Whoever invented the saree as a dress for Indian women, must have had some ideas in his/her mind, one of which was certainly that it should adequately cover a woman’s body in such a way that her body was sufficiently protected with layers of cloth apart from concealing of the vital statistics.
The six-yard cloth has been evolving over the years. The traditional saree is draped with pleats in front and a pallav which would fall over the left shoulder which if considered necessary could be drawn behind over the head or under the neck to the right shoulder thus giving adequate cover to the body. There were minor deviations in the drape like the Gujarati style of having the pallav draped around the right shoulder to fall in front and the Kodava style of draping the entire pallav around the body with a bit falling from the right shoulder. Of course there were the nine-yard versions popularly used in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Essentially the saree was considered as a very graceful dress, adequate for covering the modesty of a woman.
In the early years the pallav was gathered into unorganised pleats and pinned to the shoulder with a brooch. The brooches came in various shapes, sizes and inlaid with precious stones and what not, proclaiming to the world the status of the wearer. In the Fifties and Sixties it became fashionable to leave the pallav free over the left hand in a spread to display the beauty of the pallav design. Then filmstars started pinning the lower border of the beginning of the pallav near the waist thus displaying the shape of the waist and hips, albeit fully covered. Subsequently the saree which used to be draped much above the navel, slid down to inches, obviously to reveal the flabless flawless midriff of the wearer.
Along with this changes in the style of the choli (blouse) worn were also taking place. While the initial days saw the blouse length up to the hips and almost tucked into the petticoat, in due course the length of the blouse kept reducing perhaps to enable the wearers reveal their waist. In the Sixties the length of the sleeves kept increasing almost below the elbow. The Seventies showed a reverse trend. The sleeve length went back to the earlier short and puffed styles to return to the longer length in the Nineties. The beginning of the 21st century again saw the reduction in length almost to the point of being sleeveless.
The shape of the necks of blouses also kept changing from closed necks in the Fifties to round necks, boat necks, deep necks, back to closed necks in keeping with the fashion of the sleeves. But the blouse which was used to cover the chest of the wearers has now gained more importance than the saree and it would appear that the saree is just an appendage to show case the beautifully designed blouses. The saree covers the body, only waist down. Either the saree is so transparent to reveal the beautifully designed cholis or the saree is draped in such a way that the blouse is revealed. The metamorphosis the saree has undergone would sure have its inventors turning in their graves.
I don’t think that any other national dress of any other country would have gone through so many changes. We are literally slaves to Western sartorial styles. However, there is no two opinions that the saree is a beautiful dress and if draped well looks very graceful and sexy too.
Long live the Saree in its traditional form!