Kerala ethnic wear:

The Keralite’s preference for simple living is reflected in the attire Kerala ethnic wear of the region .The people from `God`s own country`, both men and women, are mostly seen dressed in off-white and white attires. The principal dress which the people of Kerala ethnic wear is largely traditional in nature. The traditional form of dress worn by the Keralites is Mundu and Neriyathu (a piece of white cloth having borders of golden zari symbolising royalty) for both men and women. The women also wear `sari` (a five to six meter long cloth which is embroidered with golden border) and jacket. Clothing worn by Malayalees varies slightly from region to region. Members of the various religious groups may also dress in a slightly differently manner.


Kerala ethnic wear: How to wear

The Kerala ethnic wear worn by the women of Kerala is the `mundum neriyathum.` The conventional piece is the `mundu` which is the lower garment and it consists of two cloth pieces. The `mundu` is worn around the hips and beneath the navel. This hand-woven cloth made of cotton, is very comfortable to wear in the summer season. The cloth is creamy or white in colour and possesses a coloured strip called border or `kara`. The women of Kerala wear mundu in this way except for the women of Christian origin. For them, the `mundu` is folded up in multiple folds and this part is hung at the back. Over the `mundu`, women take on a special type of blouse, covering the navel.

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The `neriyathu` is the name of the upper garment which is put over the blouse having one of its ends inserted in the mundu and the other long end worn over the front torso. Kerala ethnic wear is worn in a diagonal way, from the right hips to the left shoulder looking like a sari. Both the `neriyathu` and `mundu` is stiffened and then worn with a blouse matching the border or Kara`s colour. This costume is worn every day and in the festive seasons people wear the same but with an ornamental `kara` or a border which is either copper coated, golden or artificial colored with temple or peacock design. The colour of the blouse is decided by the marital status and age of the women. Unmarried young Keralite girls take on green blouse whereas the married ones wear red blouse. At the time of the celebration of the famous festival of Onam, women belonging to different age groups wear it and participate in the folk dance known as `Kaikotti Kali

Kerala ethnic wear: Contemporary style

The `mundum neriyathum` was the traditional costume of the people of Kerala. But today, it has become an old fashion and is mostly worn by the old women of the state. Nowadays, it is being taken over by the `set-sari` which has become the dress of the Keralite women as a quasi `mundum neriyathum` and today as the `Kerala sari`. Nowadays, they are mostly seen attired in sari and blouse.

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The Ilkal saree is woven in the town Ilkal in Karnataka. Kasuti embroidery is done on these sarees, which is a special form of embroidery done in Karnataka. This type of embroidery is highly intricate. The typical embroidery patterns used in Ilkal sarees are chariots, lotuses, elephants, lamps, conch shells, palanquins, etc. This type of embroidery is done without knots so that both the sides of the fabric look the same. Ilkal sarees measure 9 yards in length. Ilkal sarees are woven using cotton warp on the body and art silk warp for border and art silk warp for pallav portion of the saree. In some cases instead of art silk, pure silk is also used. The end regions of the pallu are cut in different shapes. The colors that are traditionally used in these sarees are pomegranate red, parrot green and peacock blue. Bridal wear Ilkal sarees are made in a special color which is called ‘Giri Kumkum’ in that region. The red-colored pallu is a distinguishing feature of Ilkal sarees.


Ilkal was an ancient weaving centre where the weaving seems to have started in the 8th century AD. The growth of these sarees is attributed to the patronage provided by the local chieftains in and around the town of Bellary. The availability of local raw materials helped in the growth of this saree. About 20000 people in the town of Ilkal are engaged in saree-weaving.


• The uniqueness of saree is joining of the body warp with pallav warp with a series of loops locally called as TOPE TENI technique.

• The weaver will gait only 6 yards, 8 yards, 9 yards warp due to above TOPE TENI technique. KONDI Technique is used for weft through inserting 3 shuttles.

• Pallau portion-Design: “TOPE TENE SERAGU” Normally in tope teni seragu 3 solid portions would be in red colour, and in between 2 portions in white colour.

• Tope Teni seragu has been regarded as a state symbol and was greatly respected during festival occasions.

• Traditional Borders: (i) Chikki, (ii) Gomi, and (iii) Gadidadi, and modern Gaythri are unique ones in Ilkal sarees – width ranging from 2.5” to 4”.

• Border Colour Uniqueness: Red usually or Maroon dominates.


The peculiar characteristic of the saree is joining the body warp with the pallav warp which is locally called as TOPE TENI. This technique is only used exclusively at Ilkal. If anyone requires Ilkal saree one must prepare a warp for every saree. Warp threads for body is prepared separately. Similarly pallav warp is prepared separately either with art silk or pure silk depending upon the quality required. Thirdly border portion of warp is prepared as like the pallav warp either art silk or pure silk and the colour used for pallav and on border will be one and the same. In general, the length of the pallav will range 16” to 27”. The pallav threads and body threads are joined in loop technique, a typical method which is locally called as TOPE TENI.


The design woven in the length wise borders are mainly three types:-

• Gomi (more popularly known as Ilkal dadi)

• Paraspet (Sub-divided into chikki paras and dodd paras)

• Gaadi


• Stripes

• Rectangles

• Squares


Weaving of Ilkal sarees is mostly an indoor activity. It is essentially a household enterprise involving active participation of female members. To weave one saree with the help of the handloom, it takes about 7 days. We can weave it with the help of the powerloom also. lkal traditional sarees are produced mainly on pit looms with the combination of three types of different yarns namely Silk x Silk, Silk x Cotton, Art silk x Cotton. Along with the above said yarn combination totally four different traditional designs are produced – they are Chikki Paras, Gomi, Jari and recently modified traditional design Gayathri.

