The basic draping styles of sarees are different if categorized according to the region, ethnic and tribal communities of India. There are literally dozens draping styles of sarees, which is common among urban middle-class Indian women. Among the different saree styles and the draping methods these can be divided into six major types. In recent times most saris are tied in place with a string or sometimes to a petticoat.
The northern styles of draping sarees have skirt pleats in the front and the free end draped around the back and over the front, so that the end piece of the saree covers the wearer's breasts. There are many variations on this style, with the Gujarati, Bihari and Orissan versions being the most well known. The Bengali drape shows elements of both the northern and Dravidian styles. Not surprisingly, traditional sarees from the northern areas have large decorated end pieces because they are so visible. The age of the northern draping styles is revealed by the fact that even today in the north Indian state of Bihar they are called 'sidha' while the 'nivi' style is called an 'ulta' style.
Among the several draping styles of sarees, there are some draping styles which are common among the local people of particular states and in tribes. The Deccan styles of draping sarees include the 'nivi' alteration, which has various names in the different regions of south and south-west Deccan where it originated. The 'nivi' style of sari drape is very ubiquitous among urban and middle-class Indians. Tamil ladies wearing saris draped in the 'nivi' style, with garlands of fresh flowers or 'kanakambara' in their hair, a traditional and commonly worn ornament in southern India.
Another, once more widely distributed type of draping style that is also traditional to the Deccan and parts of south India is the 'kachchha' style. The Kachchha style of draping sarees resembles a pair of trousers that is literally 'tucking the sari between the legs'. Kachchha drapes vary in complexity but all require long lengths of cloth. After the popularity of the 'nivi' drape, the women of upper class and middle class started preferring the 'nivi' style and 'Kachchha' style lost favour to some extent. There are many ways of tying and draping 'kachchha' saris, each giving a different result - from tight to loose around the legs. Each style uses a different part of the cloth to begin the often complicated draping sequence.
Though these 'kachchha' styles of draping sarees are associated with Maharashtra but they are found throughout the Deccan plateau of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and the south part of India like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Until the 1960s, they were also worn by many tribal groups such as the 'Bhils' of Western India and the 'Ho', 'Munda Tribe' and 'Bhumij' of the Chota Nagpur Plateau. The most well-known form, however, is the 'Maharashtrian kachchha' style which resembles the 'nivi' drape except that the free end of the front pleats is drawn between the legs and tucked into the back waist. As defined by the Shunga terracotta, 'kachchha' styles have the distinction of being perhaps the oldest saree styles. The basic draping styles of sarees in Dravidian fashion are probably indigenous to southern India and Sri Lanka. Moreover, Bengali and some tribal like 'Santhal Tribe' and 'Oraon Tribe' drape sarees in similar fashion and in combinations of Dravidian and northern draping styles.
Another basic draping style of sarees is the Dravidian style where the pleats of the skirt are created first, so that they hang inside the sari and the skirt fabric wraps around them. The Bengali style of draping saree is very common and worn by women living in the lower Ganga area, including West Bengal and Bangladesh. It contains both northern Indian and Dravidian draping elements, with the fabric folded in front of the skirt and the end piece around the head and shoulders. Many tribal women in both peninsular India and the north-east, such as the 'Gond Tribe' of eastern Deccan , 'Hallaki Gauda' and 'Coorgs' of southern Karnataka, 'Khasi Tribe' and 'Jaintia' of Meghalaya follow this pattern of draping sarees. The 'Coorgs' wear sarees that are pinned rather than knotted, with full pleats at the back rather than at the front. On the other hand most tribal women tie short, heavy cotton saris without any pleats in this manner.
The northern Indian style of draping saree involves the traditional way of wearing the saree with the end piece falling across the front of the body. In western India and the Ganga plain where the Muslim cultural influence was strong, women also draped the sari over their heads, hiding the face, a practice still continued in most wedding ceremonies. The 'mundu veshti' of Kerala consists of two almost identical lengths of cloth which look like a full-body Dravidian sari when draped. Similarly, the 'chadar' (shawl) and 'mekhla' (lungi) of Assam, as well as other north-eastern tribal costumes, often use matching fabrics. This style is also followed by the women of Nepal. Particularly in the west side of India, states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana follow a distinct style of draping saree that necessitates wearing 'odhnis' or half-saris worn with either the 'ghagra' or 'lungi'. This particular style of draping saree is common and is also reckoned as the precursor to many full-body saris.
The traditional colours of sarees play a major role in the development of traditional saris worn by the women of different states. Yellow, for instance, has religious and auspicious associations even today. Red is often used for the newly married bride and also has a traditional touch. The sarees are the most preferred costume that can provide a traditional as well as gorgeous look to the Indian women.
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