India, the beloved home to multifold customs and cultures is filled with some notable diversity in its clothing styles. The traditional dresses of India, each as unique as they come, add to the repertoire of the colourful clothing industry. In addition, the bright cheery colours, exotic embroidery patterns, and different prints are all distinct to India. Moreover, the Indian traditional dresses from various states speak of a culture unique to its own land that is perhaps, never to be found elsewhere.
Traditional dresses of India- History, Gender, and Culture
The traditional Indian clothing for males includes dhoti, pyjama-kurta, and lungis. Similarly, the Indian traditional dress for ladies includes sarees, lehenga cholis, ghagra cholis, and Kurtis. Whereas the Indian traditional dress for girls includes the typical duo of skirt and blouse.The comforts that modern outfits like pants and Kurtis offer have also made it a frontrunner amongst the traditional dresses of India.
The culture and traditions that are prevalent in a state play a major role in deciding its styles. Also, each state of India has some unique article of clothing that adds to the beauty and diversity of the clothing habits prevailing in the country.
Evolution of clothing in Indian history- traditional dresses of India
All fingers point towards the 5th century Indus Valley Civilization as the start of the clothing industry in India. The excavations at the site have led to some major breakthroughs in deciphering the tools used during the era. Moreover, archaeologists have thrown light on how developed and sophisticated the methodologies were, even in such an early time period.
The Ajanta caves, which still remain a mystery, have many cave paintings and rock sculptures that depict the sense of clothing that flourished long back. Further, they depict paintings of goddesses and dancers clad in some makeshift clothing, which is believed to be the precursor of modern-day saree. Many of those tools are still being used to produce quality clothing even today.
The industry had gained quite a name for itself, even back then as claimed by Herodotus- the Greek historian for whom Indian cotton was the finest of all. A recent study of the Harappan Silk fibres has shown that silk was produced through the process of reeling in those times.
Khimkwab, a very notable brocade of Indian clothing, is woven from silk, gold, or silver. It was called Hiranmayi in Vedic literature, meaning cloth of gold. It is said that when Alexander conquered the kingdom of Gandhara, the rich block prints were one of the first things to catch his eye!
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Different types of traditional dresses in Indian states
The different states of India are home to a plethora of beliefs and traditions. In addition, adding to this are the various kinds of dresses unique to each state. While saris and dhotis remain the most commonly worn traditional dress in India, there are quite a few articles exclusive to each state. Here is a list of the Indian traditional dresses of different states-:
Known as the Kohinoor of India for weaving, Andhra Pradesh has a strong predilection for dhotis and sarees. The women of Andhra Pradesh are usually clad in beautiful handloom sarees, woven in the state itself. Moreover, the young ladies are known for their two-piece sari called Langa Voni.
The state is also a proud home to the much-loved Kalamkari sarees with its depictions of legendary epics. The men usually wear dhotis and kurtas while lungis are also worn in place of dhotis. A ceremony such as a marriage is when the bride is spruced up in a bright red sari with gold embellishments and the groom is clad in a kurta and dhoti.
Arunachal Pradesh is a northeastern state of India which is home to many tribes. The tribes with their myriad practices have different styles of clothing. The Buddhist community known as the Monpas is famous for its skull cap. Further, the women wear sleeveless chemise with a long jacket. In addition, Bamboo and silver earrings are a common sight among tribal women here. Some even tie their hair above their forehead in a topknot.
Flanked by the seven sisters, Assam is known for its bold colours. The traditional dress for men remains Dhoti-kurta while women are known for their ‘Mekhela-Chador‘ or ‘Riha-Mekhela’.If there’s anything the Assamese are proud of, it’s their Muga silk.
The traditional Mekhela chador is made from the notable Muga silk. Some other notable silks used in making saris and Mekhelas are Paat and Eri. The festivities of Bihu and Saraswati puja are when women dress in their finest Mekhelas. Mekhela chador is considered to be one of the most beautiful East Indian traditional dresses of all time. The men of Assam bring to completion of their elegant Kurti-dhoti duo with a handwoven scarf called gamusa.
This state of India up north isn’t just famous for its lofty mountains but also for its bold and vibrant clothing style. The state has a plethora of communities and religions, adding to the diversity. Due to the cold weather that seems to stick around for most of the year, the clothes are made more cosy and warm. The two prominent communities seen in the state are Rajput and Brahmin. Rajput men prefer tight churidar paired with a kurta and overcoat whereas men of the Brahmanical community opt for a normal pyjama with a kurta and waistcoat. Turban for men is a common sighting in the state.
The Rajput women prefer long kurtas, ghagra, cholis and salwar kameez. They can also be found adorning a veil. Brahmin women also wear similar clothes but with more elaborate embroidery. The coats are made of yak skin and footwear is made from animal skin to keep them warm from the harsh climate. Pashmina shawls are also a great favourite among the women of this state. Albeit being very light, it keeps them warm. Different styles of ethnic jewellery are also favoured by women here.
