15 Variations on the Sari: India's Iconic Drape

The story of Indian textile based on the CSMVS collection

By Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

Group of LadiesChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Marriage, Household and the Sari

Textiles are generative - they symbolise growth stitch by stitch, row by row, needle and thread from mothers to daughters.

Lady in Chandrakala Sari (20th century)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

The Sari has been draped in many styles over the years. There are regional variations, as well as drape styles that respond to occupational requirements. The most popular is to have a set of folds at the front, and draping the end over the shoulder.

Apart from drapes, there are so many variations on the weave of the sari. In this portrait, the woman is wearing a Chandrakala Sari.

Banarasi Sari (19th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

A grihastha or householder represents the family as well as the community, and performs social responsibilities by participating in rituals and ceremonies celebrating life. Textiles are an important part of these celebrations. Marriage is an important milestone for a householder and every religion, region and community has its own textiles associated with marriage ceremonies. Marriages are very colourful in India with red and yellow being important colours. Red symbolizes hope and a new beginning and, yellow symbolizes happiness as well as knowledge. While leaving her maiden life, along with the sweet memories, the bride takes with her some textiles as heirlooms, wrapped in blessings and the love of her parents and dear ones. This is how traditional textiles are passed on from generation to generation as a symbol of love and care.

Paithani Sari (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Paithani Sari

An essential part of the Maharashtrian wedding, paithani sari got its name after the Paithan town in Aurangabad, Maharashtra state. Paithan (old Pratishthan) was a well-known trade centre in ancient times. These saris are hand woven from very fine silk thread.

The unique specialty of the paithani lies in the use of an interlocking technique as well as its border and pallu that are generally in contrast with the sari's butidar or plain ground. The jari based pallu has pattern woven in silk. A special dhoop-chav (light-shade) effect is achieved by bringing two different coloured threads together during the process of weaving

Like several other regional styles of weaving, Paithani is also a family-based craft passing from generation to generation. Minute minakari designs in the pallu using various colours is woven with the help of multiple spindles (tillies), which makes it a very laborious and complicated task. Paithani textiles mainly consist of sari, pugdi piece, dhoti and dupatta, out of which, the sari of course is the most elaborate. The sari generally has brocade borders and a big golden pallu with colourful floral and other designs. Occasionally, the ground is decorated with fine buties in gold. The pallu is richly decorated with a variety of motifs like asavali, akroti, bangdimor, Ajanta lotus and huma parinda. Some of the saris have a coin motif known as ashrafi spread all over the fabric.

Painthani Sari (19th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Jambhul Rang Paithani

Paithani saris were popular with the ruling families in Maharashtra. The Peshwas particularly patronized paithani. Their fondness for Paithani is reflected in many of the letters ordering dhotis, dupattas, turbans etc. in different varieties and colours. Documents show their preference for plain dhoti with silver and gold thread work, turbans in green and dupatta having asavali or narali work in red, pink, orange and green. Besides Paithan, many other regional centres began to weave Paithani. Yeola, one such centre became famous for its mango designs. Paithani was not only popular with the Marathas but it also attracted the Nizam of Hyderabad and his family who had visited the Paithani centre several times. His daughter-in-law Begum Nilofar even introduced new motifs to the border as well as pallu designs.

Traditionally known as Jambhul Rang Paithani, this purple Paithani originally belonged to the Nizam family as reported by the collector herself. It has neatly woven Jai Phul (Jasmine) jari butis all over which are closely spaced near the pallu. The broad borders are done in narali pattern. On the ground near the pallu there are eight guldasta butis in the shape of mango and a diaper of cartouches containing flowers done in a silver jari. A beautiful interplay of gold and silver is seen in the silver mango motifs on the golden pallu. The pallu also has a band of vine pattern border running all around.

Shela (Stole) (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Shela (Maharastraian style stole)

No Maharashtrian wedding trousseau is complete without the paithani sari and shela (Stole), the best the family can afford. These then become treasured heirlooms, preserved and worn by generations, fragrant with memories. Generally shela is passed from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law as a symbol of transferring the responsibility of a household.

Shela (Angavastra) (19th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

The princely state of Faridkot had cordial relations with the British at that time. This seems to be a specially commissioned piece to present it to some British official or vice versa.

