Dhoti-The Ancient Indian Attire of Gods, Sages and Kings

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Table of Content

  •  Introduction

  • A Brief History of the Indian Dhoti

  • What does Dhoti signify culturally?

  • What are Dhotis made of?

  • The Garment donned by the Gods

  • Different ways to wear a Dhoti

  • Conclusion

A dhoti is a traditional garment worn by men in South Asia, particularly in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. It is a rectangular piece of cloth that is draped around the waist and legs and is usually made of cotton or silk. The length of the dhoti can vary, but it typically ranges from 4 to 7 yards (3.7 to 6.4 meters).

The way in which the dhoti is draped can vary depending on the region and cultural traditions. Generally, it is wrapped around the waist and legs, with one end tucked in at the waist and the other draped over the shoulder or wrapped around the head. The style of the dhoti and the way it is draped can also indicate the wearer's social status, religious affiliation, or other cultural factors. Dhotis are commonly worn on formal occasions, such as weddings and religious ceremonies, but can also be worn as everyday attire. They are often paired with a kurta, a long loose shirt that is also traditional attire in South Asia.

While Indian women famously wear beautiful saris, for Indian men, the equivalent of the traditional garment is the Dhoti.

The Dhoti is a common form of menswear in India. Originating from the Sanskrit word “dhoti”, which means to “cleanse or wash”, the Dhoti refers to a cleansed garment which is part of everyday wear and frequently worn. A form of men’s trousers, the style of the Dhoti actually evolved from the Antriya, which was an ancient garment what was worn by passing a cloth through one’s legs and tucking it in at the back of the waist. The Antriya loosely covered one’s legs and fell into long pleats at the front.

Part of Indian men’s national and ethnic costume, the Dhoti is also referred to as dhoti, chaadra, mardani, dhotar, and panchey. The traditional Dhoti is made of a single rectangular piece of unstitched cloth. It usually measures around four and a half to five meters or fifteen feet long.


The Dhoti is worn similarly to women’s saris, which is wrapped around one’s waist. However, the main difference is that the Dhoti wraps around the waist and hips, with one end then going between the legs and is finally knotted or tucked into the waistband at either the front or the back. This way of wearing creates a fit and silhouette that’s much like one’s usual trousers. The general Dhoti style of bottoms drapes loosely around the thighs or upper area of the leg and then gradually narrows and tapers down towards the hemline. However, the exact way one wraps a Dhoti around the body to create a bottom garment largely depends on the region where one is from. It is commonly worn over loincloth undergarments such as a kaupinam or langot. One could imagine the Dhoti as a hybrid of a sari and pair of harem trousers but of course, with a unique Indian flair.

Cotton and silk are typically used for the Dhoti’s rectangular fabric. While black is arguably the most common color for trousers, when it comes to Dhotis, plain white and solid cream are the most prevalent colors worn by Indian men. The style and fabric of the Dhoti make it both a practical and comfortable garment to wear throughout the year, especially with India’s tropical climate. Cotton dhotis, worn with a kurta or shirt, are usually meant for daily use and are more casual in style. However, the Dhoti isn’t just for everyday wear. They are actually worn for various occasions, including formal celebrations, traditional events and religious ceremonies. When it comes to formal wear, including Dhotis worn for wedding ceremonies, one will find men wearing silk Dhotis with embroidered borders and paired with an angavasthram for the upper body. The Dhoti is also typically worn by Indian politicians as it is a traditional attire that conveys authority, dignity, and respect. Regardless of occasion, the Dhoti is a traditional garment that distinguishes Indian men.

A Brief History of the Indian Dhoti

The dhoti has a long and rich history in Indian culture, dating back thousands of years. The word "dhoti" comes from the Sanskrit word "dhauta," which means washed or cleansed. Here is a brief history of the Indian dhoti:

Ancient Times : The dhoti is believed to have originated in the Indus Valley Civilization around 2500 BCE. It was worn by both men and women and was made from a single piece of cloth draped around the waist and legs. Over time, the dhoti evolved into a more refined garment for men, while women began to wear sarees.

Vedic Period : During the Vedic period (1500-500 BCE), the dhoti became a symbol of purity and was worn by priests during religious rituals. It was made from pure white cotton or silk and was washed and ironed before each use to maintain its purity.

Medieval Times : During the medieval period (600-1600 CE), the dhoti became more elaborate and was worn by men of all social classes. Different regions of India developed their own styles of dhoti, with variations in length, draping style, and fabric.

British Colonial Period : During British colonial rule in India (1757-1947), Western-style clothing became more popular among the educated elite, but the dhoti remained a staple garment for many Indians, particularly in rural areas.

