
sarong when brought to what is now Indonesia) and the Buddhist cloak, which is not
unlike the Roman toga.
Drapes in India, whether for men or women, evolved during centuries of enduring
| As time went by, first Muslim and then British influences pressed for
more coverage of women's bodies. Many elaborate saris were then developed. Indian
women's creativity seemed to have no limits in creating new drapes.
Having discovered that sari drapes had never been properly researched, I decided to record as many drapes as I could find. As I travelled throughout South, Central and Eastern India, I realised that the whole subject was far too big for my own researches to be exhaustive. I hope, however, that this work will lead others to carry on this research all over India. Apart from the few famous saris recorded in the past I found a large number of drapes, most often typical of a caste or a small region. Only worn by old women, the majority of them will be forgotten in a few decades.
The modern drape, often called "nivi sari", is now worn by most Indian women. Few even bother to learn from their grandmothers how to attire themselves traditionally.
Draping is a subtle art where what seems at first sight to be similar may actually be
very different. It is important to study and preserve every kind of drape. It is a part
of the world's heritage which might very well be lost forever if we don't record it with
method and precision.
A Tamil woman with a
"pinkosu" -pleats falling
in the back
I recorded approximately 100 kinds of Indian drapes, mostly from women but also from men.
To save them from oblivion, I wrote a very practical book,
"Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping", which contains about
700 step-by-step illustrations. With it, you can easily master the art of draping!
Contact the author and order your copy online (price :
inclusive of shipping).
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