Shela (Angavastra)

This shela has shikargah design on the ground. Animals like antelopes, elephants, tigers and various birds chased by hunters are shown in between stylistically woven creepers representing forest. Both ends of the shela are densely brocaded with forest scenes. There are bands with alternative designs of lion capital coat-of-arms of the princely state of Faridkot and coat-of-arms of the British East India Company.

Indian BeautyChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Indian Beauty

Picture Postcard depicting a Woman wearing a Nine-yard Brocade Sari

Gharcholu (Wedding Sari) (Early 20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Gharcholu - wedding sari (Gujarat style)

This type of traditional gharcholu sari is worn by Hindu and Jain merchant communities of Gujarat at the time of marriage. It is presented to the bride by her mother-in-law. Gharcholu is woven in very fine silk or cotton and can be identified with its grid pattern either done in bandhani (tie and dye) or jari.

Kutch and Saurashtra are the main centres for this type of work.

Patola Sari (Around 1930)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Patola Sari

Patola is a popular attire and every bride in Gujarat desires to wear a patola for her wedding. Patola sari is preferably worn by the mother of the bride in Gujarat at them time of the marriage ceremony.

The bride wears white panetar (wedding sari) with a red patola border. In some communities patola cloth is used to tie the knot between the bride and bridegroom to ward off evil. The bride wears patola after the completion of the marriage ceremony when her status changes from maiden to married.

Patola Sari (18th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Patola Sari

The uniqueness of patola weaving is that the yarns are first dyed according to the desired design and then woven. The technique used is known as ikat.

The term ‘ikat’ comes from the Malay-Indonesian expression ‘mangikat’, meaning to bind, knot or wind around. A patola sari generally takes eight months to weave.

Kanchivaram Sari (late 19th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Brocade Temple Sari (Kornad variation)

This rich brocade sari with a wide border is a variation of a Kornad (situated in Tamil Nadu) sari. It is popularly known as temple sari. Technically any sari woven for and offered to a temple deity is known as temple sari. This rich brocade sari has a heavy pallu having thirteen bands embellished with floral designs and animal motifs like tigers, deers and peacocks. The ground has floral butis. Temple saris are also worn at the time of wedding and special occasions.

The red colour symbolizes desire and passion. Red is also auspicious because it reflects emotional and fertility-related qualities, thus making it a suitable colour for brides and newly married women.

Kanchivaram Sari (Late 19th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Kanchipuram Sari

The Kanchipuram sari received its name from the old temple town of the same name in Tamil Nadu. The ground of this sari has checkered pattern in gold. It has a characteristic broad border and heavily brocaded pallu with floral creepers, elephants and peacocks.

A Lady Enjoying Her Drink (circa 1630 CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Portrait of a Lady Enjoying Her Drink
circa 1630 CE

This is an interesting early portrait of a lady whose identity has baffled scholars and the interpretations range from a princess to a courtesan. In the absence of any inscription, her identity can only be surmised through the surrounding environment as well as her personal décor.

She has worn a beautifully brocaded striped sari in a kashta style like a dhoti, which is also wrapped round passing over the left shoulder ending with a gorgeous pallu spread in front. Her blouse has rich embellishment on the sleeves. Her studded golden anklets are particularly noteworthy as golden anklets are an exclusive prerogative of the royalty and those who are specially allowed by the king as a special favour.

The setting is of a palatial house having niches decorated with vases and other designs and rich gold printed green curtain. A huge brocaded bolster supporting her is generally seen in the paintings of royalty.

Tanchoi Sari (c. 1870 CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)


Tanchoi, symbolic of the heyday of the Parsi community of the 19th century developed as an Indo-Chinese textile along with the gara. Around 1856 the first Indian Baronet Sir Jamshetji Jeejeebhoy sent three weavers from the Joshi family of Surat to the master weaver Chhoi in Shanghai, to learn the art of the Chinese silk weaving of a particular type. When they returned after acquiring a considerable command over this art, they bore the name of their master Chhoi. The material woven by the was called tanchoi.

With the introduction of power loom and change in fashion tanchoi weaving went out of vogue in the early 20th century.

