Indian Saree Weaving Traditions – Are They a Lost Cause?


According to the author of the book ‘Saris of India’, Rta Kapur Chisti, the way most of urban India wears the saree is influenced by Gyanonandini Tagore, wife of the illustrious Satyendranath Tagore, the elder brother of the legendary poet Rabindranath Tagore. To counter the general opinion at that time that the traditional Bengali way of draping the saree was not elegant enough, she took to the Parsi method of taking the pallu over the left shoulder, and made it more fashionable.

An Integral Part of the Indian Tradition

With a heritage of more than 5000 years, the saree is perhaps the oldest fashion statement that the world has witnessed. The unstitched garment that was first mentioned in the Vedas has survived everything that history has thrown at it – cultural invasions and Western colonization included. The seven-yard unstitched fabric is extremely versatile and can be molded by the wearer to suit her every need; you will find ladies attending formal social occasions with sarees draped immaculately, and if need be changing gears to attend to household chores, agricultural work, swim, and if need be even ride horses with equal aplomb.

With its loose and flowing drapes, the saree is perhaps the most versatile garment that you could think of; equally at home in formal religious ceremonies as in the daily grind of life in farms and fields. Apart from the convenience it affords to wearers, it is also ideally suited for the tropical and humid climate of the country. It is said that for a woman, the saree is just like the second skin though it may appear to be a very cumbersome to the uninitiated. Not only have people experimented with the weaves, materials, and designs but fashionistas have even adapted it to look and behave like skirts, gowns, and trousers for fresh and sometimes very daring approach.

Losing Its Preferred Status

However in urban India today, sarees are mainly worn by the elite on very special occasions like family celebration or religious observances. There is of course the corporate sector that uses the saree to reinforce the Indian identity of their culture, but otherwise in the common household the saree has fallen quite behind in the race for preferred apparel. In urban India, where there is a concentration of buying power, the saree has lost out badly on its preferred status. Young India has taken hugely to western wear comprising mainly of jeans or an assortment of trousers and leggings and the ubiquitous T-shirt or top. When they are not wearing western wear they are inclined to buy designer salwar suits and ornately embroidered and embellished sarees from high street boutiques or online rather than those crafted from hand-woven fabrics.

Creating a Resurgence

While India remains as one the very few countries in the world that still has a handicraft culture of weaving fabrics, the slackening of demand for sarees has taken quite a toll on the weavers. This is primarily due to the fact that sarees that are today largely produced by mills tend to be far more affordable than hand-woven / hand embroidered ones. Industry observers feel that this presents a grave threat to the handloom industry, and its demise would indeed be a great loss to one of the finest cultural traditions of the country.

Unless swift and concrete steps are taken to take cognizance of the problem, the tradition of passing on the weaving skill form one generation to the next would cease as weavers would not be able to face the onslaught of factory-produced apparel. There is an imperative need for substantive action to be taken to uphold the rich tradition of the country and popularize it on a global platform so that there could be a resurgence of demand for fine hand-crafted sarees that are representative of the finest cultural traditions of the country.

Author bio: Madhu Saraogi is the editor of a fashion and lifestyle newsletter that carries incisive articles the emerging trends in India and the Asian community. She has penned a number of articles on the increasing propensity of Indian women settled abroad to buy designer salwar suits and sarees online from

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