The Odisha Pants drape

There are more than 200 drapes worn across India. Each drape is unique, creative and functional for those who wear it. In a series of posts, Nikaytaa will be sharing videos and demystifying the drapes she wears. In this post, she will speak about her love for the Pants drape especially the Odisha dancer drape.

The dancer drape from Odisha is versatile, functional, and comfortable. It is a super practical drape for someone who is on the run. It is simple to wear, easy to carry off, and adaptable. With one change in the draping of the pallu it becomes a dress, a halter, and a gown.

History of the pants drape

People across India wear the pants drape albeit with some variations. It is worn by those who need to perform a range of functions such as riding, swimming, walking, and running. For example, the dancers of Odisha wear the Sari as pants assisting big strides across the stage.

Rani Lakshmibai wore a Sari while riding a horse and fighting the British army. The Koli fisherwomen of coastal Maharashtra wear the pants as shorts. They fish in the ocean, walk across the beach soaking wet, and squat in the marketplace to sell the fish: all in a day’s work. Maharashtrian women, mostly brahmin, wear the Navvari drape. The Dhangad drape (below) is worn by the farmers of Savantwadi. The farmer in the picture below shared that the shorts allowed her to squat and work with ease all day. She pees with dignity while in the field and manoeuvres the cattle with efficiency.

Where and how do you wear the Odissi pants drape?

Nikaytaa wears the Odisha pants drape for work especially on days she has to be on her feet or ride a bike. She also wears the pants as evening wear where she drapes the pallu around her neck as a scarf. At times, she has also twisted her pallu like a rope and draped it around her waist like a rope belt. One can choose to hang the end of the pallu by your waist or tuck it in. Both expressions are super classy and fun. Nikaytaa also loves wearing a version of this drape during her 10K practice runs and will be wearing it on race day this weekend!

Dhoti drape with pallu as a scarf. Photo: Baishampayan Ghose

What Sari does this drape demand?

Nikaytaa prefers wearing a handloom Sari for the comfort and thickness of the material. She does not wear a pair of tights inside the drape and thus prefers the opacity the handloom provides. “The handloom drapes better than a power loom Sari”, she quips. In the feature photo of this post, she is wearing a handloom Maheshwari from TheLoomSaree. The Sari in the video below is one of her favourites. It is a handloom Sari from Tamil Nadu sourced from GoCoop.

The original Odisha pants drape needs a Sari of 5 or 6 meters in length. This is not a hard and fast rule. The length required can vary according to your height and girth. Those who are tall and/ or voluptuous might need a 7 or 8 meter Sari. It is suggested one tries different lengths to find their perfect fit.

There are many variations of the pants drape. The Maharashtrian Navvari and Konkani Koli fisherwoman shorts need a 9 meter Sari. The Madhava Kacche requires an 8 meter Sari.

Dhangad drape
Savantwadi farmer in Dhangad drape. Photo: Baishampayan Ghose

How does one go to the toilet in this drape?

As you’ll see in the video, the two separate portions wrap on each leg and tuck at the waist. The Sari has two separates that join at the pelvis area: one from the left leg and one from the right leg. When you need to visit the toilet, part the two sides and squat. This is possible only when you are not wearing a pair of tights inside. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to take a dump in this drape as well. In case you are wearing tights, there is no resort other than to disassemble the whole drape.

Nikaytaa has gone to pee wearing this drape and she didn’t have any accident; in case you were wondering. On the contrary, she says she felt happy that the Sari covered her skin. She felt relieved knowing she wouldn’t contract a UTI from the loo.

How is it worn?

Watch the video below!

Are you now feeling confident of wearing and carrying off the Odisha pants drape? Do try it and feel the exuberance hidden in the weaves of the Sari. Use the hashtag #TheIndianDrapingCo when sharing on social media. Feel free to leave comments on this post. Do share your experience with this drape or simply say “hello”!


The Journey Begins

The first time I ever shared my draping skills was at Mrinalini Pandey Awasthi a.k.a. Nikki’s behest. Mrinalini is the local coordinator for a Saree group on Facebook, “The Saree Story”. The group boasts of 5000 members who regularly share details about their Sari of the day and what it means to them. The camaraderie within the group is impressive with members forming friendships and organising meetups regularly.

Last Sunday, the group organised an Online Global Sari meet where Sari enthusiasts from all over the world logged on to Google Hangouts dressed in their favourite Saris. The local members from Pune convened at my home. We logged in at the time decided and after a quick “Hello” waited for others to join in. The response was overwhelming. More than 30 women from 7 cities and 3 continents joined the event.   

Online discussion. Google Hangouts
Offline discussion. Pune Chapter, The Saree Story. Photo: Mrinalini Awasthi

I felt included and at ease within the group. It was a good-natured bunch of young women with a common love for the Sari. We began with a round of introductions that included our names, our occupation, and details about the Sari we were wearing. Since I was the only one in a non-Nivi drape, my introduction included details about the drape I was wearing. The ladies’ interest was piqued.

Since time was short, we immediately moved to my session where I spoke about the history of the Sari drapes, the introduction of the humble petticoat to the Sari trousseau, and the role of colonisation on the Sari. The fluid unstitched Sari has seen and survived many cultures. For the past 2500 years, women and men draped the Sari according to their occupation and geography. Rulers changed and so did the Sari. The cultural exposure over the years added layers of techniques, motifs and draping styles to the Sari. The British rule defined the ‘modest’ period for the Sari. The Victorian rules required women to cover themselves up even if it meant losing freedom of movement and efficiency.

Most of the women at the online conference were shocked. They had never known, least imagined an alternate reality where the Sari was truly fluid. The women shared their tirade of petticoats and rashes, being chided for imperfect pleats, and body-shaming. It disappoints me that a once freedom enhancing garment is now a freedom restricting garment to some. It seems like a reflection of the times we live in I guess.

[L-R] Nishigandha in Venuka Gundaram, Nikaytaa in Santhal drape, Radhika in Boggilli Posi Kattukodam. Photo: Mrinalini Awasthi

I had decided to demonstrate drapes that are simple and functional, yet aesthetic. I began with a favourite, the Boggilli Post Kattukodam from Andhra Pradesh. We then moved north to the Santhal drape worn by the women living in Jharkhand. We concluded the draping session with the Mekhla Chador, a two-piece drape from Assam. Nishigandha, Radhika and Mrinalini who were the models for the demonstration were visibly excited. Their smiles say it all! The enthusiastic trio didn’t cease to mention how comfortable they felt in the drapes sans the petticoat.

Mrinalini in the Mekhla Chador.

The session came to a close with a photo session. My friends left soon after and I found myself happily drop on the sofa feeling a sense of happiness and achievement. “Some impact was achieved today” I remember saying to myself. 30+ women enlightened on the history and versatility of the Sari. Three members learnt and experienced the freedom of the drapes while I gained experience talking about and teaching the drapes. The journey has begun. I can feel it.

The Santhal drape. Notice the translucence around the legs which would have been a blasphemy in the Victorian rules of dressing etiquette. Photo: Mrinalini Awasthi