Traditional clothing of the Tamilians

Tamil Nadu bears an ancient Dravidian civilization that can be traced back to the treatise ‘Tolkaapiyam’ written around 500BC. Tamilians are very proud of their ethnic culture dating back to the Sangam era; majority of Tamilians are Hindus (88%), with Christians and Muslims roughly sharing the same ratio of about 6% each.

This ancient civilization is very proud of its heritage which its members make all efforts to maintain even in the current scenario, where all cultures are becoming increasingly globalized. The Tamil women prefer to wrap themselves in the traditional 5-6 yards of unstitched rectangular cloth called the sari. It’s draped gracefully to enhance the shape of the wearer and bares the midriff; according to Hindu mythology, the navel of the Supreme Being is the source of life and creativity, hence the navel is traditionally supposed to be left exposed.

The sari has an ageless charm and can be of any material ranging from cotton to silk, chiffon, crepe and georgettes. Silk Kanchipuram saris are most revered by the ladies of Tamil Nadu and are used lavishly during weddings and functions. The traditional dress for unmarried girls is the half-sari which can be made of cotton or silk or a mix of the two. Sadly, this dress is slowly fading out as young girls prefer the niftier ‘Salwar-Kameez’ which is the traditional dress of north India. The half-sari is basically a long skirt and blouse with decorated hems and a ‘dupatta’ or shawl to drape across. Tamilian ladies love to decorate their hair with the exotic-smelling jasmine flowers as well as with the lavish use of gold jewellery. The married Hindu ladies decorate their foreheads with vermillion or ‘kumkum’ to show their ‘unavailable’ status!

The Hindu men aren’t far behind and adorn their foreheads with ‘vibhuti’ or sandalwood paste in latitudinal lines, although this is increasingly becoming a rare symbol these days. Traditionally the Tamil men wear a white ‘Dhoti’ or a colorful printed ‘Lungi’; these are basically a type of sarong that is wound around the waist. The upper part of the body is meant to be bare, which could very well be a blessing as the weather is Tamil Nadu tends to be on the hotter side! Some prefer to cover their chest with the ‘Angavastra’, which is just a piece of cloth draped around the shoulders. The men’s clothing is generally made of pure cotton, except maybe for those special festive occasions, when it would be silk.

With increasing globalization, the dress code is getting more westernized for men, though a little less for women. Sadly, traditional clothes are now mainly worn on special occasions.