In a recent exclusive interview with TOI Books, professor-author Jasvinder Kaur shared some fascinating details and history about Indian attires and how they have evolved over the years, especially during the British Raj. Jasvinder Kaur was talking to us in context of her new book ‘Influences of the British Raj on the Attire and Textiles of Punjab’ which was published by Rupa Publications in 2021. In the candid chat, the author revealed that the modern way of wearing sarees is actually inspired by the Britishers. “The manner of tying a saree which has now become a universal way in India is inspired by the Britishers. Initially, saree was a single garment which wasn’t worn with a petticoat and blouse in India. In fact, the words ‘petticoat’ and ‘blouse’ are indicators of its origin, irrespective of its form, which is mentioned by many writers as well,” the author told us.
She further shared an interesting anecdote about how the modern saree draping style was actually popularised by a member of Nobel Literature Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore’s family! Sharing the saree story, the author said, “It was popularised by Rabindranath Tagore’s sister-in-law Jnanadanandini Devi. Tagore’s brother Satyendranath Tagore was the first Indian to join the Indian Civil Service. This led to his interactions with foreigners. At that time (the third quarter of the 19th century), saree was a single garment which women wore without a petticoat and a blouse and so it wasn’t easy for women to go out of the house and interact socially. It is widely believed that it was Satyendranath Tagore’s wife Jnanadanandini Devi, who popularised the new form of wearing sarees which we see today. Rabindranath Tagore mentioned this in the journal Visva Bharati too. Another story attached to it is that once Jnanadanandini’s husband, Satyendranath, was sick and she had to go to a Viceroy’s reception in Kolkata in 1867 or 68. Though her dress is not mentioned, it would be safe to conclude that she went wearing a new form of tying a saree.”
Who knew that the humble saree which is considered an identity of Indian women today, had such an interesting evolution and history. Isn’t it amazing?