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India Facts

Tradition Style and Splendour

"The origins of clothing are not practical. They are mystical and erotic. The primitive man in the wolf-pelt was not keeping dry; he was saying: "Look what I killed. Aren't I the best?"
- Katharine Hamnett

India is a land of colour and diverse cultures, so obvious in the varied dresses that adorn its people. Indian dressing styles are marked by many variations, both religious and regional with a wide choice of textures and styles. The many hued sari draped gracefully in different styles, brightly mirrored cholis, colorful lehangas and the traditional salwar-kameez have all fascinated the traveller to India.

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The sari, simple, understated yet supremely elegant is increasingly becoming a fashion statement in urban India. One of the most commonly worn traditional dresses, it is essentially a rectangular cloth measuring about 6 yards, though in Maharashtra, women wear the nine yard sari which is passed through the legs and tucked in at the back. The sari comes in a profusion of colours, textures and designs, determined largely by the region. There are several ways of draping a sari, which is first wound around the waist, before being pleated seven or eight times at the centre and tucked into the waistband. These pleats are called the patli. The remaining sari, called the pallu is then pleated again and draped across the left shoulder to fall gracefully behind. There are regional variations, like in Gujarat, the pallu comes from the back, and drapes across the front over the right shoulder. The sari is worn with a tight-fitting choli or blouse. The style and length of the choli varies according to fashion trends and from region to region.



Indian dressing styles are marked by many variations, both religious and regional with a wide choice of textures and styles.
The traditional dress for women in Rajasthan and Gujarat is the lehenga choli or ghagra choli. These cholis are brightly embroidered, waist-length bare-backed blouses. Ghagras or lehengas are gathered ankle-length skirts secured around the waist. The attire is completed by a veil-cloth called odhni or dupatta draped across the neck or over the head. The lehenga-choli or ghagra choli is extremely colourful, adding verve and colour to the surrounding landscapes. Tribal women in theses area bedeck themselves from head to toe with chunky silver jewellery.

Young girls in south India wear a half saree, somewhat similar to a lehenga choli. The only difference is that the dupatta is wound across the waist and draped across the left shoulder like the saree pallu.

A popular, comfortable and convenient dress is the salwar kameez or churidar kurta. This was traditonally the dress worn in Punjab, but is now worn almost everywhere, particularly among the younger generations. The kameez or the kurta is a knee-length flowing tunic worn over a salwar or churidar. A salwar is a pyjama-like trouser which tapers slightly towards the ankles, while the churidar is a tight-fitting trouser which gathers at the ankles. These gathers at the ankles look like bangles (churis) and hence the name. A dupatta generally completes the ensemble.


Western dressing styles are increasingly gaining popularity among the urban youth of both sexes, but women largely restrict themselves to fashion trends within Indian dressing mores. Young girls wear skirts and dresses, particularly to schools. After adolescence, and almost certainly after marriage, women are expected to wear traditional Indian clothing. This trend is changing with more women entering the urban work force, but this is confined to sections of society that are highly exposed to international lifestyles.


Men are considerably less traditional when it comes to dressing.

In India, as elsewhere, accessories are an integral part of the ritual of dressing. The world over, Indian women are associated with the 'dot' in the middle of their forehead, called Kum Kum or bindi. Traditionally round, the bindi is now available in various colours, shapes and sizes. A bindi was traditionally a sign of marriage, or in some states, was worn as soon a s a girl reached young adulthood. Today it is for the most part an adornment. Vermilion or sindoor applied at the parting of the hair indicates a married woman.

A traditional Indian woman is rarely seen without jewellery. A mangal-sutra, a necklace made with black and gold beads is considered sacred, and in many areas is always worn by a married woman. Many women, particularly in the rural areas of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat wear ornately crafted nose-rings. Gold, silver or colourful glass bangles are another favourite, dating from the tradition of never having your hands bare. Women in Rajasthan wear bangles that go all the way to their shoulders. Indian women generally have their ears pierced, and commonly sport ear-rings.


Men are considerably less traditional when it comes to dressing. In urban areas, they have adapted to a western style of dressing. In villages men generally wear kurtas, a knee length shirt-styled tunic, with lungis, dhotis or pyjamas. The lungi originated in the south but is now worn all over india. It is a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. A dhoti is longer than a lungi, has sari style pleats and is draped through the legs. In states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra men wear a safa or turban on their heads. Elsewhere too, various kinds of topis are It is a long scarf which is wound round the head in different ways. The Pathani suit is very similar to the salwar-kameez and is generally worn by men in north India. The Achkan is a long collarless jacket worn over a churidar for formal occasions.

Compiled by Romola Butalia

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.