Dhoti: Indian Traditional Dress

Last Updated on 30/12/2020

Dhoti: Indian Traditional Dress

R.S. Balakumar
Associate Professor
Dept of Fashion Design & Arts
Hindustan University, Chennai, India
Email: rsbalakumar1953@gmail.com


Dhoti, a cloth-piece covering the lower part of the body from the waist, a significant Indian traditional dress, bearing the most important significant of the heritage of Indian civilization. This single piece of rectangular stitch less cloth, measuring about 5 yards in length, can give a man an air of elegance, inherent to his traditional culture.

dhoti indian traditional dress
Fig: Dhoti Indian traditional dress

Mostly made in khaddar, medium weight to light weight, cotton cloth, polyester, terrycotton, kanchi-silk, mysore-silk, and arani- silk fabrics, Venpattu, terry cotton, and recently, made in knitted fabric also.

In Andhra Pradesh it is called Pancha, in North India it is called dhoti in Hindi, ‘Laacha’ in Punjabi, ‘mundu’ in Malayalam, ‘dhuti’ in Bangla, ‘veshti’ in Tamil, ‘dhotar’ in Marathi and ‘panche’ in Kannada, is the traditional garment of men’s wear in India. Dhoti is a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, usually around 5 yards long, wrapped about the waist and the legs, and knotted at the waist.

In northern India the dhoti is worn with a Kurta on top, the combination known simply as “dhoti kurta”, or a “dhuti panjabi” in the East. In southern India, it is worn with an angavastram which is a another unstitched cloth draped over the shoulders in Tamil Nadu or else with a “chokka”(shirt) in Andhra Pradesh or “jubba” (a local version of kurta). On occasions Dhoti kurta is considered formal wear in India.

Dhoti is a traditional Indian men’s wear and even in the developed world today men love to wear this ethnic wear occasionally. To tie a dhoti is a difficult task. This attire worn by important political persons makes a political statement. Many people say that clothes may or may not make a man but they certainly make a point when political leaders wear them. Indian political leaders wear their political ideologies on their sleeves by choosing clothes. So if you follow the dhoti trend in Indian political arena, they will tell altogether a different story.

Dhoti is known to be a traditional wear for men all over the country. It is called by different names and worn differently in different states of India. Over the past century or more, the western clothing’s have taken the place of traditional Indian wear like dhoti. But in traditional functions like wedding ceremony, it still enjoys an eminent status and preferred by men, all across India.

Earlier the dhoti used to be a casual daily wear of the Indian men. But with modernization of our society, it steadily relegated to being just formal clothing in India, though there are still people especially in the rural belts for whom dhoti is the regular clothing attire.

The dhoti dress has not yet lost its popularity in modern day India, as it is still worn with a lot of dignity by the many prominent senior citizens, politicians, musicians, dancers and others. Apart from being worn on all important government and family occasions, the dhoti kurta is also allowed to be worn in the post upscale clubs, which normally stipulate very stern dress code for guests. There is one prominent Indian citizen who gets all credit for popularizing this attire beyond the Indian borders and he is Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi style dhoti
Fig: Gandhi style dhoti

There are various styles of wearing the Indian dhoti. The Bengali style is- men usually make pleats in their dhoti. In south India, the dhoti wearers add the angavastram to their attire, which is an extra piece of unstitched cloth kept on the shoulders. For convenience purpose, many south Indian men fold their dhoti in half and tuck it at the waist so that it reaches only till the knees. In certain Indian communities in Rajasthan, wearing the dhoti-kurta is mandatory.

A dhoti is the conventional male costume for attending official meetings, or ceremonial occasions, in the entire nation. Even today`s young generation, flaunt themselves in Dhotis, ornately designed, happen to be their foremost priority, during festivals, social-gatherings and ceremonies. It not only furnishes them with an ethnic look, which is the in-thing now, but increases the element of dignity, related to manliness.

This attire of eminence, Dhoti is the costume of most of the national icons too. Ranging from the ministers, politicians, national leaders, to the cultural cultivators, like musicians, poets, and men of letters, represent the nation, being Dhoti clad.

Indeed, dhoti was the insignia of national tradition, a strong pillar of Gandhi’s championing of indigenous culture, in the face of the oppressive enforcement cast by the British regime in India. The glorification of Dhoti was a constituent programmed of Satyagraha movement, initiated by the venerated Bapu, the Father of India, Gandhi, during the national war of Independence in India.

Gandhi, himself used to wear Dhoti, to personify the teeming millions of the country, starting from the humble farmers to the elite class, as all had Dhoti as their common dress.

Dhoti, in this hi-tech age, is till date, the daily garment for many regions in India. For example, the royal Rajput’s, proudly display themselves in Dhoti. The Bengali manner of Dhoti-draping is quite artistic.

Dhotis, with sober but attractive patterns, are arranged in proper pleats, with the front portion of the cloth being held firmly as a Japanese fan. Dhoti is the hereditary groom`s costume in Bengali marriages. Again, the manner of wearing is different in Tamil Nadu. One famous style is the PanchaKatcham, i.e. five knots or five folds.

A Dhoti, normally comes in shades of white, crème or beige. In South India especifically in Tamil Nadu, the material of Dhotis, known as Magatam or PattuPancha, is in general, silk, while the fabric could be of tussar, or silk, or comfortable cotton in Bengal. Crimson, Dhotis called Solvay, is the uniform of the temple-priests in Maharashtra.

The Dhoti is an integral part of Indian cultural context, and daily customs and religion. Dhoti, as an Indian traditional dress, contains the very impression of Indian’s, needful to project our national identity, before the entire world.


  1. Costumes of India- S.N.Dhar.
  2. Images Courtesy- Photo Images- Web-Sources.

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