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Sari an immodest garment?

August 12, 2008

When I read that the sari might well be banned in Nigeria I can’t say I was surprised. I mean, we in India associate the saree with supreme modesty as it is a traditional mode of dress but all too often fail to realise that others may not see it as such. This is what the news article said:

Indian women in traditional saris with their midriffs showing may find themselves on the wrong side of the Nigerian law if a bill that currently under discussion is passed. Tourists in towelling wraps and Nigerian women in traditional dress with their stomachs exposed could also find themselves behind bars for three months or subjected to fines of $100…

A sari reveals the navel as it can be worn below it, and often the fabric covering it is transparent. And while walking or during any kind of physical work or if one looks at a woman sideways, even this flimsy covering does not hide the midriff from view. But in our hypocritical society, a girl wearing a short top showing a strip of skin would be considered more immodest than someone (revealing more) in a saree.

The sari may or may not be immodest, but it was never designed with the purpose of hiding the body, like the burqa/burkha was. Not that we Indians held the ridiculous ideas about modesty that we hold today…less than a century ago showing the navel wasn’t considered immodest at all. So am I saying that in India too we have started to think that showing the navel is immodest? More on that a little later.

Actually any sari, if worn as it was intended to, is worn with a short thin blouse, the bare midriff highlighting a woman’s waist. A full figure and a slim waist is an embodiment of beauty in the Indian woman. Besides, the thin material of the sari and the short blouse are suitable for wearing in hot weather, the pallav handy for covering the head from the blazing sun (not from men’s eyes). In fact it is believed that originally sarees were never worn with blouses (perhaps breast bands?) at all and in fact it is doubted whether petticoats existed. Some say British Rule made us cover up, some say the process started earlier, with Mughal rule. But we do know that the saree was not meant to cover up a woman’s body.

Sure, rules of modesty have changed, and I am certainly not advocating that we wear saris without petticoats and blouses but I cannot stand the ultra conservatism that is strangling the freedom of dress in Indian society today. It’s not just Nigerians, even our own people are trying to change the way the sari is worn. Wearing the sari too low is frowned upon and generally “decent” women are supposed to use the various folds of the saree to cover themselves as much as possible. So deeply ingrained have these alien and unnatural ideas become that middle-class women actually clutch the saree to their bodies! It’s just sad.

It’s not surprising then that the Maharashtrian (navvari or nauwari) sari has fallen out of favour…it is far too revealing for the moral police I guess. Today it’s hardly seen in the cities, it’s becoming alien to our own people! This type of saree is regularly made fun of in films, portrayed as some sort of “sexy” garment, meant to titillate! In reality the Navvari embodies freedom for women. In a way it is similar to the dhoti as it allows leg movement and the ankles are left free. But today the so-called moral police who call themselves Maharashtrians have succumbed to the point of view that the navvari will only be considered decent if distorted to hide every inch of a woman’s body. Why Navvari. The sari itself has metamorphosed into something it was never meant to be.

If all those things which make a sari more comfortable and natural are considered “immodest” what’s the use of the sari anyway? No wonder the younger generation is giving up on the sari, except when it makes a fashion statement.

It’s time we understood that showing the midriff or even the ankles is not immodest. And certainly nothing was ever wrong or immoral in showing the navel. According to Indian tradition, the belly-button or navel is a sacred part of the body. It says here (references of scholarly works are given):

The sari, being an unstitched drape, enhances the shape of the wearer while only partially covering the midriff. In Indian philosophy, the navel of the Supreme Being is considered as the source of life and creativity.

But who cares about Indian tradition! Certainly not the moral police who have become so obsessed with covering up their own immorality that they have want to impose alien values upon us. They will continue to shout about Indian tradition from the roof-tops when actually they know (and care) less about Indian culture than either you or me.

(Photos are all copywrited to me).


Related Reading: Will we ever get used to seeing flesh?
Should religious places have dress codes?
Pratibha Patil tells Hindu women to abandon veil
A burqa wearing trend in India?
Women’s Airline uniforms – do they have to be short?

More: How to wear a sari video
What significance do various colors in clothes have?

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79 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2008 7:54 am

    Ahhh! my answer would be yes. Most of the girls I have met hold the same opinion as me that sari has been made popular to be THE Indian dress and the symbol of an Bhartiya Nari by the men for their advantage. I have seen many many men ogle like anything at a women wearing sari and especially an naturally endowed woman. I have myself felt awkward looking at the way some lady staff wear sari at my workplace. Its embarrassing. And not to mention the fashion that has now set in with string blouses and all.
    In terms of comfort and a compromise for sake of Indianess and moral police I find salwar suit the best. It gives the freedom needed while travelling or driving or working.

    Reema, I too prefer the salwar kameez, it’s a nice comfortable garment. However, I feel that ladies who wear saris should be allowed to wear it the way they want, and feel comfortable, as long as they don’t moralize about others. That is what I find objectionable about those who wear saris regularly. – Nita.

  2. vinod permalink
    August 12, 2008 7:57 am

    “It’s time we understood that showing the midriff or even the ankles is not immodest”

    I don’t think the mind can sustain something that is against biology.

    ~ Vinod

    I am not sure whose biology you mean. :) When it comes to women’s biology, I don’t think it’s fair to confine them in a sari which prevents them from walking fast, and keeps one of their hands busy trying to adjust their pallav. I think it’s an atrocious expectation of a woman, although woman who have got used to it feel there is nothing wrong, they even sleep in a sari. They have got used to it, but it doesn’t mean it’s right. For a change men should try it. – Nita.

  3. August 12, 2008 8:08 am

    Rightly said. Fed up of this moral policing. Sari, by most corporate companies and Fashion designers, even internationally, is accepted and respected. Many middle-class and upper middle-class women who wear sari look pretty decent. Even if its a churidaar or a salwaar suit, or that matter. I think, any kind of dress, has its share of decency and indecency. Its upto the sensibilities of people how they wear it. I sincerely have a question for people who are doing moral policing….Why is that only the dressng sense of women is often targetted by these moral police? Why don’t they, instead, target those shameless men who constantly look for erotic pleasures from whatever kind of dress a woman wears?

