Throughout India, centuries upon centuries of tradition, heritage, and ancient symbolism permeate every aspect of the day-to-day culture of its modern people. Yet, despite how much the world has evolved, some things remain the same – including the traditional attire worn by people throughout different regions of India.
If you live outside of India, you may be looking to learn more about these traditional outfits and what they represent. After all, such vibrant looks must have an equally deep meaning and backstory.
With so many different types of traditional attire, lehenga choli, Punjabi suits, sarees, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between the various styles. Indian fashion is incredibly vibrant and unique, and even if you’ve been around it your whole life, there’s something special about diving into the history and remembering what each piece represents.
Enter the gaghra choli, a traditional type of ethnic clothing that evolved from the conventional three-piece attire commonly worn by women in ancient India. Nowadays, gaghra cholis are worn in various settings, from weddings to everyday occasions to extravagant cultural festivals and celebrations. But what exactly is the gaghra choli, and what separates it from similar attire (such as the lehenga choli)? First, let’s dive into some key things you should know about this beautiful work of art.
Since most people type “gaghra choli” or “lehenga choli” into the search bar when shopping for traditional attire, you may not stop to realize that the choli is a separate piece of clothing than the gaghra.
A choli is a blouse that fits tightly to the body with short sleeves, a low neckline, and a midriff-baring cropped cut. The choli is interchangeable with various styles and serves as a beautiful base for many traditional outfits. They are also worn with a popular traditional outfit called a “saree” or “sari.”
The gaghra, on the other hand, is the long, embroidered skirt worn with a choli and secured at the waist with a rope called nada. These skirts are typically loose and flowy, making them ideal for warm climates and a large variety of events.
The lehenga choli is a very similar counterpart to the gaghra choli, with one primary difference – the skirt is tighter and most frequently worn at weddings and other formal events.
Gaghra cholis, on the other hand, are well-suited to various settings and occasions. This is largely because they are highly customizable based on your tastes, needs, and personal style. For example, you can opt for a very ornate gaghra choli with intricate beadwork and unique fabrics or a simple piece with clean patterns.
For this reason, a gaghra choli works well at weddings, family gatherings, festivals, or even as an everyday outfit. It is typically considered the more “casual” option compared to other pieces of traditional attire, which makes sense considering how flowy and comfortable it is.
If you were to visit certain regions of India, you’d likely see women of all ages donning their ghagra cholis as they walk through the streets and live their everyday lives. It’s an incredibly versatile look that bodes well in various climates and settings.
As previously mentioned, the ghagra choli evolved from a traditional three-piece outfit worn by women in ancient India that consisted of a lower garment, a veil, and a chest band. In the past, something similar to a ghagra choli was worn by Jain Nuns in India (and still is, to this day).
Nowadays, the modern gaghra choli is primarily worn by women in the Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Jammu, and Kashmir, among other regions.
For a long time, ghagra cholis were associated with Mughal emperors and queens. To this day, many people associate them strongly with Rajasthani culture, though you may see off-shoots of them on women from various backgrounds.
With its flowy, moveable nature, it’s no wonder the ghagra choli is a top choice for any festival or party attire. But did you know that it’s specifically common in the Hindu festival Navratri?
Navratri is a nine-night festival that celebrates the mother goddess Durga, with each day of the festival being represented by a different color that symbolizes one of her distinct traits. Garba is one of the traditional styles of dance you’ll see at a Navratri festival, and this is where the dancers will most commonly be seen in some form of a ghagra choli.
In addition to Navratri, Diwali is another festival you may see a lot of ghagra cholis being worn. With their versatile nature, breadth of color and texture selections, and rich cultural heritage, it’s no wonder they’re so common and in demand.