The name 'sari' came from the Sanskrit word meaning strip of cloth, but could also be derived from the Prakrit word 'sattika' in Buddhist Jain literature, meaning women's attire.
Around 2800-1800 BC women in the Indus Valley civilisation used to cover themselves with a long piece of cloth, found mainly around the western part of the Indian subcontinent. The first portrayal of the Indian sari was from a female Indus Valley priest who wore a piece of cloth draped like a sari, which was confirmed with a statue discovered from the period. Women have also been described wearing drapery like a sari in Ancient Tamil poetry, and other sculptures from the first to sixth century AD have also been discovered depicting goddesses wearing saris.
The sari used to be worn in a way that divided the legs in a trouser-like form to enable the temple dancers to be free in their movements while covering their modesty. However, the early statues of goddesses show that the sari was draped in a sensual manner, like a fishtail, where the material was tied at the waist and covered the front of the legs. The top half of the body would have been left bare or been partially covered, as it was common to do so in this era. Indian tradition and the Natya Shastra (an Indian treatise describing ancient costume and dance) describe the navel of the Supreme Being as being the source of creativity and life. Therefore, the midriff is to be left bare by the sari. In the south of India, especially in the state of Kerala, the traditional sari is still often worn. This comprises two parts; the lungi (sarong) and shawl. However, with the coming together of Muslims the petticoat was discovered and clothes were stitched, as previously Hindus had believed that piercing clothes with a needle was impure.
Wearing a blouse with the sari, called a choli, came into existence because Muslims and the British wanted to create a more modest appearance. It evolved in the tenth century AD and the first cholis were only front covering. The choli is of matching or contrasting colours to the sari and usually has a low neck and is cropped at the midriff. They can be backless or a halter neck in style. Furthermore, the sari itself has been developed and new styles are frequently experimented with, such as designer saris, Bollywood saris and navel saris. Now women have an array of options in colours, fabrics (such as chiffon, silk and brocade), prints and embroideries to choose from when purchasing a sari. The petticoat, called a lehenga, is made from a combination of satin and cotton and the colour is usually similar to the blouse. The way to wear a sari differs greatly from region to region, and there are more than eighty recorded ways of wearing it.
Some of the most common ways of wearing the sari are the Nivi, Gujarati/Rajasthani, Madisar, Kodagu, Gond, Malayali and the Kunbi style. The Nivi style is the most common way to wear the sari and involves tucking one end of the cloth into the waistband of the lehenga and then wrapping it around the lower body once before gathering pleats. The pleats are either tucked into the waistband of the lehenga or passed through the legs and then tucked into the waist at the back to cover the legs.