    Manoj, sari is respected and I feel women should be allowed to wear it the way they want. As for men who want to ogle, they will do it anyway, however a girl is clad. The only way they stop ogling is when they are confronted with a woman in a burkha. So by that logic, all women should wear burkhas! – Nita.

  4. August 12, 2008 8:21 am

    Sari is a symbol of our culture, whichever way we wear it. Moral Police are bunch of thugs who don’t like Jokes but they themselves are nothing but jokes.

    You got it bang on! I agree whole-heartedly! – Nita.

  5. August 12, 2008 8:46 am

    I was in Pune for a week, for a training. For the first three days, most of the girls/women were in western clothing. But on the fourth day, there was some festival for which all of them decided to come in sarees. They were looking really very beautiful, especially with the marathi style of wearing the sarees. I have always wondered, why sarees are getting less popular as the women who wear them are admired more than while wearing any other form of dressing?

    Destination Infinity

    DI, clothes are meant for comfort, not for admiration unless a girl is taking part in a fashion show or is trying to impress someone in particular. I don’t know why men always feel that women dress to please men or get admiration from them. It’s not always so. Comfort comes first for most of us. If there are those who torture themselves on stiletoes, these are not the average women. An average woman has to work and do her daily chores and go to work too. If a woman wants to look beautiful and behave like a pretty doll, then it’s sometimes for occasions or it’s her job to look pretty in whatever business she is in. For example if the sari is a uniform in a hotel. – Nita.

  6. August 12, 2008 8:55 am

    saris are fun to wear – and like pretty much anything else, immodesty is in the eyes of the ogler :) and of course the way you drape the sari and carry it off :).
    i know someone who carries the sari like a suit of armour — and every time i see her i have this desire to duck.
    and then i know someone whose pallu will never stay up and who would use no pins :)

    on the nauvari — it is such a practical item of clothing. it is actually more protection for the woman than the 6 yard thing that we wear. but, yes it is a tradition that is unfortunately dying out.

    Harini, I feel sorry for women who wear the sari like an armour and to be frank, I find nothing wrong with a woman who can’t control her pallu. I find it difficult to do myself, as either I find the pin tears the precious sari or my one hand is constantly trying to fix it. If someone is bindaas, all the power to her. And yes I agree with you about the navvari. It’s a fantastic piece of garment and today I will wear it if society allows me to. I can’t, I will be hooted out! :) – Nita.

  7. August 12, 2008 9:54 am

    Well, apparently Sri Lankan’s understand India and the sari much better than we do,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOWbWsWWkKs

    Vikram, that’s a beautiful commercial, a celebration of the saree and how it can enhance the beauty of any woman. – Nita.

  8. Guqin permalink
    August 12, 2008 10:00 am

    Sari is beautiful. Did India’s woman athletes walk the stadium in Sari?

    By the way, CONGRATULATIONS FOR THE GOLD!!

    I think only one did. I don’t think there was any coordination. In any case, in the north of India the sari is not considered as the traditional dress, the salwar kameez is. But I am not saying they should or should not have worn a sari. Frankly to me at least it doesn’t matter.
    And thanks for the wishes. It is making history but it is still a painful reminder that we have a long way to go. – Nita.

  9. August 12, 2008 10:43 am

    This is a very surprising bit of news. Saris banned at Nigeria! Yes, you are right when you say that wearing saris below navel if frowned upon here in India too by self-appointed moral police. I cringe when some stupid guys mention how they like their woman to wear sari, not below navel blah blah..

    Poonam, you have echoed my feelings. I also cringe, no even that is a mild word! :) – Nita

  10. August 12, 2008 11:33 am

    @ Nita:

    I think we Indians are quite good at attaching ‘morality’ interpretations to garments and clothes. Until very recently, Indian women, who wore jeans, skirts and trousers – western or ‘foreign’ clothes – were seen as immoral. Not just that, how we define ‘foreign’ is also funny. In the mid-1990s, when I lived in Bangalore, somehow my – a North Indian’s – wearing salwar-kameez made me immodest and ‘foreign’ but the South Indian girls wearing the same did not make them immodest and ‘foreign’! If anyone is objecting to this Nigerian news, I would say it is because we do not like the taste of our own medicine :-)

    They say in Uttar Pradesh: “eat what you like; wear what others like”. It is clear that sari-wearers in Nigeria are immigrants there. Clothes, worn outside one’s home, at work, in shops etc, are an important part of the signalling of the integration of an immigrant. Signalling to whom? To the ‘natives’ of course. I am glad that the UK does not ban any culture’s clothing but not standing out because of one’s clothing is generally helpful in interactions with the natives. I am not suggesting that the tone used by the Nigerian government is helpful in building relationships with the natives but in general, this is the case.

    (Aside: You have lived in Africa; I do not know at what age etc. My friends from Africa – Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya – tell me that the natives come and touch Asian girls’ skin to see how it feels! Pretty creepy if you ask me. Anything that deters such things is welcome, I’d say.)

    Shefaly, you got it – we attach a moral tag to clothes! As if a mode of dress makes a woman virtuous! The most promiscuous girl in Sadashiv Peth (where I grew up) always wore a sari and a huge bindi! She also walked with her head down and never talked to men in public! Unlike me and my friend who were always in jeans and T-shirts, free as birds because we never had to showcase our virtue in a sari! About the touching experience, I had that in China too! We went their during their holidays and a lot of Chinese from the villages were around. They used to want to touch our skin and have photographs taken with us! :) – Nita.

  11. August 12, 2008 12:05 pm

    The saas bahu serials seemed to have taken the sexyness out of the saris. Nigeria eh, I would stay away if i were you Nita! he he he.

    You bet! :) Not that I wear sarees! :) – Nita

  12. August 12, 2008 12:29 pm

    My grandmother and her sisters wore the “nav-wari” saris everyday and carried themselves with an unmatched elan.

    My mother and my aunts evolved to six yards and reserved the nine yards for special occasions. This must have been a tectonic shift for that generation and subject of intense criticism from their elders.

    My wife and other female contemporaries swear by the salwar-kameez and the six yards suffers relegation to the mothballed sari bags. Only special occasions merit six yards.

    My daughters find it “cool” to be in skirts n tops / t-shirts or jeans + tops combo. S – K is for oldies and saris (Are u crazy or something..) in their lingo.