Cloth piece for sapaat (slippers) (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Cloth piece for sapaat (slippers)

Parsis from well to do families also used tanchoi cloth to make footwear. Parsi women adopted this fashion from China. This piece is woven by master weaver Kaikhushro S. Joshi, a descendant of the Joshi family. He made an abortive attempt to revive tanchoi weaving following the call for Swadeshi by Mahatma Gandhi. He setup a large factory in Surat and employed weavers. His factory produced many beautiful pieces. Unfortunately Joshi had to close down his factory for want of support from buyers.

Blouse (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)


Tanchoi cloth was also used to stitch blouses.

Blouse (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)


Tanchoi cloth was also used to stitch blouses.

Sari (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Ikat Sari

This is a fine example of ikat, commonly known as Sambalpuri sari.

Kadhuva Sari (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Kadhuva Sari (Benarasi Brocade)

Benares brocade saris are commonly worn as wedding saris throughout India. In the vast range of the Indian textiles, Benares brocade has its own status and the glorious fabric reflects both luxury and beauty. With bright colured silk, and gold or silver threads these brocades have the most variegated patterns.

In this technique gold and silver threads are so densely used that the ground fabric is hardly visible. The designs include floral, animal and bird motifs.

Banarasi SariChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Benares Brocade Sari

This type of Benares brocade sari is popularly known as Ganga Jamuna in which silver and gold threads or any other two colour threads are used for weaving.

This sari has six petal buttis all over the ground in gold and silver. The pallu has stylized paisley design amongst densely woven floral creeper design. The corner of the ground near the pallu has mango motifs.

Brocade Sari (18th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Brocade Sari

This brocade sari is a unique piece with a variety of animals and birds depicted very realistically on the magenta ground. The wide range of animals depicted consists of the deer, elephant, lion, tiger, ram, horse, cow, camel, rabbit, parrot, pigeon, peacock, peahen, fish and crocodile. At some places composite figures like the winged lion is also included. The broad border consists of rows of parrots and elephants with a floral creeper in between. The upper border which is not visible when draped is woven in yellow, blue, green and white silk threads, while the lower border is in golden and silver jari. The pallu has two big kuyri (mango) patterns along with the ground design.

Batik Sari (1935-1939 CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Batik Saris
Batik is one of the earliest methods used for creating designs on fabrics. There are diverse opinions regarding the origin of the art. According to some scholars it originated in China while some ascribe its origin to India and Java. Popularly it is known as Javanese art of wax printing.

The design is created by resist dyeing process using wax as the resist, which retains the original fabric colour in the patterns, after dyeing the material. It was forgotten in our country till the University of Shantiniketan revived the art around 1923. Pratima Tagore learnt this Batik technique in Paris and started the workshops at Shantiniketan.

Batik Sari

The present sari is a unique example of Batik specially designed sometime around 1940 by Nandalal Bose, a renowned artist of the Bengal School.

The sari is designed on motia or off-white fine silk and the patterns were drawn with brush and tjanting method in which a copper vessel filled with hot wax is used. A gentle flow of wax is maintained through the spout to draw a freehand design. The brown silk sari has bold floral creeper designs on the pallu, border and in the centre where it is to be pleated into multiple folds.

Smt Sushila Asher wearing batik sariChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Smt Sushila Asher in a Batik Sari

Smt Sushila Asher wearing the same batik sari just shown (acc. no. 97.12/2). This was while performing the famous dance drama Shyama as well as Natir puja in 1940, in the presence of Gurudev Tagore.

The museum received this as a gift by Shri Bansi Mehta from his wife Sushila Asher’s Collection.

Sari (18th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Kuruppur Sari

Kuruppur textile was an exquisite creation of the weavers of Tanjore in the south, an art which is unfortunately lost today. The technique of its production involves excellence in weaving the jari thread in the weft with the warp of the cotton fibre, dyeing it in resist and then overprinting it. Generally dyed with manjishtha (Rubia Cordifolia or Indian Madder), it has a deep maroon or brownish red colour though, occasionally undyed Kuruppur material in natural shade is also available.

Developed probably during the rule of the Bhoslas of Tanjore, it added one more exquisite variety to the already existing vast range of textiles in India. Besides the saris, pagdi pieces of this material were also produced in this fabric.

Sari (19th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Sari (Deccan style)

It is a unique piece of textile made as a ten-yard sari, imaginatively combining the technique of ikat work, jamdani weaving as well as brocading.

It is a unique piece of textile made as a ten-yard sari, imaginatively combining the technique of ikat work, jamdani weaving as well as brocading.

