The Veshti – A classic ensemble for men

The costume is a cultural mirror which portrays the time, aesthetic sense and social environment of a civilization. The garments we wore went through a long process of evolution. From being an article of mere protective clothing, it became an adornment.

One such men’s garment which offers a glimpse of the sartorial world of South India is the Veshti. Across India, we see a bewildering range of designs and drapes of dhotis showcasing our rich cultural heritage. But in south India, scenes of a Veshti have remained the same for a long time in Indian history. The unstitched and pure white garment was worn both for rituals and regular use. Silks were preferred for rituals and special occasions whereas simple white cotton was preferred for daily wear.

In the Vedic age, in the times of Upanishads and Sutras, two pieces of clothing are mentioned – the antariya (lower garment) and the uttariya (upper garment), both, for the use of men and women alike. And both men and women wore their lower garments in the indigenous kaccha style during the olden days.

A sculpture of the Parkham Yaksha, dated to mid –  2nd century, displays a dhoti-like lower garment, reaching down to the ankles. The garment is adorned with a patka, a narrow band of embroidered cloth with ornamental fringes.

Abbe J.A. Dubois or Jean-Antoine Dubois (January 1765 – 17 February 1848), a French Catholic missionary who lived in Pondicherry and Madras Presidency for over 30 years, in his book “Hindu manners, customs and traditions” gives us valuable information about the dress of South Indian men in 1817. “Their clothing is of the most simple description… Two pieces of cotton cloth without hem and stitch, one 10-12 feet long, the other 14-16 feet long, are their only garments. With the first piece, they cover their shoulders, and the second is worn below. One end of the lower garment is passed between their thighs and tucked behind and the other end forms a drapery in front…”

The simple white veshti was always the dress of the common people, woven without any elaboration. The working-class wore a veshti of shorter length and breadth with a posterior tuck and a few frontal pleats. The brahmins sported the veshti as a Panchagachham, which uses five tuckings, and is draped in the kacham style. But the most common way of wearing the veshtiis to wrap it in a simple manner around the waist. Most communities, the Hindus especially, tuck the veshti towards the right side of the waist.

The otte veshti or the single veshti, (4 muzham or 3.7 m in length), is the usual simple drape. Sometimes a rettai veshti (Double veshti) in 8 or 9 muzhams is also usedmostly for formal functions. Since the rettai veshti texture is thinner, a double layer is comfortable for wearing.

The garment used for the upper part of the body is referred as to anga-vastram. It is common to see men fold up the veshti to knee level and tuck it in the front to allow free movement of the legs.

For Tamil weddings, the groom adorns a Pattu Veshti (silk veshti) also called as the venpattu, and it symbolises purity and goodness. 

This versatile piece of fabric is an essential part of a man’s wardrobe for weddings, traditional and formal occasions! Accentuated either by a simple zari border or a grand “mayilkann” border, the pure silk dhoti flatters and complements a man’s traditional wear. The most popular style till date, for weddings and special occasion, is pairing a traditional cotton dhoti along with an anga-vastram!

Nothing can beat the casual flamboyance and comfort of a traditional cotton dhoti. The karai or zari border can be embellished with warli hand-painting too. Choose this classic ensemble to cast a long-lasting charm for any special occasion!

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