    This is the change that we see across four generations. Call it cultural evolution if you like….

    Though preference for the sari may be diminishing, it is still representative of our culture as is seen on any festival day or special family or social occasions.

    Never for a momemt did we view the sari as something playing-up immodesty.

    So, as far as the sari is concerned, immodesty and vulgarity lies entirely in the eyes of the voyeur (and now some nations).

    That was neat! Particularly as you could have been writing about my family! Amazing. Everything applies. I myself wear salwar kameez and pants almost equally frequently, and prefer the latter. – Nita.

  13. vinod permalink
    August 12, 2008 1:09 pm

    “Never for a momemt did we view the sari as something playing-up immodesty.”

    I personally did view it as distracting, if not immodest, when it was worn with the waist exposed. But there are ways of wearing it that covers everything pretty well.

  14. August 12, 2008 1:12 pm

    I never liked the idea of people calling names to those who wear “immodest” clothes…
    Do you live in a society that is no more civilised than a clan of an animal ?? or are you living in a CIVILISED society ??
    Here’s the way i would put it ..
    Do we all get attracted to the physical features of the opp. sex ? Yes.
    Do we regret it ?
    No.
    Do we want to stop getting attracted and aroused ?
    Hell No.
    Do we want everyone else other than us to give up that attraction ?
    Yes.
    why ? Because we want to preserve a certain order and maintain a decency ?
    No.(the hypocrite here wud say yes , my answer is No)
    Because you are so ashamed of how you cannot control your senses and your disgusting mind that you want everyone else to put a brake on every go damn thing that tempts you…?
    Absolutely YES !!

    aaahhh i recollect a few lines from a poem i once wrote ..

    They tell me that I am born free,
    but the irony is,that i live in a SOCIETY !!!

    http://sidacys.blogspot.com/2008/04/trapped.html

    Thanks Siddharth. :) We live in a society, a repressed one! :( – Nita.

  15. August 12, 2008 1:26 pm

    @ Nita:

    On WP’s *NEW* homepage. At about 13:30 IST.

  16. August 12, 2008 1:51 pm

    Sari as far as I know was a north Indian one, towards the south in kerala, in ol days Christian women wore “chatta and mundu” which is a combination of dhotti and a t-shirt look like (kinda to cover the upper body).
    While many who couldn’t afford such luxuries used just a lungi and did not cover the upper body !!!

    I think our moral police has not gone back to history and checked that sari was not our national dress.

    When they say the women has to follow our culture and tradition, they actually dont know what the tradition was !

    Xylene, the sari is not a north indian dress. In punjab as far as I know the saree is not considered the national dress, the salwar kameez is. I always felt that the sari the way it is worn now is primarily from southern states and also Bengal. I didn’t know that Kerala women did not wear sari traditionally. As you know in Maharashtra we have a different type of sari. – Nita.

  17. vinod permalink
    August 12, 2008 2:00 pm

    “They used to want to touch our skin and have photographs taken with us! ”

    I remember when an African American colleague of mine came to visit us, I could not contain my curiosity about how his tightly coiled hair felt. After bugging him about it, he finally allowed me to touch his head and feel his hair. Wonder whether it is the same curiosity from the Chinese about the skin.

  18. vinod permalink
    August 12, 2008 2:02 pm

    “I am not sure whose biology you mean.”

    I was referring to men’s biology i.e. the attraction of men to the midriff. That is kind of universal. (The attraction to the ankles is more of a fetish).

    I think you didn’t get my sarcasm. I knew exactly what you meant. – Nita.

  19. Guqin permalink
    August 12, 2008 2:10 pm

    // And thanks for the wishes. It is making history but it is still a painful reminder that we have a long way to go. //

    China’s first gold was also in shooting back in 1984 when Abhinav Bindra was 2 years old. A long way but not that long. A jourey of thousands of miles begins with the first step! CONGRATULATIONS for this first golden step!!

    Such sweet words Gugin. Thank you. When I first heard of the gold medal, I got tears in my eyes and now the tears are threatening me again. Sometimes I think it’s torture, to love one’s country this much. – Nita.
    P.S. It also means we are more than two decades behind China! :)

  20. August 12, 2008 2:15 pm

    U will not beliee this, but we had to wear sari compulsarily for all the five years of MBBS!! The i didnt like it much but if you ask me today, i think sari is the sexiest attire! love wearing sari though i don’t wear it everyday! but very often…

    Its simply gorgeous!

    Looks gorgeous or gorgeous in comfort? :) Well I guess if one is used to it, and doesn’t have to run around catching buses and trains or do physical work, it’s fine. In the villages they wear the sari but hitch it up while working. – Nita.

  21. August 12, 2008 2:25 pm

    we have forgotten all our traditions !! Sari is not a tradition !
    xylene is dot on.
    anrosh

    Come on now, sari is definitely Indian traditional wear :) though I agree it’s not the “national dress” as some people make it out to be. – Nita.

  22. August 12, 2008 2:36 pm

    Let us step aside and think about this issue.
    Why should law zoom in on a navel area?
    Judiciary will be good, if it can keep itself out this personal issue.
    Let people wear what they want and how they like it.
    If a women wears a revealing cloth and walks on a street grabbing attention which is disturbing her, either she will make a police complaint or change her wearing habbits. That is all to it. This is how feedback systems work in electronic systems.

    Same goes about dowry system. Law cannot enter between two individuals or two families entering into a marriage pact and define rules. Even if it does, they remain ineffective. There was a huge cry about dowry harassments. When these dowry cases started growing, politicians quickly washed their hands off by passing a law and our judiciary system started following it.
    How many people actually used this law? Very few i should say.

    Let individuals or families do what they want. If someone is not comfortable with it, they will reach out to police station and make a complaint. Passing a law is not always the answer.

    Lets not discuss about modesty or immodesty as their is no universal definition for it. Lets leave it to individual comfort zone and march past it.
    Thanks
    sri

    Sri, you say make a police complaint (in ref to dowry laws) but if there is no law the police can’t do a thing! About clothes, it’s another matter. It’s very personal, what one wears. – Nita.