Modern Times : Today, the dhoti is still worn by men in India for both formal and casual occasions. It remains an important symbol of Indian culture and tradition and is often paired with a kurta or other traditional garments.


What does Dhoti signify culturally?

The dhoti holds great cultural and religious significance in Indian culture, particularly among men. Here are some reasons why the dhoti is important:

Tradition : The dhoti is a traditional garment that has been worn by men in India for centuries. It is considered to be a symbol of Indian culture and heritage.

Religious Significance : The dhoti is often worn during religious ceremonies and rituals, particularly in Hinduism. It is believed to be a pure and sacred garment, and wearing it during religious ceremonies is seen as a mark of respect and devotion.

Social Significance : The style of the dhoti and the way it is draped can indicate the wearer's social status, caste, or profession. For example, certain communities or castes in India have specific ways of draping the dhoti that differentiate them from others.

Comfort : The dhoti is a comfortable and practical garment, particularly in India's hot and humid climate. Its loose and airy design allows for ease of movement and provides relief from the heat.

Identity : For many Indian men, wearing a dhoti is a way of connecting with their cultural and religious roots. It is seen as a way of preserving and promoting Indian culture and tradition.

What are Dhotis made of?

Dhotis can be made from a variety of materials, but the most common ones are cotton and silk. Cotton dhotis are lightweight and breathable, making them ideal for everyday wear, while silk dhotis are more luxurious and are typically worn for formal occasions such as weddings and religious ceremonies.

Cotton dhotis are usually made from a plain weave fabric, while silk dhotis are made from silk fabrics such as pure silk, raw silk, or tussar silk. Some dhotis are also made from blends of cotton and silk or other fabrics such as linen or polyester.

The choice of material for a dhoti may depend on various factors such as personal preference, occasion, and climate. For example, cotton dhotis are preferred during hot and humid weather, while silk dhotis are worn during colder weather or for special occasions.


The Garment donned by the Gods

Yes, several Hindu gods are depicted wearing dhoti, which is considered a sacred and pure garment in Hindu culture. Here are some examples:

Lord Ganesha : The elephant-headed god of wisdom and prosperity, Lord Ganesha is often depicted wearing a dhoti and a sacred thread (upavita) around his torso. This symbolizes his status as a Brahmin or priestly class.

Lord Vishnu : The preserver of the universe, Lord Vishnu is often depicted wearing a dhoti with a long scarf or shawl (uttariya) draped over his shoulder. This symbolizes his royal status and his role as the protector of dharma (righteousness).

Lord Krishna : The god of love and compassion, Lord Krishna is often depicted wearing a dhoti and a peacock feather on his head. This symbolizes his playful and carefree nature.

Lord Rama : The hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, Lord Rama is often depicted wearing a dhoti and a crown or turban on his head. This symbolizes his status as a prince and his righteous and just nature.

Different ways to wear a Dhoti

There are various ways to wear a dhoti, and the style can vary depending on the region, occasion, and personal preference. Here are some common ways to wear a dhoti:

Nivi Style : This is a popular dhoti style in southern India, where the cloth is wrapped around the waist and legs and then passed between the legs and tucked at the back. The remaining cloth is then draped over the shoulder or head.

Bengali Style : This style is commonly seen in West Bengal and Bangladesh, where the dhoti is draped like a lungi or sarong, with the cloth tucked at the waist and pleated at the back. The remaining cloth is then wrapped around the waist and draped over the shoulder.

Gujarati Style : In this style, the dhoti is wrapped around the waist and legs, and then the excess cloth is brought to the front and tucked into the waistband, creating a loose, skirt-like appearance.

Maharashtrian Style : This style involves wrapping the dhoti around the waist and legs and then tucking the excess cloth into the waistband. The remaining cloth is then draped over the left shoulder.

Kerala Style : In this style, the dhoti is first wrapped around the waist and legs, and then the remaining cloth is draped over the right shoulder, creating a diagonal sash across the body.

These are just a few examples of the many ways to wear a dhoti, and there may be variations within each style depending on the individual's preference and cultural traditions.

Key Takeaways

  • A dhoti is a garment worn by men mainly in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

  • It is derived from the Sanskrit word “dhauta” which means cleansed.

  • It is a versatile garment that can be worn in a number of ways depending upon the comfort, occasion and regional influence.

  • The most commonly used fabrics for making a dhoti are cotton and silk.

  • Several Indian Gods such as Lord Vishnu, Krishna and Ganesha are depicted as wearing the Dhoti.

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