There are 100 different ways to wear a sari but for the most part, urban Indians tend to stick to one common style: the Nivi drape, originally from Andhra Pradesh, which features a pallu draped over the left shoulder and several pleats at the front.
Over the past few months, though, Bengaluru-based creative agency Border & Fall has been working to change that by building a digital archive to popularise other regional drapes and styles, from the Saktapar sari of Odisha to the Coorgi drape of Karnataka. Now, as part of Google Arts & Culture’s #WeWearCulture project to document fashion from around the world, the agency has created an online exhibition to showcase some of India’s various sari styles.
Featuring images of over 60 sari drapes from 15 states, Border & Fall reveals the many different ways one garment is worn by the country’s various local communities, highlighting both iconic and lesser-known textiles and prints.
Here’s some of the regional styles and materials they’ve featured:
The southern state is known for its soft Mysore silk, which originated in the 18th century under the reign of Tipu Sultan, then the Maharaja of Mysore. In the hilly district of Kodagu (formerly known as Coorg), women wear saris that are pleated at the back instead of the front, and wrapped around the body horizontally to show off the border. In this style, as seen below, the pallu is positioned over the right shoulder.
Madhya Pradesh is known for its bhag prints, made from a traditional block-printing technique that uses red and black natural dyes to create geometric or floral designs. The Jhabua sari drape, pictured below, is named after a town in the state, and is typically worn with the pallu covering the head.
Telia Rumaal is a distinctive material made using a double ikat weave, where yarn is given a tie-dyeing treatment before being woven. The first part of the name comes from the historical practice of using oil (tel) to set the colour of the yarn, and rumaal means handkerchief, a nod to the fabric’s original use as a type of headgear popular with Arab travellers centuries ago.
In the exhibition, Border & Fall styles the sari using the Kuchipudi men’s drape, originating from the region’s classical dance style.
The Saktapar sari is traditionally woven using red and black cotton in the Sambalpur, Bargarh, and Sonepur regions of Odisha. It’s known for its distinct checkerboard pattern and brocade border. In the photo below, the sari is worn in the region’s Kuncha drape, where the pallu falls over the left shoulder.
The intricate gara style of embroidery is believed to have been brought to India from China in the 19th century by Parsi traders who had settled in and around Gujarat. Today, the gara sari is strongly associated with the Parsi community, and each piece is meticulously hand-crafted by artisans who embroider various motifs and patterns. The Parsi sari drape, shown below, highlights this hard work by bringing the pallu forward to flow freely over the right shoulder.
One of the most iconic textiles in India, the Banarasi sari is made in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, and has for long been a key element in every bridal trousseau. Usually made with finely woven silk, the textile often features intricate embroidered designs using gold or silver threads. Here, it’s worn in the Seedha Pallu style, commonly found in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand, where the pallu is brought forward over the right shoulder and pinned to cover the entire torso.
Later this year, Border & Fall will launch its digital film anthology on the sari, featuring videos that demonstrate how to wear over 80 different regional drapes.