This westernmost state is known for its glistening ornaments and mirror works. Women of this state mostly wear the traditional Chaniyo Choli. This Indian traditional dress consists of a three-piece attire- Ghagra, Choli, and a dupatta. The chaniyo forms the lower part of the dress which is covered in bold mirror works.
The dupattas are often veiled and are called odhni. The traditional ensemble for Gujarati men includes kediyu and kafni. It is a frock-like Kurti made elaborate with frills. It is also called Angrakhu. The look is completed with a turban of a rich hue. This traditional dress of India is typically seen in Garba and Dandiya performances.
The traditional attire here is similar to that of its neighbouring state of Gujarat. The men are clad in dhotis, kurta-pajamas, Angrakha, and on top of it with Paggar or Safa, which is a type of turban. The women wear ghagra, a long skirt, and kanchli. They also cover their heads with Odhnis.
However, it is worth noting that the styles vary in different parts of the state. Dhoti is predominantly worn in the Jodhpur and Jaipur areas whereas pyjamas can be seen in other places. Even the lengths of ghagras and the way of wearing dhotis are different throughout the state.
Colourful dresses are a part and parcel of the clothing industry in Haryana. It includes Damaan Kurti and Chunder. The Daaman is a flared ankle-length skirt that comes in bold colours and is paired with a Kurti. The chunder is a typical dupatta adorned with laces and frills.
The men usually wear white Kurtis along with dhotis. Pagri is the traditional turban for men. The women usually are dressed in striking colours whereas the menfolk balance it out with all-white attire. The conventional footwear of the people is called Jutis.
The traditional ghagra has been replaced by the Patiala salwar. Patiala, originating from Punjab originally, has found love from many parts of India. While ghagra cholis are worn, salwar kameez is the most widely seen ensemble for women here. The men wear long kurta and Muktsari gowns, which have replaced the tehmats. The Muktsari style, originating from Muktsari in Punjab has become much popular in the state.
Just like in Haryana, the headgear Pagri and footwear Jutis form an important component of the dressing style. Jutis have become so popular that they’re worn by men and women from all parts of the country. The vibrant colours showcase the state and its people in their truest form.
Jammu and Kashmir
The state is home to Pheran or Phiran which is worn by all people alike, be it men or women, or Hindu or Muslim. It consists of two cloaks, worn one over the other. There are slight variations to these for different groups. The Muslim men wear salwars along with the pherans whereas Hindus wear a pyjama. The skullcap is common to both.
The pherans worn by women are elaborately embroidered around the collar and pockets. Adding to the beauty of the pherans is the intricate Zari weaves. While the sleeves of pheran worn by Hindu women are narrow, Muslim women prefer broad knee-length sleeves. Hindu women finish it off with a headdress called Taranga whereas Muslim women prefer Abhaya. Burgha is preferred by women during summers whereas pheran is reserved for autumns.
Kashmiri shawls have made quite a name for themselves over the past few decades. The shawl varieties include the Santhoosh shawls and Pashmina wool shawls. The Pashmina shawls find mentions as long as back in the Vedas, where the god Pushan is mentioned. The name of the wool takes after that god of weaving, Pushan.
The state of Jharkhand has among its clothing industry the famous Tussar silk. They’re known for their simplicity and elegance. Bhagwan is the customary dress for men in Jharkhand. Sarees and cholis are worn by the womenfolk. The old matriarchs wear an upper piece of clothing called parthan whereas panchi is for the lower part of the body. Lungi, which is the most famous Indian traditional dress for men, is famous here too.
Rightly known as the silk hub of India, the state is the proud home to many kinds of silk. The Kanjeevaram or Kanchipuram silk from the state has admirers from all over the country. The traditional dress for men of Karnataka includes lungis and shirts. The headgear is called Mysore Peta.
Saree is the most commonly worn South India traditional dress for ladies. So is the case in this state too. The state is bound by its love and appreciation for brocades and chiffons too. Davani is also one of the dresses in this state worn by girls. A kind of Dhoti called Panche is integral to the dressing style of Kannada men.
The state of Kerala is famous for its mundu, an alternative for lungi. The Kerala saree or the Kasavu is famous for its intricate golden thread work. It is also called mundum neriyathum, which is a two-piece item like a half sari. The mundu is worn like a dhoti and the neriyathu is draped over the blouse.
Benarasi and Kanchipuram sarees also find themselves at home in Kerala. Pattupaavada is the traditional wear for girls in Kerala which is a skirt-blouse combo made of beautiful silk.
Lehenga and Choli are worn by women mostly in this state. The dupatta is called Orni, which is wrapped around their heads. The men wear dhoti or kurta along with a jacket called Bandi or Mirzai. The turban worn by them is called Safa. The Bandhani fabric or Bhanhej sarees are quite popular too.
The main clothing of the men of Maharashtra includes dhoti called Dhotar, which is paired with short-sleeved pheta. Pagadi, the headgear worn by men is made of cotton or silk. Women wear a nine-yard saree known as Nauwari Saadi or Lugda. This traditional dress of India is worn during festivals and pujas while casuals like Kurtis and pants are preferred for daily wear.
