Though the exact date of the origin of dhoti is not known, we can probably trace it to the 5th century BC. There are evidences that significantly show that men of the Indus valley civilization usually wore a dhoti around their waist.The garment that they used to cover the upper part of the body was different in the North and South of the Harappan Civilization, but dhoti was common in both the places.
The cotton industry was well developed in ancient India. Needles made of bones and wooden spindles were used to develop clothes from cotton, which was spun, woven and dyed in India. Historians like Herodotus described Indian cotton as ‘wool exceeding in beauty and goodness to that of sheep”.
Dhoti was comfortable and easy to wear for daily usage. Secondly, Indian dhoti made of cotton was well adapted to the dry hot summers of the sub-continent. It was an integral part of the costumes of king and rulers of ancient India. The costume is found to be wrapped in the ancient architecture depicting Asoka.
The word ‘dhoti’ is derived from the Sanskrit word `dhauta’ meaning to cleanse or wash, referring to the cleansed garment it served to be during religious sacrifices. It is also called `Panche which refers to the fact that a dhoti is fashioned from a five-yard long strip of cloth. It, perhaps, may also be used to denote the five knots used in draping it.
In some regions, a dhoti is tucked at five places on the waist.These five places are the symbols of the five cosmic elements. The folds of a dhoti are tucked at naval area. With the tucking of the folds of the dhoti, the five vital energies related to cosmic elements solidified at the centre of the naval region, are activated.
The dhoti, which was wrapped round the hips and thigh with one end brought between the legs and tucked into the waistband, is now worn by the priestly class, and for religious and formal occasions. Tamilians tend to just wrap around a four-yard sticks of cloth or eight-yard sticks of cloth around their waist (nalu muzharn or ettu muzham).
The dhoti has many regional names in different Indian states like Mundu in Kerala, Dhoban in Maharashtra, Laacha in Punjab, and Hardanni in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This garment is basically available in white or off-white colour. The material for this fabric can be either cotton or silk. The style of wearing differs from state to state. In the northern states, it is mostly worn with a Kurta, but in Tamil Nadu, it is worn with an angavasthrarn.There are dhotis with and without a zari.
January 6th has been instituted as `Veshti Dinam’ by Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society or Co-optex to promote the wider use of handloom dhoti in the state. Despite its homely charm, the dhoti is a high maintenance garment as it requires professional bluing and starching to keep its pristine look.These days, Velcro dhotis are also available that makes it easier to manage and more comfortable to use.