IT has been the unstitched garment that has sartorially dominated the Subcontinent - all through the plains to the south.
It has assumed many forms and is draped in innumerable ways by men and women as a single?piece garment or a two or three-piece garment with an unstitched length used as a head cover by men or sometimes combined with a shoulder cloth or angvastram to be used in various ways to ward off the heat.
Though the unstitched garment is created on a loom with a measure of length and breadth, what distinguishes it from a simple, flat piece of fabric is that it is conceived as a three dimensional garment with a different density in its various parts.
The sari is but one type of unstitched garment.
It allows us to go back at least a thousand years in design terms with variations in pattern, weave and structure between its inner and outer-end pieces and its two borders which provide drape, strength and weight while the body enhances the form of the sari or dhoti when it is worn.
The deep involvement and the complete sense of identity that the Indian woman has with the sari has made her resist pressures to change her style of dress providing continuity to the weaving tradition that exists in every part of the country.
The sari represents a culture in which the woven, textured and patterned garment, not pierced or intruded upon by a stitching needle, was considered not only more appropriate in terms of aesthetics and the climate but wearing it was also seen as an act.
The sari forms the base of our textile heritage. The challenge is to reinforce and continue this tradition to become part of a global, competitive market
Draping it suited Indian weather conditions as it allowed for a constant airflow, providing a gentle yet shifting body cover from the harsh sun and also instilling a sense of propriety in harmony with local character and culture.
The sari, in a way, forms our outermost skin and thereby signals not only who we are and where we come from, but is also an expression of where we are going.
However, over the last two decades functional mobility and global influences have impacted the dressing styles of Indian women.
Increasingly, women today prefer stitched garments and western wear, made of easy-tomaintain wash-and-wear fabrics.
Yet, they once rode horses in saris in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh and even swam in rivers and ponds with their saris tucked between their legs, much like an unstitched pair of shorts.
* RTA Kapur Chishti is a textile historian and also co-author and editor of the Saris of India volumes.