These sarees are produced in different lengths 6.00 yards, 8.00 yards, and 9.00 yards with solid as well as contrast borders.

The main distinction in these sarees is its attached temple type Pallav (locally called as TOPE TENI) by inter locking body warp and pallav warp using loop system and inserting weft by three shuttles using two different colours yarn by Kondi technique. A weaver requires apart from himself two others for preparatory work.




The Bomkai saree, one of the traditional sarees of east India are created by the adept artisans who excellently define the tradition and culture of India by the simple work of needle. The traditional figured saree from the southern Orissan coastal plains is the Bomkai saree. This saree is named after the vilaage where it was discovered in early 1980s.

Sonepur is located in the western part of Orissa. Sonepur hand loom woven sarees and dress material are known for their unique “Bomkai” designs locally known as “Bandha” design. This Bomkai design on the fabric (especially on Sarees) is developed by using Jala technique on handloom.


The art of weaving has been existing in this part of Orissa since 600 B.C. The scriptures in the caves of Khandagiri reveal this. By late 1980s, this hand loom cluster had begun specializing in silk weaving especially the Bomkai design (locally known as Bandha Design) without using any extra shedding mechanism like Jacquard and Dobby.

The artisan of the locality used to create Bomkai sarees since the commencement period of the fabric. It was originally made for the local maharaja, aristocracy and Bhramins of the chikiti tahsilm of the ganjam district.


The Bomkai design both the warp and weft is dyed according to the requirement. For border design, warp alone is processed, while for Palavas and anchal of sarees, weft is processed and overall saree designs, both the warp and weft are processed.

Orissa still uses the traditional jaalas for weaving Bomkai. Wooden jaalas are used and are tied the traditional way by jaala bandhaks (weavers). The technique is in itself a furthering of the tie and dye technique. In case of Bomkai, the yarn is tie dyed but the focus is not on patterns which emerge out of tying and dyeing. It is used to get the contrast colours in the saree. So, a pallav or border may have a solid dyed block or can be double shaded. The ornamentation is worked using the extra weft technique or jaala system which gives the tapestry that kind of look. The borders are woven using what most weavers refer to as phool bandhaks which flow on the designs on the border. The double shades of the saree, the border and the pallavs are worked on the basis of colour combinations. Once the dyed yarn is fitted in the pattern is worked using extra weft technique. This gives saree an almost woven, carpet like effect.

Recent innovations include the introduction of zari threads in weaving. While earlier the entire design was done in thread work with cotton or silk yarn as the fabric base. Nowadays, the saris are woven in both cotton and silk with brilliantly created angular discontinuous supplementary-weft patterns woven in the end-piece in contrasring colours.


The Bomkai cotton saris have been influenced by tribal art, and are embroidered with temple spire patterns on the border.


Bomkai sarees feature threadwork ornament borders. The supplementary bands are not woven in progressive order from large to small or vice versa, but are woven according to the choice of the weaver. Yet despite all the work in the endpiece, it is the supplementary – wrap patterns of the border that give these sarees their name. Some of border motifs are:

• MITKTA PANJI A broad band of supplementary-wrap patterning called the “ mitkta panji”, forming a latticework of small diamond shapes is the most popular border.

• TEMPLE A row of temple spires which pretty much look like triangles is also a signature border of bomkai sarees.

• KUMBHA A row of kumbha spires is favourite border motifs.

• RUDRAKSHA The motifs in the borders include ubiquitous rudraksha or bead motifs.

• FLORAL The florals and even plain bootis are also found.


Bomkai patterns are hand woven from gold or silver colored silk threads. They embellish pallu of a saree. The sarees are brilliantly created with angular discountinous supplementary-weft patterns adhere to the traditional tribal motif of orissa, which includes geometric designs, birds, elephant and flowers. Other patters have such names as rukha (pestle, stick), dombaru (small hourglass-shaped drum), kanthi phoola (small flower) and karela (bitter gourd), shankha, peacock and fish.


The motifs used are kanthiphula, Atasi flower, lotus and flies, birds, peacock, fish, elephants, ducks etc. in geometrical forms.

PEACOCK – It represents a symbol of rebirth in the mythology of Hinduism, Buddhism and islam. In Hinduism, the image of the god of thunder, rains and war – Indra- is depicted in form of peacock. In India, it is also a symbol of love.

FISH – It symbolizes prosperity and good health


The speciality of bomkai is the contrast border and heavy designs on the pallavs, while the blouses are again in contrast colours. Since, oriya sarees have close relation with jagannath culture, the four basic colours which commonly found on jagannath – black, white, red and yellow – is extensively used in oriya sarees and Bomkai is no exception.

It is the design and colour palette that makes Bomkai stand out. The vibrancy of colour combination especially contrst colours are rarely seen elsewhere. Double shaded borders vie with single solid colour borders and this is the signature of Bomkai sarees.

The contrast colours are beautiful such as yellow interspersed with black and a green border or peacock blue competing with golden border.the borders and pallav can be doubl shaded. It is the sheer contrast and eye catching colours which stand out such as grey teamed with a brilliant red, black with glazing golden border and pallav.