A lot of people may not realize it, but India is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Pretty much every single state or region has a culture that makes them incredibly unique. It’s impossible to view the entire country as monolithic because everything from food, language, religious demographics, varies incredibly across the country.
As a Malayali, I hate the fact that representations of India are often limited, especially when it is home to some of the most unique and beautiful clothing in the world. If anything, we should be showcasing the vast diversity and beauty that makes India such an incredible place.
Here are just a few the traditional clothes from different regions of India.
The kasavu saree from Kerala
My Malayali self just had to start here. You’d be shocked to know how many different styles of sarees there are throughout India! This simple but stunning saree is often worn on formal occasions and celebrations. The saree is a two-piece set and typically comes in a cream or white color with a striking gold border. While to some, it may look like any other saree, the style is known to be distinctly Malayali.
The salwar kameez from Punjab
This is probably one of the most well known Indian garments. Today, the salwar kameez has gained popularity around South Asia and is worn daily by many, but its origins are in Mughal-era Punjab. The first salwar kameez came around as a combination of a tunic and loose pants. The modern-day salwar kameez has several different styles, with the Patiala salwar being one of the most commonly worn. Now, most South Asians know that the salwar kameez is nothing short of iconic and versatile.
The nauvari saree from Maharashtra
Translated as the nine-yards saree, this style of saree is worn by Marathi women. It can be worn for daily activities but is also a traditional wedding attire for Marathi brides. This saree is particularly well known for creating a trouser-like style through draping. It is believed that Marathi women were expected to work alongside male warriors and the nauvari style was created to allow easy movement and agility. It’s an incredible symbol of empowerment, as well as a beautiful garment.
The mekhela chador from Assam
The origins of the mekhela chador aren’t entirely established, but Assamese women have been wearing them for centuries! The versatile garment can be worn for daily wear, or fancier ceremonies and celebrations. The mekhela chador consists of two pieces. The upper garment is the chador which is draped and tucked into the mekhela. The mekhela, which is a form of a sarong, makes up the bottom piece. The lovely designs found in mekhela chadors are traditionally woven into the cloth.
The ghagra choli from Rajasthan
The ghagra choli refers to a two-piece set consisting of a ghagra, the skirt, and a choli, the upper body blouse. Many women will also wear an odhani, a type of veil, with the ghagra choli to complete the ensemble. Ghagra cholis are worn across India but have origins in Rajasthan. Vibrant Rajasthani colors and beautiful embellishments make them especially unique in this North Indian state.
The Coorgi style saree from Karnataka
Yes, this is another style of the saree, but it stands out just like all other saree styles! More than anything, this style is special for the way that it’s draped in the front. Typically, sarees will be pleated in the back, but with this style, the pleating is done in the front creating this unusual and beautiful appearance. This style has been worn for centuries and is an established part of Karnataka’s rich culture.
The potloi from Manipur
This gorgeous cylindrical dress is traditional wedding attire for Manipuri women. The dress comes in several different colors and is often worn with a shawl known as an Inaphi. This elegant dress initially became popular as attire for female dancers in the 18th century, but then became traditional bridal wear.
Outside of this list, there are still so many different styles that I haven’t mentioned, and so many that I probably haven’t even heard about! Even within each state, clothing varies with religious, local, or other influences to create beautiful, meaningful clothes. More than anything, I want to celebrate all of that. I want to celebrate the clothes but more importantly, the diversity that made them possible.
Is your favorite traditional style on this list? Do you want to shine a light on your region’s styles? We want to hear all about it! Celebrate your culture’s clothing with us @wearethetempest.