Glossary of Indian Costume and Fabric Terms

copyright 1998 by Lady Melisande

A few of these terms are absolutely necessary to writing about India. There is no "English language" term for a sari except sari: "gown" implies cut and sewn, which a sari isn't. In other cases, it would be silly in a piece of fiction to refer to "chappals" when sandals is a perfectly accurate and familiar word. In between lie words that you might want to define once and then use as a shortcut, or those which are useful in deciphering specialist books in your research but which you would not inflict on your reader.

adhivasa -- an over-garment. Not to be confused with adivasi, an aboriginal inhabitant of India.

alankar -- a word for all forms of decoration of clothing.

atka -- flowing garments, as opposed to those tailored and close.

bandhani -- see Chunaree; this is the source of our word bandanna.

Baranseyyak -- a fabric from Banaras.

batik -- fabric patterned with dyes using a wax resist. You may have seen Indonesian batik in import stores.

candataka -- a long, loose coat that opens down the front, like a duster.

chappals -- sandals.

charka -- the handspinning wheel.

chunaris -- a tritik or sewn tie-dye fabric known since at least the 7th century.

cire -- pronounce the e; another Tamil form of the standard word, sari, which see.

choli -- a cropped, close-fitting bodice worn by Indian women in some eras and with some fashions.

colaka -- a small cloth, especially that used as a loin-wrap.

Dakhni cira -- a cloth from the Deccan in central India.

drapi -- originally this meant a mantle or cape, but it is often combined in terms where it simply means "cloth" like hiranya-drapi.

dupatta -- a piece of fabric worn like a stole around the body and head.

ghaghra -- a stitched skirt, not just a fabric draped into one. Usually pleated all around and voluminous.

ghera ghumalo -- the voluminous folds of a skirt like the ghaghra.

ghungat -- a veil worn over the head and face.

himru -- a brocade woven in Aurangabad.

hiranya-drapi -- literally, a golden mantle, but used for any fabric woven with gold threads.

ikkat -- a sari fabric from Orissa that gives us the word ikat for fabrics whose threads are space-dyed or pattern-dyed before the cloth is woven out of them. Motifs of fish or flowers are very common.

indori -- a style of woven decoration in saris developed in Bombay State from the Paithani style, due to an immigration of weavers from Paithan.

jari -- gold thread, or embroidery or weaving done with jari.

jhulwa -- a jacket.

kacha -- a garment made of a piece of cloth fastened round the waist with a lot of pleats in front. The front hem is then drawn back through the legs and tucked into the back waistline, forming a bifurcate garment.

kalamkari -- printed cloth from Masulipatam.

kambal -- woolen cloth, or an upper garment made of it.

karpasa -- a cotton fabric.

kaseeyak -- a fabric from Kasi.

kasida -- embroidery

khadi -- cloth handwoven from handspun yarns; a symbol of Indian independence introduced by Mahatma Gandhi.

khamis -- a shirt or tunic; related to our word chemise.

kshouma -- linen, flax fabric.

kossu -- a silk fabric.

kurta -- a form of tunic, the Nehru jacket.

lahariyo -- fabric patterned with zig-zags in several colors.

lungi -- a length of cloth draped into a slim, ungathered skirt.

manichira -- fabric fringed with pearls.

mashru -- a silk fabric from Aurangabad.

niri -- less usual term for the gathers at the front or back of the skirt part of a draped sari. See Nivi.

nivi -- the gathers at the front or back of the skirt part of a draped sari.

odhni -- a cloth wrap or veil tucked into and partly draped around a skirt before going over torso or head.

Paithani -- a sari fabric from Paithan, noted for their Krishna motifs, also an "Ajanta style" because the traditional flowers, birds, and such in the fabrics are like those in the Ajanta frescos.

pallav -- the decorated end of a sari which is draped around the torso or left loose over the shoulder in some fashions.

pandva -- a garment spun of unbleached, undyed wool, worn by ancient kings at sacrifices.

paryanahana -- a shawl-like wrap, something like the Greek himation.

patli -- another word for the gathers at the front of the skirt of a sari; see also nivi.

patola -- a sari fabric from Ahmedabad, especially the Mhesana district, in which the warp and weft threads are space-dyed before being woven so as to produce geometrical designs in the finished work. The threads may even be block-printed to get a particular pattern when finally woven.

patto> -- a silk fabric.

pesas -- embroidery.

pharaspeti -- a style of woven decoration in saris developed from the paithani style.

phulphagarano -- "a sinuous and spacious skirt."

sakacha -- a sari whose lower parts are draped like a kacha into baggy trousers. Preferred especially by working women, horsewomen, and warriors.

sadra -- another form of tunic.

salwar -- trousers loose enough to be comfortable without looking baggy; the original pyjamas.

sari -- a standard length of fabric with two borders and a pallav (crosswise border or panel) draped around the body in various manners; the primary dress of women in India. The word is Hindi (an Indo-European language) derived from an ancestral Tamil word borrowed in; see cire, siri or silai.

shati -- an over-garment.

silai -- another Tamil form of the standard word, sari, which see.

siri -- another Tamil form of the standard word, sari, which see.

surabhi -- "good cloth"

suvasana -- woman's lower body garment.

suvasas -- garment made out of fresh, unscoured wool.

tarpya -- cloth or garment made of the plant fibre, tripa.

usnisa -- a head-dress.

vasana -- a general word for cloth or clothing.

vilepana -- make-up, cosmetic face coloring.

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