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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 popularity.

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 : 30 US$ inclusive of shipping).

No photographs may be reproduced, reprinted or used for any commercial purpose without the written permission of Chantal Boulanger.

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