The handspun yarn of the warp and weft is first tied and dyed in dark blue to produce vertical and horizontal stripes which form black and white squares on the ground. The large pallu has a beautifully designed intricate geometrical pattern enclosed within the similarly decorated borders. The small dark blue squares are filled with stars woven in jamdani technique in gold. There is a dome-like pattern running across the width at the beginning of the pallu woven also in the jamdani technique in maroon and gold, appearing very close to the Paithani pallu. The border is also in typically paithani coconut pattern in maroon and gold.

The piece is undoubtedly very carefully and elegantly designed retaining the traditional motifs and patterns, in very fine handspun and handwoven cotton fabric, known to have been made in Andhra. The starry pattern in black is a typically Deccani tradition, seen in the Chandrakala saris except for the cream colour bands, repeated four times at regular intervals in this piece. The dark blue colour of the sari is also a variation from the Chandrakala which is always black. This type of sari is generally worn on the day of Makara Sankranti.

As it is woven by a combination of different techniques, it is difficult to ascertain the exact provenance of this sari. The interlocking technique of Paithan in Maharashtra and the ikat of Andhra Pradesh would suggest the possibility of its production by a master weaver from the Deccan.

Portrait of Mrs. Dhurandhar with baby (June 1875)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)


Heirloom is ‘an object that is owned by a family for many years and passed from one generation to another’. India has a very old tradition of heirloom textiles. Women preserve their special saris as a family heirloom and later pass these down to the succeeding generations. Such traditions are always considered a sign of honor or blessing to the receiver.

Baluchar SariChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Baluchari sari

The Museum has this sari in its collection from the heirloom of the Tagore family. It is a beautiful Baluchar sari which belonged to Jnanadanandini Devi (1850-1941), wife of Satyendranath Tagore (1842-1923), elder brother of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Jnanadanandini Devi gifted it to her daughter-in-law Sanga Devi, wife of Surendranath Tagore (1872-1940). Later on Sanga Devi gifted it to her daughter Joyasree Sen (nee Tagore) during her wedding in 1927. Joyasree married Kulprasad Sen. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was the acharya for this marriage.
The Museum acquired this sari from Haimanty Dattagupta who is daughter of Joyasree Sen. It was presented to her in her wedding in 1963 by Joyasree Sen.

Baluchari Sari (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Baluchari sari

Baluchari sari is the traditional silk or brocade sari from Bengal which gets its name from the small village of Baluchar near Murshidabad where it originated. The twisted silk warp has heavy silk as weft often in contrast colours.

Though produced in Bengal the composition of the decorative design on the Baluchari sari is typically that of Gujarat. The saris in Bengal emphasise the border decoration while the pallu is generally quite simple. The style of draping a sari in Bengal emphasises the beauty of the border rather than the pallu ends, whereas the pallu is emphasised in the manner Gujarati women drape their saris. A large number of Gujarati merchants had settled near Murshidabad where these saris originated. It is possible that these Gujarati merchants ordered these Baluchar saris for their women which would explain the introduction of a large decorative pallu in this type of sari produced in Bengal.

The twisted silk warp has heavy silk as weft often in contrast colours. This sari is a typical example of a traditional Baluchar sari. It has a violet ground decorated with diagonal repeats of small kalga patterns in white, cream, dark pink, green, blue and maroon. A broad border runs all around with stylized pink flowers in a continuous meander. The centre of the elaborate pallu has five large kalga or paisley motifs, four of which are woven in pink and maroon silk. The fifth one done only in maroon is what is known as nazarbatu, a motif with some flaw. The Baluchar weavers intentionally allowed a nazarbatu or a flaw in the colour or design, to ward off the evil eye. The design around the central row of kalgas depicts a contemporary scene of a steam engine and train which must have been a novelty at that time. The European passengers wearing tall hats are seated in the two-tiered coach of a train. In between these, some composite animal and human figures also appear. Enakshi Bhavnani also reports a similar sari showing a railway scene in her book ‘Decorative Designs And Craftsmanship of India’.

Maheshwari sariChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Maheshwari sari

This Maheshwari sari belongs to Maharani Chimanabai Saheb Gaekwar II (1872-1958) of Vadodara State, Gujarat.