Being a northeastern state, Meghalaya is home to three main tribes- Khasi, Jaintias, and Gharos. These tribes have different styles of dressing, adding to the diversity. Women of the Khasi tribe wear the Jainsem or Dhara, which gives the body a cylindrical shape. The Khasi men wear a long sleeveless dress called Jymphong.
The Garo women are typically clad in a blouse and unstitched ‘lungi’ called ‘Dakmanda’. They also have a pullover fastened around the waist called Ganna, worn in two ways- Dakmanda and Daksari. Ornaments are a part and parcel of the Garo way of life. The ladies of Jaintia wear a velvet pullover with a sarong called ‘Thoh Khyrwang’.
Mizoram has a wonderful repertoire of ethnic dresses for all groups. The Mizo women wear the ‘Puan’, which is matched with the shirt called Kawrechi. The girls are clad in the ‘Puanchei’ especially during festivals like ‘Chapchar Kut’. The attire is an interplay of black and white shades. The blouses worn by girls are called Kawrchei. The men of the state are clad in 7 feet by 5 feet material. Mizoram, by and large, has the most ethnic Indian dresses amongst all others.
The Naga women wear ‘Angami’, which is a sleeveless top-‘vachi’ worn over a slip called ‘Neikhro’ and a white skirt ‘pfemhou’. The skirt is generally a folded material that goes past the legs. The men usually wear an angami outfit which has a kilt and a wrapper. The shawl worn by them is called the Ratapfe. The kilt is usually tinged with blue, whereas the shawl is in a beautiful shade of bright red.
The conventional dresses for females are Sambalpuri and Kataki sarees. They are worn with the pallu covering the chest in the front. The men stick to the Indian traditional dress like dhoti or pajamas, gamucha, and kurta. The more western styles of clothing like kurtas are also seen widely in the state.
The women generally wear a long dress with silk sleeved pullover called hondu, fastened with a silk belt at their waists. The women of the Lepcha clan wear long ankle-length dresses called Dumvum. Another dress called Nyamrek, paired with a blouse is also a common sight. A loose cloak-like dress called Bhaku or Kho is worn by the members of the Bhutia community. Embroidered leather boots are something worn by men and women alike in Sikkim.
The state is famous for its Kanjeevaram sarees which are made of rich colours. The girls are usually clad in skirt-blouses made of silk. Dhavani or half sarees are also highly popular among young ladies. The Veshti, a typical dhoti, is worn in different ways by the menfolk. Like most other states, Lungi is also worn by men of this state. Kurtas and other more modern forms of clothing are also seen in the state.
The traditional dress for women of this state consists of three parts. The Rigwnai covers the lower part of the body, while Risa covers the chest area and Rikutu covers the whole of the middle. Nowadays Risa has been substituted by a blouse. The men usually wear rikutu and kamchwlwi borok along with a gamucha called kubai.
But it is worth paying heed to the fact that these Indian dresses are only seen in the rural setting while more modern forms of clothing have replaced the urban lifestyle.
The Indian traditional dress of this state includes sarees, salwar kameez for women and kurta-pyjamas, and lungis for men. The style of churidar, a type of bottom wear, is said to have its roots in this state. The headgear of men is called Topi and Pagri. Further, festivals and other auspicious occasions in the state see men clad in festive sherwanis and women in elaborate sarees.
The Indian traditional dress for ladies of this state includes Ghagara, Dhoti-kurta, Aagari, and Bhotu. While that of the men include kurta-pyjama, gol topi or Jawahar topi, Bhotu, Dhoti, and Mirje. Bhotu and Dhoti are worn by both men and women alike. The turban worn by men is called Garhwal.
The state known for its many cultural marvels has much to add to the clothing diversity of the country too. The white saree with bold red borders are a common sight only to the Bengalis. This style is called the ‘aatpoure’ style because it is worn in eight praharas (unit of time). It is usually worn during auspicious occasions like pujas. Men are usually clad in Dhoti and Punjabi, which are loose kurtas. They are called dhuti and Panjabi in the Bengali dialect.
Color, passion, and depth behind the traditional dress of India
The Indian sense of dressing has garnered many aficionados all over the world. The handlooms, embroideries, distinct prints, and dyes used in the industry give India an edge over others. Moreover, these Indian dresses, with their bold and exotic prints, narrate a story of their own.
The vibrant traditional dress of India and its intricate prints showcase India at its best. The land of colours never ceases to amaze us with its depth and passion and still continues to inspire in its own grand ways. These breathtaking Indian dresses are just another reason, among many, that makes us fall in love with this place we call our home a bit more every day!
However, the clothing habits we see today derive their inspiration from many cultures. Having experienced innumerable foreign invasions, India has had a rich share of cultural intrusion. The colonization has not left one portion of Indian life unchanged. So is the case of the clothing industry.
Moreover, Colonization brought forth a different culture, known for its colours and acceptance of comfort over anything else. This saw a shift in the clothing norms of Indian society. It began embracing both traditional and western articles of clothing. In a country where sarees and dhotis were the most widely worn; Indian traditional dress now a mosaic of tradition and west have slowly become the new normal.