  23. August 12, 2008 2:44 pm

    I was just wondering in my mind about the way hindi flicks portray maharashtrian style of sari and lo behold you mentioned it in the next lines…
    I feel Sari if worn in a nice manner is one of the most elegant outfits. I personally am a fan of saris as they make you look so gorgeous. The moral police in India is after Mallika Sherwats and Rakhi sawants but have they paid heed to what Raj Kapoor made his heroines wear in his movies in name of acting? He deliberately got the blouses stitched three inches lesser than the original to portray the buxom beauties. Sareees are elegant,sexy,modern, traditional- it all depends on how you perceive them. And I agree with you there was initially no concept of blouses earlier. Aadivaasi women still wear the sarees without blouses. Moral police is not targetting them though. Thank god for that.

    Mahak, yes Hindi films portray the Maharashtrian sari as a “sexy” garment like a cabaret girl wears or something akin to it. Personally I feel that if you look at how a woman dresses, you can tell a lot about the attitude of their men. In Maharashtra women have always been pretty free and have had rights, and it is reflected in their traditional dress. I am very proud of our sari.
    About Mallika and Rakhi, they are actresses and their job is to attract. Whatever they wear, they will try to do it. I don’t moralize about such people. It is their business. They do a job and get paid for it. – Nita.

  24. August 12, 2008 2:51 pm

    I agree with Sakhi :) in Sari, some girls look soooooo cute. OK control!!!!!

    My point is, wear whatever you like, show whatever you like, we don’t care until you start thinking you are setting a standard………ohh I think Nita has already said this in her word :)

    Cheers

    P.S> Leave the seriousness, but I think you have seen how pretty girls look when they wear sari in functions :D and I don’t think they can afford looking same everyday :P

  25. August 12, 2008 2:55 pm

    On a serious note: I always feel that Bollywood has portrayed Maharashtrian style of saree. They completely enrage me when they try to show it as its a *general standard* style here. I hope people outside of Mah don’t have that bad impression on them forever.

    Am I only one feeling like this or I am wrong? Plz correct me if I am.

    Suda, it enrages me too! I hate the way they portray it and that is why many people think of it in a twisted way. Or rather, maybe those who think that way are themselves twisted! – Nita.
    P.s. I re-read your comment and wondered why it bothered you that people feel it was the “standard” way of dressing. Even if people thought so, what’s wrong? And it is the standard way of dressing if you look at rural Maharashtra too. I am proud of the nauvari. – Nita.

  26. koolbuddy36 permalink
    August 12, 2008 4:06 pm

    Saree is most modest!

  27. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    August 12, 2008 4:09 pm

    Nita,

    I have been following the comments here with some interest, and thought I would intervene to correct a misimpression about the Maharashtrian nau-vari saree, reinforced in part by the visuals of it that you have used in this post as well as on one or two previous occasions. All of these are of the style favoured by working class women — practical but inelegant.

    At the other extreme is what Suda has commented upon as the style portrayed by Bollywood. This is deliberately and provocatively “sexy” in a way that no one in real life ever wore it — not even the Koli (fisherfolk) women that Bollywood usually shows doing pelvic thrusts in this garb. In real life, the ultimate in “sexiness in nau-vari” was achieved by the singer-dancers who performed in the “tamasha” — the folk theatre of Maharashtra. They wore it in a more form-hugging (but still not as much as shown in Bollywood) way, with their bodies fully covered (except perhaps offering a coquettish glimpse of cleavage while dancing).

    Suda, the nau-vari was in fact “general standard” in Maharashtra, cutting across caste lines and the rural-urban divide, until almost the end of WW2. Even after that, as women started participating more and more in public life and wearing the 5- or 6-yard saree, the nau-vari was still fairly common, particularly on ceremonial occasions, well into the 1960s. And at least the non-working-class women had a very elegant way of wearing it.

    For easy access to illustrations of this style of wearing the nau-wari, do a Google image search of “Raja Ravi Varma” (the artist), many of his later paintings (from his Bombay days) featuring goddessess and mythological women — especially Saraswati, Lakshmi, Shakuntala, Damayanti — portray them in the “elegant” way of wearing nau-vari. Ravi Varma’s models in Bombay were mainly Marathi or Goan, and also he, as a Malayali (connected to the Travancore royal family) perhaps found this “exotic” style more attractive than the “familiar” Malabar-Travancore styles that you find in his earlier paintings.

    Ravi Varma’s depictions of this saree are, of course, slightly exaggerated in their elegance. A more realistic — unfortunately not full length but authentic and elegant — portraiture is to be found in the painting “A Lady Carrying a Lamp”, by S. L. Haldankar, often erroneously attributed to Ravi Varma.

    Vivek, well, I am aware of the finer point you raised but could not find a suitable picture. Even my mother has worn a navvari only once or twice and I don’t have the picture. Though I agree that the way the working class women wear it is different, I don’t think that it is inelegant. I think it is beautiful. True, both my grandmothers wore it differently, particularly with the back not showing, but I find both versions beautiful. In fact that is what I wanted to show, how uncumbersome the saree is and that it embodies freedom for women and that it has no problem is showing the human form, that there is nothing to be ashamed of.- Nita.

  28. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    August 12, 2008 4:35 pm

    For an unglamorised yet dignified way of wearing the nau-vari saree, go to

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/prakar/2253238465/

    Vivek, the ladies in the picture are pulling the pallav towards them and the bottom has been pulled down to cover the whole body. I think it looks forced. Do you really think this is how women wore the navvari? My grandmother was a real lady and we have many portraits of her in the family home and the pallav was never tightly clutched around them and one got a peep of the ankles. Do you disapprove of that? – Nita.

  29. August 12, 2008 4:54 pm

    i still feel that sari looks gorgeous! Yes, probably its cumbersome to wear it in day to day practice, but as i said we used to wear saris in college from 8 to 8 and sometimes even later than that if we had late duties and in medical college we were not just chilling out, we were working!!

    Sari is definately modest and gives professional look too! And that does not mean that other professional dresses are less in any way! i mean simply that saree in no less either!

