How To Drape: Mundum Neriyathum Or Kerala Kasavu Saree

Mundum Neriyathum is the traditional style of clothing of the women in Kerala, South India. Considered to be the oldest remnant of the saree of ancient times – a garment that covered only the base of the body – the draping style of the modern Kerala saree style, the Mundum Neriyathum has changed a lot with the passage of time. The modern day Mundum Neriyathum has kept up with the needs and demands of modern times and aesthetics.

kerala saree style - Mundum Neriyathum

For this Kerala saree style, the mundum neriyathum saree, the basic requirement is the traditional piece of clothing called as the mundu or the lower garment while the neriyathum is the upper garment that comes over the mundu. How to wear this cotton saree? The whole attire of mundum neriyathum consists of consists of two pieces of cloth items and can be worn in both ways, either in the traditional style (by keeping the neriyathum tucked inside the blouse) or in the contemporary style (with the neriyathum put over the left shoulder for ease of movement).

We will cover in detail the steps to wear the mundum neriyathum further down, but let’s take a look at the origins of this historic garment. If you are interested in seeing only the required steps, feel free to scroll further down the page.

The Origin Of The Kerala Saree Style

Kerala saree style - The Origin Of The Kerala Saree Style

The concept of mundum neriyathum, the traditional Kerala saree style, has its roots in ancient times and was referred to as Sattika by Buddhist and Jain followers in their literature and writings. The word mundu actually signifies the resemblance of the ancient form of clothing which was called as antariya that was worn as a lower garment but in a special way. Whereas the upper part of the clothing item, the neriyathum, is just the modern version of the thin scarf like item that that was supposed to be worn from the right shoulder to the left shoulder. In the Buddhist and Jainism texts, this clothing item is often referred as the Uttariya.
This clothing item is in fact one of the few remains of the pre-Hindu Buddhist-Jain culture which was once avidly followed in Kerala and the parts of South India too. The narrow borders that are found in the mundum-neriyathum are most probably inspired from the Greco-Roman costume known as the palmyrene. In this costume also the clothing item that is known as palla was nothing but a long piece of un-stitched cloth with a colored border.
It was worn over a garment during the Greco-Roman times and was pinned to the left shoulder, much like the pallu of the modern day saree. The tradition of having colored borders in the modern day mundum neriyathum must have been a direct inspiration from that of the Greco-Roman palla or palmyrene as it was then known.
The influence and connection of south India to that of the Greco–Roman Empire and their culture during ancient times can be connected to the influence of trade relationships. The tradesmen of the Malabar Coast in India had a flourishing system of trade and commerce with those of the Mediterranean world from ancient times. But it will be surprising to know that the pallu in its contemporary form was not much in use until recent decades in Kerala. In fact, till the seventies, there was no concept of pallu or neriyathum as an upper garment as a part of the Kerala saree style. It is presumed to be a recent development.

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Draping The Kerala Saree Style In Basic Form

Kerala saree style - Draping The Kerala Saree Style In Basic Form

In the most traditional sense, the mundum neriyathum or the traditional Kerala saree style is white or cream in color and has two clothing items with a colored or golden striped border that is called as the kara. As you have already understood, the piece of cloth that is referred to as mundu forms the lower part of the whole garment and it is worn below the navel, covering the areas around the hips, which has a striking similarity to the mundu, the lower garment of the men in Kerala.

And the clothing item known as the neriyathu is worn as the upper garment that covers the shoulders and the bosom. The one side of the neriyathu is appropriately tucked inside the petticoat that is also called as pavadai in Malayalam. Whereas the remaining long end of the cloth is tossed over the bosom or the upper torso. A blouse is also worn beneath the neriyathu and the neriyathu is kept in a way that it reaches above the breast bone of the body. It is then taken over diagonally across the body from along the right hips towards the left shoulder that goes across the midriff, partly baring that portion but can also be modestly covered if needed. How to wear it is upto the woman.

The remaining portion of the neriyathu is left like a palla on the left shoulder which resembles the pallu of the contemporary saree draping style, the nivi saree. Even though nowadays the most common style of draping the saree is considered as the nivi drape, yet the mundu neriyathum style is frequently followed in Kerala and parts of South India. If you are simply bored of draping the saree in the same old manner every day it can be great idea to try this saree draping style taking inspiration from Kerala to bring some freshness and uniqueness to your style.

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The Kerala Saree Style For Festive Occasions

The varieties of mundum neriyatham are adorned by the population as the basic drape as well as the distinct traditional Kerala saree style for the festive times such as the Onam. The garment known as the Kara is actually ornamental in couture and only worn by the ladies during festivals and celebrations along with jewellery. The Keralite festival of Onam is the time when women of all ages and backgrounds wear the traditional mundum neriyathum for taking part in the folk dance called as kaikottikalli that is only meant for the ladies.

The mundum neriyathum that is adorned during the festive times for ornamental purposes is woven a bit differently. The garment that is meant for the special occasions has golden colored borders or a broad zari designs adorning the borders of the garment, called as the Kasavu, which also gives this clothing item another name of Kasavu Saree for the drape of the festive times.

The color of the blouses to be worn with the cotton kasavu saree is determined by the age and the marital status of the women. The young, unmarried girls are supposed to wear the kasavu saree with green blouses whereas the middle aged and married women wear the saree with red or deep red/maroon blouses.

The Texture Of The Kerala Kasavu Saree

Kerala saree style - The Texture Of The Kerala Kasavu Saree

The Kerala or the kasavu saree has a golden border that is made from either the weaving of pure gold threads or that of copper or done artificially colored golden threads. The weaving of the fabric of this Kerala saree style is always done with hand and pure and virgin quality of cotton threads is used for the weave to give it a pristine white or cream colored finish. This makes it the perfect choice for weddings. The kara or simple and straight lines that run along the border of the saree make it distinct. Sometimes, instead of the kara, simple motifs of peacock or temple designs are also used for the border and the pallu.

The mundu neriyathum has a variety of names and variations across the state and ages and the saree is known by many names such as Set mundu, Kasavu mundu, Mundu-sari, set-sari, or set veshti. Although the veshti is yet another version of how to wear it,  the mundu saree which consists of a small garment for the upper body that resembles a blouse and the garment is worn without a pallu with the mundu only covering the lower body.

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Step By Step Instructions On How To Wear The Kerala Kasavu Saree

1. Drape The Mundu Or The Lower Garment At First Around The Waist

For the start of this Kerala saree style, you will have to insert one end of the mundu into your underskirt/petticoat after which you will take the rest of the cloth from the right hand side of your body and bring it towards the front with ease. Then you will have to go ahead and make a couple of pleats from the other end of the clothing item so that the vertical borders show you from the front side of your body. After that you simply insert the upper ends of the pleats at the waist, inside your petticoat in a secure manner.

2. Tucking The Mundu And The Neriyathu

After tucking the pleats of the mundu at the waist, you will take the neriyathu or the upper garment and again tuck one end of the garment slightly towards your left at your waist. Then you will bring the garment along the right hand side, covering the hips and diagonally drop it at the left shoulder. It is much like draping the pallu of the nivi saree style as you will have to make pleats of the pallu and secure them with a pin.

3. Traditional Style Of Draping Mundum Neriyathum

In the traditional or ancient times it was tucked inside the blouse, but in the contemporary style it is worn over the left shoulder. Just watch the video from the link given below to get more clarity on the steps of how to wear the Kerala Kasavu saree, also called as the Mundum Neriyathum, in the traditional Kerala saree style.

Hope you found this article useful enough for that next time you have to drape a saree! Let us know how it went for you in the comments below.

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