The lehenga is a three-piece attire consisting of a blouse (choli), a long skirt (lehenga) and a sash (dupatta). Lehengas have been a favourite for decades due to their versatility in style and their ease of wear as compared with the saree.
In ancient times, the lehenga consisted of a draped lower garment called Antariya, a strip of fabric that was passed through the legs and tucked in at the back. The Antariya, was paired with a veil worn over the head or shoulders (the Uttariya), and chest band (the Stanapatta). From these early descriptions it’s fairly simple to deduce that the Antariya went on to become the stitched lehenga, the Uttariya became the dupatta and the Stanapatta developed into the choli or blouse.
This early lehenga evolved with the arrival of mughals in India through the 12th to 18th century. Mughal women wore three piece suits reminiscent of their Persian heritage featuring a peshwaj (robe-like dress), paijama (pants) and patka (sash). Further integration with the indigenous Indian population brought about the silhouette of the modern lehenga.
Lehengas were ankle length as bejewelled toes were indicative of a woman’s marital status since women were to cover their faces with a veil. Tribal women wore shorter lehengas ranging from their knees up to their ankles for ease of movement while working outdoors. Lehengas saw a dip in popularity during the Independence Movement when the saree became a political tool of revolution, empowerment and resistance as the uniform for female freedom fighters. Lehengas became largely relegated to rural women who remained secluded from the larger cities and unaffected by the impact of the freedom struggle. Even after India’s independence from the British Empire, women chose to wear sarees over lehengas. It was in the 1990s when lehengas saw a resurgence as Indian designers started to bring back into fashion.
Today’s lehenga is trending towards a fusion or Indo-Western design aesthetic. This is leading to lehenga-sarees, gown-lehengas, anarkali-lehengas, cold shoulder blouses, among many other innovative designs. For examples of this, check out the designs from Rooh Couture in MeeraMeera’s collection. We can’t wait to see how the classic three-piece lehenga continues to evolve over time!