    I guess some people can manage to work in a sari, although I can’t. Ofcourse I am talking of physical work. I do a lot of housework, including cooking, which involves constant bending down, lifting, reaching up to the higher shelves, cleaning windows etc, but many women do this with ease in a sari. I hate doing work in a sari. In fact even while sitting at a computer, the pallav of the sari is an irritant. In a salwar I can keep the duppatta aside. One has to get used to the discomfort. Therefore, when I wear a sari I prefer to just go for a party! :) – Nita.

  30. August 12, 2008 5:08 pm

    Nita, in North India ,saree is the traditional dress, other than in Punjab where salwar kameez is the traditional dress. About saree being immodest, depends on how you wear it. You watch Sushmita Sen in ‘Main hoon na’, saree looks sexier than a micro mini. I won’t call it immodest though. She carries it well and looks attractive not immodest.
    I agree with you,ladies who wear saris should be allowed to wear it the way they want, and feel comfortable, as long as they don’t moralize about others.

    Thanks Prerna. I sort of knew they wore saris in the north, and I guess that is their main dress form but they also have other things like ghaghra choli and I think it’s in Rajasthan. But I guess their main form of dress is the sari. That point about Sushmita…well, everyone uses their garment (not just a sari) to express their personality and so like you said, not point trying to moralize. That is why I get very upset when moral tags are attached to certain types of clothes, for example in some colleges in Bengal and Orissa the sari is sacrosanct and salwar kameez considered so good, which I think is silly.- Nita.

  31. August 12, 2008 5:26 pm

    Nita,
    In a dowry case, the concerned individual or family can make harassment case in the name of dowry. Again i shouldn’t have bought the dowry case in the talk of saree, but i felt that this is a related topic in a broader context.
    –sri

  32. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    August 12, 2008 5:49 pm

    Nita:

    No I don’t disapprove. But as a kid I have in fact seen a lot of women from the elder generations in my own extended family wear it the same way. The “pulling down to cover the whole body” is probably due to camera-consciousness. Normally they would be more relaxed and un-self-conscious.

    Exactly. And when a woman is moving around, that is when a garment’s true nature appears. – Nita.

  33. August 12, 2008 6:22 pm

    hmm…that is the hypocrisy of moral policing….in fact everything we do now days is more or less how we were back then…the fact is the moral police want us to go to the dark age style in everything…..i once remember reading somewhere a speech in the British parliament saying that the only way to destroy India would be to destroy its traditions and education system….well i think it is time for the renaissance again :)

    Thanks Vishesh. The moral police want to destroy Indian culture, and they are no better than our British rulers! Worse, because they are doing it to their own people. – Nita.

  34. August 12, 2008 6:39 pm

    I do not think Saree/Sari to be an immodest garment..

    Clothes are used to protect body from heat, wind and other things(lol.. other things :P).

    Clothes also provide safety, modesty and comfort.

    I remember reading the above two lines in some text book.

    Actually any piece of garment can be termed modest or immodest depending upon the way its wore..

    I guess there are many ways in which a Saree can be wore.

    Its the way you carry urself… for e.g on a beach… I cannot call a lady in beachware immodest.. but at the same time if on a beach, you wear a tranparent, white saree…with/without blouse and get drenched as seen in lot many bollywood movies, thats immodesty.

    Again, different different people different perspective.

    Modest is a relative term I guess, if not who defines it?

    Sharad, thanks. As you said, any garment can be percieved in any way, it depends on the person who is wearing it, and more important the eyes which are looking. And an important point you mentioned, every garment has a certain place. Wearing a bikini in a temple would certainly be immodest. – Nita.

  35. August 12, 2008 7:15 pm

    ALL that i know is indian girls look awesome in sarees..my college freinds wear sarees during funcitons and they simply looked awesome.. :)

    Well, if women only dressed for women I guess most Indian women would wear saris! :) – Nita.

  36. August 12, 2008 7:20 pm

    I guess immodesty is more in the looking eyes rather than the clothes worn

    Absolutely!! – Nita.

  37. Ravi permalink
    August 12, 2008 8:33 pm

    Recently a friend of mine wore saree for her graduate convocation and not only that she looked awesome but also for the first time I found her sexy. Like many Indian women she also wears those stupid Jeans n T’s. Women in sarees are sexy..lol

    It would be interesting to know whether you think that Indian men should also stop wearing “stupid” jeans and start wearing clothes that women want them to wear. – Nita.

  38. August 12, 2008 9:26 pm

    Who decides what is immodest or modest?
    Everyone should have the freedom to dress according to his/her choice.

    P.S. Sari is gorgeous.

    Thanks Rahul. Everyone should have the freedom as you said, as wearing something is a personal decision. – Nita.

  39. nehru mantri permalink
    August 12, 2008 10:39 pm

    Nita

    P.s. I re-read your comment and wondered why it bothered you that people feel it was the “standard” way of dressing. Even if people thought so, what’s wrong? And it is the standard way of dressing if you look at rural Maharashtra too. I am proud of the nauvari. – Nita.

    That would be my opinion too, no offense to Suda. Your pic of the lady in the nauvari ( have not heard this name before) doesnt do justice. A nice front view might have been though it still looks pretty to me and has a dignity of its own. I also like the way Coorgi’s adorn theirs. I do not think the saree is the culprit for the navel expose. It is the lines from the hips to the navel that are suggestive. However it has to be said that that the saree is impractical for most kinds of non desk jobs unless of course women come up with something like the nauvari. I dread to think of driving a stick shift in a saree though I believe it is done and commendably by many.

    Nehru, thank you for that. I too think the working class women look very dignified in their outfits, far more than some so-called “ladies” look. They dress the way they do because of the nature of their daily grind and I have high regard for that and their practical way of dressing. Rural Maharashtrian women work in the fields, alongwith with their men, and I am very proud of that. – Nita.

  40. August 12, 2008 11:49 pm

    The Sari can be really vulgar if not worn properly and gracefully. It is nevertheless a very graceful dress but yes, it may be considered offensive in countries where women are supposed to cover themselves up. So, the ban won’t be much of a surprise.
    Personally, I think any dress can be made to look vulgar if not worn properly.

    Amit, don’t you think the vulgarity lies in the eyes of the beholder? I’ll give you an example of a shirt. You might pick up a shirt with sober colours but a friend might pick one which you think is gaudy or too bright. He may think it’s fine but you might think it is not. Each to his own, that’s what I feel. – Nita.