Maheshwari sariChhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Maheshwari sari

This Maheshwari sari belongs to Maharani Chimanabai Saheb Gaekwar II (1872-1958) of Vadodara State, Gujarat.

Kashida Sari (Early 20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Kashida sari

Preserved as family heirloom, kashida or kasuti is a traditional embroidery done by women in Dharwar, a region of Karnataka. The technique of embroidery is laborious and requires understanding of geometrical patterns because the designs are not traced, but the embroidery is done by counting the threads of the material. A slight variation in the length of the stitch due to incorrect counting spoils the symmetry of the design. Such minute embroidery on the dark cotton background was very taxing to the eyesight of the karigar (craftsperson).

Basically, it is a running stitch in different ways – vertical, horizontal and diagonal in such a way that the design appears identical on both the sides. The designs are done in white, orange and other bright colours on contrasting dark shades of blue and black.

The repertoire of the karigar consists of motifs from mythological and architectural designs, flora and fauna, and scenes from day-to-day life. Each motif is given a specific name such as padma, gopura, tulasivrindavan and others. Kasuti work is done all along the border, the elaborate pallu, and the body of the sari. The motifs and butis in the body of the sari become smaller in size and the number gradually decreases towards the pleats of the sari.

It was customary for the bride to possess a black ‘Chandrakala’ sari with kasuti work on it. It is a common practice in Karnataka to give a newlywed girl a Kashida sari with khan for her blouse. It is considered an honour for the bride to get it from her in-laws and their relatives. Many women preserve it as a family heirloom and pass it on to the succeeding generations. It is also given as an auspicious gift to the expectant mothers.

This irkali navvari (nine yards) sari in deep blue cotton, has a broad border in maroon with diamond patterns in silk thread. The pallu has just horizontal bands of grey and purple. Near the pallu, on the blue ground, there is an intricate embroidery depicting lotus, pair of peacocks, animals, human figures, flowering trees in white, orange, purple and green threads. Two bands of geometrical floral designs run parallel to the pallu. The body of the sari has designs known as roomali phul buttis in white cotton thread. The intricate creeper design separates the pallu from the ground. The embroidery is done in dosuti kasuti technique in which the length of the stitch is just two threads of the fabric.

Akho Garo (fully embroidered) Sari (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Akho Garo Sari

This sari belonged to the family of poet Ardeshir Khabardaar (1881-1953).

Garo has become an identity for Parsi women. It is worn on special occasions as well as at marriages. Appreciative of Chinese embroidery, Parsi traders bought embroidered silks for their families and placed orders for embroidered sari borders, saris, blouses and pantaloons. The embroidery was worked on a variety of Chinese silks.

Over time, the word garo (from the Gujarati word for a sari) was associated with the Chinese embroidered sari.

Akho Garo (fully embroidered) Sari (20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Akho Garo Sari

This sari belonged to Meheren Bhabha, mother of the great physicist Sir Homi Bhabha.

Appreciative of Chinese embroidery, parsi traders bought embroidered silks for their families and placed orders of embroidered sari borders, saris, blouses and pantloons. Many of these motifs have symbolic meaning. The peony and the magnolia signigy spring, fungus and bamboo for longevity, deer and crane symbolize long life, and butterflies are the emblem of happiness.

The museum has several heirloom textiles in its collection. The families have parted these heirlooms with a feeling that their loved ones will be remembered for ever and museum is the best place where they will be conserved for future generations to appreciate and understand various rich traditions.

Chanderi Sari (Early 20th century CE)Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Sari as Social Identity

This unique specially commissioned chanderi sari expresses the feeling of patriotism of its wearer. It has star-shaped buttis woven all over the ground in silver and golden jari. The slogan Vande mataram is woven in green and maroon resham (silk thread) on the buttis and also all along the border.

This revolutionary song was written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1882. It soon became an inspirational slogan for freedom fighters. The song was first sung in a political context by Rabindranath Tagore at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. It became a national song of the independent India in 1950.

Credits: Story

Curated by: Manisha Nene (Assistant Director, Collection)

Vandana Prapanna (Senior Curator)

Graphics: Smita Parte, Prachee Sathe and Sneha Mestry

Assisted by: Shannen Castelino (Senior Curatorial Assistant, Archaeology)

Co-ordination by: Nilanjana Som (Assistant Curator, Art)

Email: csmvsmumbai@gmail.com
Website: www.csmvs.in
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