Indian Dressing – Part 2 – ‘Dhoti’

The traditional Indian clothing for men usually comprises of Dhoti/ Pancha/ Lungi, Angarkha (long Tunic), Bandh gala (Jodhpuri suit), Achkan (Sherwani), and Kurta Pyjama. In this article, we will know the history and variations in the Indian Traditional attire for men, named ‘Dhoti’.


The Dhoti is prevalent since ancient times. There are evidences that describe men of the Indus valley civilization wore a Dhoti.

Dhoti is evolved from the ancient ‘Antriya’, which is a very long one piece of cloth covering the lower part of the body. As we already read in the earlier article ‘Saree’, in ancient times, unstitched fabric was considered ‘pure’. The same belief gave rise to Dhoti, an uncut and unstitched long cloth, worn to cover the bottom part of the body, wrapped around the waist, in length till the feet or till the knee.

It is considered ‘Sattvik’, because of the belief that it was worn by the Gods. Even today the Hindu Temple Deities are decorated with a Dhoti.

The word dhoti is derived from Sanskrit word ‘धौती’ (Dhouti) which means ‘purified’. Hence, Dhouti used in the context of clothing means ‘a purified cloth’.

Dhoti till 18th century

Dhoti till eighteenth century was a 6feet long and 3feet wide cloth made of cotton (cultivated in fields) or silk (obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the silk worms). The natural colours were picked from the tree barks, turmeric, lac etc.

Post 18th century Dhoti length is reduced to 4feet and most common colour of the Dhoti remained white. In first two decades of 20th century, Khadi, a hand-woven natural fiber cloth was introduced, which was considered as India’s pride. Khadi texture makes the body cool in summer and warm in winter.

The style of Dhoti was suitable for free movement for farmers working in the agriculture fields or for soldiers fighting in the war field. Dhoti was considered to be very traditional preferred during rituals and festivals.

1st Century Sculpture
King Sibi Story
Sculpture in Amaravathi









King Nala in Dhoti

In the Mahabharatha Epic, there is a story of Nala Maharaja. Nala, king of Nishadha had to leave his kingdom to his brother Pushkara, as he lost the bet in game of dice. Nala, along with his wife Damayanti went to forest. In the forest, Nala saw some birds on grass and threw his only garment Dhoti over them to catch them for food. However, the birds flew away with the Dhoti. He then tore a piece of saree of Damayanthi, wrapped around his body. This story tells that the men in Epics wore dhoti as main garment.

Epic paintings showing Dhoti

In the Epics, the description of clothing for men and women characters was given, from which we know that Dhoti was the main garment for men.

Satyavanta and Savitri
Rama Sita and Lakshmana











In the ‘Amarakosha’, an ancient Sanskrit Thesaurus written by Indian Scholar Amarasimha, there is a phrase describing Dhoti.

‘पात्रोणं धौत कौशेयं बहुमूल्यं महाधनम्’. The meaning of this phrase is ‘Patrorṇa, Dhauta-Kauṣeya etc are names of clothes to be worn’.

Wearing Dhoti – Method I

Hold Dhoti is both the hands and bring it from behind the waist toward front. 3/4th of the Dhoti is to be in right hand and 1/4th of the Dhoti is to be in left hand. Now bring the left side part of the dhoti to the right side, right side part to left, fold the upper border of the dhoti tightly inside along the waist line. Now fold the 1/4th Dhoti on left side uniformly to make as many frills as possible. Take the frills behind waist through the legs, and tuck into the centre of rear waist. Now fold the right part of the dhoti into uniform frills and tuck into front centre part of the waistline. Then take the front lower part of the front frills and make small folds again, and tuck into same area where earlier frills were tucked in the front side of waist. This type of attire covers front and back portion fully and covers the legs loosely.

Wearing Dhoti – Method II

Hold 3/4th of Dhoti in right hand and 1/4th of Dhoti in left hand, and tie a knot in the middle part of front side of waist. Take back the 1/4th side and make frills and tuck into the centre part of rear waistline. Now fold the 3/4th part of Dhoti and tuck into the centre part of front waistline.

Over the dhoti, men wear another cloth covering upper part of body. Some men prefer wearing a Shirt or Kurta on top of the Dhoti, however, the complete Dhoti goes only with a small sized cloth worn over shoulders and covering the chest, or a cloth folded at length, just dropped over right shoulder leaving the other part of chest uncovered. This long cloth is called ‘Uttareeyam (‘उत्तरीयम्’) in Sanskrit and Telugu, ‘Uttareeya’ in Hindi. Buddhist community wear Antriya, accompanied by an uttariya and a larger chadder, all colored in saffron.

Most of the men have a thread tied around the waist, which can hold the wrapped dhoti (or any other garment worn from waist to feet). This thread tied to the waist helps in the growth of bones and muscles. This also regulates the blood circulation and restricts the hernia problem in men. This thread is usually in black or red colour.

While in most of the languages this cloth is named as Dhoti, it is also named as Dhotar in Marathi, Dhovathi in Telugu, Dhothiyu in Gujarati, Suriya in Assamese, Dhuti in Bengali. Kacha Panche in Kannada, Mundu in Malayalam.

In general, Dhoti is in white, light brown, red or saffron colours, and can also be available in other colours.


Pancha/ Panche/ Sarong/ Mundu/ Lungi/ Veshti

Another style of wearing one piece garment is just wrapping the cloth around waist. The length of this garment is small compared to Dhoti. This style will not have any frills, and even if the frills are made, they will be tucked into the front side of the waist.

Depending upon the cultural traditions, the significant difference in this style of wearing one-piece garment led to the variations, thus is called by different names. The long cloth is called Pancha in Telugu, Mundu in Hindi and Odia, Veshti in Tamil, Panche in Kannada, and called Sarong or Lungi in some other places etc.

Wearing Pancha/ Lungi

Hold the cloth in center and bring from behind waist to front side. Bring the right part to left and left part to right, tuck the borders along waist line.  In general, this attire is worn full lengthwise till the ankle. In countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia etc, and in some states of India both men and women wear Lungi, covering upper part of the body with a shirt.

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