  41. August 13, 2008 12:06 am

    I am from Mexico. 100% mexican. But I went to Pakistan a while back and what has remained with me, besides the niceness of the poeple, were the smells and the gorgeous saree stores that I visited.

    Each saree store was a treasure chest. A riot of colors. Incredible color combinations, softness and sheen.

    Saree is just downright beautiful! It is downright the most powerful dress in the world. It can be practical for outside work (cotton cloth and tucked at waist as a short for hot weather), it can be bussiness, it can be party. And it can be darn sexy even if the navel is not seen.

    It´s the walk, the falling of the cloth on the body, the slight rustling of cloth while walking that makes it maddenigly sexy. Navel or not, sleeveless or not I vote it the most power dress in the world.

    Saree is a very forgiving dress. Your legs can be imperfect, legs unshaved and etc but everything gets covered in a BEAUTIFUL fabric. Wow, how more practical and beautiful can it be?

    Wish it was worn in Mexico, but we are stuck with western garb, or if pushed and wanting to feel “authentic”, to wearing the huipil (embroidered potato sack) which in no way can compare to the saree.

    As to the way men dress in Pakistan, gosh, I also tried some out of curiosity, and darn! the are walking in the comfort of pijamas! I envy them as well. Western garb with the use of belts, ties, suspenders, zippers, etc can be so uncomfy.

    So never give up what makes you, you. What is best suited for the weather and temperatures.
    Forget the moral police. Sin will always be in the brain of the other person.

    Best to the other side of the world,
    B,
    Monterrey, Mexico

    pd: Ah, and the tamarind sauce with ground meat kabobs! Totally delish! :)

    wp, as far as I know the sari is not that popular in Pakistan, but perhaps this is changed. I like the way you have mentioned how versatile the sari is and how it can be outfitted according to the work one is doing. That’s wonderful and I wish people were more flexible about that here. And as you said the sari enhances the beauty….but anyway in India we are stuck in the Victorian era. – Nita.

  42. August 13, 2008 2:56 am

    A very interesting article and conversation! As a Westerner I am not too familiar with the Sari or with the traditions of India. In my religious beliefs we consider modesty to be very important. We are allowed to make our own choices in attire, however we use the guideline of not wanting to call inappropriate attention to our bodies, or make others feel uncomfortable.

    The word modesty ultimately stems from the Latin term modus, meaning “measure.” Hence modesty connotes balance, proportion, restraint, and (from the same root) moderation. Its opposites would be excess, extremity, lack of restraint, outlandishness, intemperateness, immoderation, and so forth. Thus modest dress is measured, as are modest speech and modest conduct.

    Some people can cover up their entire bodies and still act or speak immodestly (without restraint). So, being modest truly extends beyond just our clothing. It appears to me that the wearers of Sari may be extremely modest in their actions and speech, and yet unfortunately the dress itself is sending an unintended message.

    Thank you for sharing about the this interesting cultural issue. I hope there can be a happy resolution for both sides. I also enjoyed your pictures.

    mormonsoprano, an important point – immodesty in behavior. I think people should concentrate more on that and stop attaching labels like immodest and immoral to particular modes of dress! – Nita.

  43. raghav in geisterstadt permalink
    August 13, 2008 3:07 am

    Somehow i thought however rich or poor Nigeria may be, it always had a comparatively liberal image of it.

    Anyways, it always pains to read from many sources that women clothing got under the scanner since the time we were invaded by turks, mughals etc. And more so now, thanks to our moral police.

    Sari an immodest garment, i wud be eager to know what does the Nigerian govt. think about minis (both skirts n tops).

    @Amit

    Never seen a woman looking vulgar in saree.

    Raghav, the moral police are the new invaders. – Nita.

  44. vinod permalink
    August 13, 2008 12:08 pm

    Pakistanis too consider Sari to be immodest by Islamic standards except for the muhajireen older generation women. But they wear sarees quite differently. It covers EVERYTHING. I’ve seen wedding pictures of these sari-wearing women. My Pakistani friends have always quizzed me about the feeling of modesty in women in India when they wear sari. Next time it comes up, I’m sending them this article and its comments.

    Vinod, thanks. I too remember reading something like this, because religious Muslims do not like to reveal any part of the body! – Nita.

  45. August 13, 2008 6:11 pm

    Nita, intresting post and discussion, thank you!

    You have probably read my article on sari and you know that I adore that kind of a dress. it is extremely beautiful and I feeli like a queen when I can whear that. However when i am in India, I notice that I prefer shalwar because it seem to be more comfortable to move (might be my western style :).

    As for that “immoratlity” I was honestly surprised to see how actually open the belly of a woman wearing sari is :) I mean i feel my belly it something very intimate which I personally not prefer to show off …But obviously there is some deep meaning in it, and I trust Indian ancient wisdom, which made people wear this special garment.

    But what actually makes a sari that beautiful and attractive? I believe the trick is that the sari epitomizes the beauty of the female form. It is ideal clothing for the summer and can be comfortably worn in the winter as well. It drapes the body all over and reveals very less but still has such a sensuous look. It can make a thin woman look voluptuous and a overweight woman look attractive. It also reflects the mood and personality of the person wearing it, through its myriad colors.

    There is no other dress having such power…

    Thanks Axinia. I do agree that the sari is a beautiful and elegant garment and while the navel has a cultural meaning, the sari design has a lot to do with the weather. It is hot in India and the sari is meant to be worn in such a way as to be cooling and yet protect from the sun. However the prudishness of our present society precludes such a thing. – Nita.

  46. August 14, 2008 11:26 am

    Very interesting post, Nita! I wish I knew more about these issues of women’s modesty in dress because for some time I have suspected that calls for more modesty too often coincide with calls for less liberty! It’s as if the moral police are a vanguard for the thought police.

    Thanks Paul. I agree that men trying to pressurise women into wearing a certain kind of outfit is a way to dominate her. A woman should be free to wear what she wishes and how she wishes. She should have the same freedom of dress as a man. – Nita.

  47. August 14, 2008 1:09 pm

    Thanks Vivek and Nita for elaborating.
    My grandma still wears the 9wari sari and she and her *friends* (other grandmas in village :) ) have adopted a nice way for it.

