Worn by men all over India in styles unique to various states, the dhoti is four or eight yards of cloth in cotton, silk or a mix of both. Though the origin of the dhoti tradition is not known but, the garment holds a certain charm for the young and old alike.
Though the dhoti’s origin is hard to trace, historian believe that kings right from the 7th Century wore them. Draped in different styles, it is seen that in Pallava sculptures, men are depicted with silk dhotis that fall flat at the ankle while in Chola sculptures, they are more naturally draped. Even today, a life-sized bronze statue of Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya exists inside the temple at Tirumala, in which a silken garment clings to him which historians believe is no doubt a silk dhoti. Mural paintings from the Vijayanagara period at Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh too show people wearing dhotis.
In the past, the way it was worn told you the man’s caste, his occupation, and also gave you an idea of his income. Those who worked in the fields wore the half-dhoti so that the cloth didn’t get soiled by the mud. Mahatmas Gandhi took on this style after he met starving farmers toiling in fields in Madurai. Today, youngsters mostly wear silk dhotis to weddings, rituals, ceremonies and festivals.
A comfortable wear, the dhoti makes the wearer look dignified too. Our leaders looked dignified in their dhotis, each in his own style, K. Kamaraj wore white dhotis and loose-fitting shirts with sleeves that ran down to his forearms; Mahatma Gandhi turned it into a knee-length half-dhoti inspired by farmers of Madurai and Subramania Bharati wore it as a panchakacham teamed with a black coat. InfactJanuary 6 is now celebrated at ‘Dhoti Day’, after IAS officer U. Sagayam appealed to people to wear dhotis to encourage weavers!