    And I was certainly reffering to Koli women portrayed in Bollywood, thanks Vivek for pointing out. :)

  48. August 14, 2008 1:14 pm

    @Axinia
    Your blog is listed in my office firewall as “Shopping” :(
    So I am not allowed now to access it.
    But its better that Sulz blog, its listed as *Porn* :P :D

    Cheers anyways

  49. August 14, 2008 8:12 pm

    The Saree has sustained the diversity in Indian culture w.r.t region, religion, and other things based on which Indians are divided. This fact supports itself stating that Saree is a matter of comfort of the woman wearing it and not the consequence of unwritten rule laid down by ancient society or modern IMMORAL Police.

    Hullo Su. Welcome to the blog. :) Good to hear a man saying that! I am personally fed up of these unwritten rules, which always apply more to women than men. – Nita.

  50. Meowlin permalink
    August 14, 2008 9:41 pm

    I guess the “moral police” won’t be satisfied until we (or all women, anyway) are wearing something akin to an astronaut’s EVA suit.

    My take on the motives of the “moral police” (fashion squad) is; for the men, it’s an abdication of responsibility that they can’t control their carnal desires, so they try to compel all women not to stimulate them. And for the women? Mostly simple jealousy.

    – M. \”/

    Hullo Meowlin and welcome. You know what – I tend to agree!! – Nita.

  51. August 15, 2008 6:46 pm

    @Nita : I hold the architect of Indian Society, Manu, responsible for unwritten rules applying more to women than men. Now that there are more followers of his principles than he vouched for, it is a matter of time and stringent resistance by women that the current social condition can change.

    @Meowlin : Hi… you’ve put up a nice remark. Since the presence of carnal desires in men is public enough, many tend to think that its uncontrollable. But, can u guarantee that women are free from such desires? Correct me if i say that they tend to keep it private, if its present.

  52. August 15, 2008 7:20 pm

    I think the lugda is actually a very practical dress worn by hardworking practical maharashtrian women. It does not get loose easily, it allows free movement of legs for walking fast and manual work, it is not cumbersome or delicate and it is very comfortable! Hindi movies really do use it as a provocative dress, while the people wearing it do not intend it to be provocative.
    And sari is just a dress, like all other dresses, can be worn elegantly, vulgarly or shabbily. In my opinion, generally speaking, worn well, a sari is a rather elegant attire, though not always a very practical one.

  53. August 15, 2008 8:28 pm

    @ Meowlin– ” My take on the motives of the “moral police” (fashion squad) is; for the men, it’s an abdication of responsibility that they can’t control their carnal desires, so they try to compel all women not to stimulate them.”

    U have hit the nail on the Head! I agree 10000% .

  54. August 15, 2008 10:56 pm

    Su, I hate Manu! And you will be surprised as to how many men believe Manu’s laws. If you ever have time check my post on molestation and you will see how many men believe that women’s clothes are to be blamed for men’s lecherous behavior. In fact there are other men who feel it in their heart but don’t say it!

    Thank you Nomad. I agree with every word you say. I think the lugda is a beautiful dignified garment worn by women who do not want to be seen as sex objects, but as human beings going about their work. Unfortunately some men see it as a sexual garment and it just shows their sick mind!

  55. August 17, 2008 11:21 pm

    “…the moral police who have become so obsessed with covering up their own immorality ”
    That is the truth.
    Because immodesty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Nita, you have a very thriving pulsating blog. Congrats!

    Thanks Swaps! :) – Nita.

  56. August 18, 2008 12:58 pm

    The sari doesn’t seem to have been designed as a modest covering for Indian women. On the contrary, it seems to have been designed to show off the voluptuous curves of the Indian woman to her advantage.

  57. August 18, 2008 10:38 pm

    I would say the sari has come a long way. As there is a saying ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ Everyone has their own opinions and sari is very unique to India and nothing can beat its formal look for occasions.

  58. wishtobeanon permalink
    August 19, 2008 6:23 pm

    I tried to comment on your ‘summary of the week’, but it looks like you have removed it. I read all your posts except for the movie reviews. I had been away on vacation for a week.
    Loved all your posts! I always felt that the ‘Salwar kameez’ was more modest than the Sari and feel more comfortable wearing it not because of the ‘modesty’ but, because of the comfort or ease of wear/use.

    thanks! About the summary posts, I was just experimenting to see whether I could remove comments or not. btw, I wanted to ask you whether this theme is okay. Did you prefer my older theme? – Nita.

  59. wishtobeanon permalink
    August 19, 2008 8:33 pm

    I think I prefer the older theme though I am sure I will get used to this design too. I like the idea of header images, but I am sure its a pain to always upload a new image.

    One needn’t necessarily change the image, but I like doing it. I have changed the theme again, but it’s similar. – Nita.

  60. August 22, 2008 5:22 am

    Hi Nita,
    I have been an avid fan & reader of your blog for a while now. This is my first post to you. You are a commendable writer. And your topics are great – it’s so refreshing.

    About sari – I think it accentuates the beauty of a women. I don’t believe it being explicitly exposing one self, or defamation of a culture. Rather, a symbol of feminism and faith (Hinduism, etc.). One should wear it proudly, symbolically and should not bother the criticism of society. Criticism doesn’t stop – so why should you?

    Thanks Kiran for coming here. I always wonder who they are, the unknown people who read my blog! I agree with your views on the sari. – Nita.

  61. karinajones permalink
    August 23, 2008 10:56 am

    it does seem a little alien that it took so long for the ‘moral police’ to realize the immodesty of the saree though in my opinion i totally disagree as i think the sarees are one of the most beautiful traditional costume (like kimonos and kebayas) that thanks to globalization has won the world over (otherwise Liz Hurley won’t be adorning it for her wedding no matter what the in-laws might say!)

  62. eknath permalink
    September 24, 2008 4:02 pm

    why in bollywood films, the koli woman is always shown in hot manner, like short lowcut choli without pallu and tight kashta. remember the bollywood songs mungada, humko aaj kal hai intazar, aai ga from traffic signal, zut bole kauva kate, hichki song ,and kim sharma in tom dick harry. in reality koli woman use odhani to cover the front. the style shown in films is not used any part of maharashtra.

  63. November 10, 2008 1:18 am

    Hi Nita, nice blog you’ve got here! Despite being a man Ive always loved the Saree- and fervently wish I get a better-half who does as well!
    As for all the views on the Saree exposing the midriff- IMHO this has been fuelled all the more by Bollywood & other Indians films that portray Saree-clad women with exposed midriffs as “sexy”, not just in case of the Nawwari. The damage done by the cine world since the last 2 decades seems irreparable now! How come the (im)moral police doesnt ban portraying Sarees this way!
    But yes all the same, many also agree that even otherwise it can always be a weak point for women in Sarees to get unwanted attention much as it pains to admit. In such cases, the Saree can be worn high on the waist, but IF the wearer feels so and is comfortable with it, not because it is insisted upon- dictatorship doesnt work in a democracy anyways, and in any case, how many of us follow even the more important road rules/laws sincerely!
    My mother for instance has always worn Sarees high on her waist, even when she was young, and she’s always been comfy with it, besides its her own choice.
    Aside, Sarees are worn by Sushmita Sen, Rakhi sawant etc. they are also worn by Lata Mangeshkar, MS Subbalakshmi etc. Yet how they (I’m sure choose to) wear it makes all the difference. This is unfortunately overlooked by many people, esp. men, who’ve somehow been able to focus only on the women exposing their midriffs/bellies in Sarees and thus dub sarees as “sexy”!

  64. Bre-Anna permalink
    February 9, 2009 4:01 am

    hello from Australia, I’ve always thought saris were exceptionally beautiful. I find it appalling that some low intellect people could try to construe a traditional garment worn by millions of women as something “immodest”. I would consider people like that as enemies of reasonableness and decency.

  65. vasudev permalink
    February 9, 2009 11:57 am

    Bre-Anna…you said it! (applause!)

  66. vasudev permalink
    February 9, 2009 12:13 pm

    reema…you are uncomfy at the idea of women wearing sarees? well…i am doubly uncomfy at the idea of female colleagues wearing tight banians with nothing inside (u no what?). and of course, there is a mile between where the banian ends and where the trousers begin. now to top it all, as if distraction in work hasn’t been adequately provided, these same feale colleagues accentuate their meaty ugliness with sleeveless banians which are so low-cut that half their chests look out gleefully to tease the poor men even further. pure embarrassment have made half of my men colleagues go permanently kinky on their necks, what with these poor souls fixing their eyes on mother terra firma to escape the rigours of enforced karma.
    on the other hand, saree clad women…how exotically romantic and attractive they look and they look even more divinelike with a small bindia on their foreheads.
    long live the saree, whether nigeria bans it or indian women repel it! i will get the gorgeously handsome europeans to wear them instead!

  67. Revathy permalink
    April 18, 2011 1:50 pm

    It is so strange for people who support wearing saree detest it when comes to wearing churidhar without a dupatta… I dont understand the point at all…

  68. xyz permalink
    May 13, 2011 3:04 pm

    as far as i m concern, sari is modest or immodest it depends on the women for what they likely to be wore .if we going to religious point of view sari is immodest because when the women wear a sari they expose their belly .so different people have different modesty and if u r looking western culture wearing top & skure are modest for them.but for comfort , salwaar suit is best. most of the women are likely to be wear salwaar suit.

  69. Bonnie permalink
    May 24, 2011 10:08 pm

    Was glad to find this post. Nita points out that for many centuries “the navel of the Supreme Being” was “considered as the source of life and creativity.” Yes, and the first sound of AUM comes from the abdomen and reproductive area, igniting the creativity and universal generative activity of the chanter/meditator/person seeking peace.

    Regarding the sari, one of its gifts is that of all drapery-influenced garments: it is flattering. No matter our height, shape or age, the human body has imperfections, lumps, bumps and sometimes the addition of growing a baby. It seems that the sari fits a changing body and graciously conceals. Of course, for those whose chest area is, well, streamlined, we tend to look like a hanger for the fabric, but it is still beautiful fabric!

  70. Maitreyee permalink
    January 31, 2012 6:49 am

    I from the states but I was born in India. I recieved my first saree last week and I love it. I wore it to a Indian resturant and I had so many indian men looking at me. It would have been because they thought I was attractive or the fact that I was Indian. My navel and my piercing showed but I don’t consider it immodest because it’s in our culture to wear these gorgeous garments. The waiter even said I looked good. If that doesn’t say, “hey I appreciate Indian women and their body.” I have no idea of what does. Lol

  71. July 19, 2012 7:24 pm

    I so truly agree with you. You have to come and see my aunties. It is so disgusting. Wearing it sleeveless when your figure is perfect is ok. But showing the midriff when the belly is bloated up and also showing the delivery marks is so damn disgusting. Then they lecture about how decent a saree is and how indecent is salwar kameez or jeans and kurta.

  72. Seema permalink
    June 21, 2013 8:56 pm

    Sari is the equivalent of the men’s dhoti. Why don’t men wrap themselves in it with a tilak, and go to work. Indians are hypocrite in all ways. Exposing the belly is very decent according to Indian Standards! All women in sari know that they are playing double standards, acting very decent but feeling very sexy inside. Rather wear full covered pants and top than tucking those sari pleats close to the underwear.

  73. July 2, 2013 5:07 pm

    I do agree with you Nita. As a male likes to cover max of his body and considered smart. similarly Forcing a cultural female to abandon CHASTITY and dress immodestly is unfair. For a culture, of true modernistic India, that is itself doubtful in every humans mind, would it be fair that our Indian sari wearing females should be a symbol of NUDITY or SEXUALITY, on the account of “gorgeousness”. I still doubtful that “gorgeousness” refers to what ??, naked part or cloth covered part of female body…. I occasionally come across the situation when immodestly dressed women what ever she is wearing gets hesitated if a person avoiding to see with Cherishing eyes towards her. So it also hazards MORAL PURITY of both men and women of our country….. beside that In Quran “it was God who had asked women to wear a veil” .

Trackbacks

  1. Becky Blab » Blog Archive » Exposing the Sari
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  6. A response to: Why we think women activists should change their attitude of “wear what you like” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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