The Versatile Dupatta



Introduction Of The Dupatta

A dupatta is a long scarf-like cloth usually worn by women in Southern Asia. Other names used are chunri, scarf, odhni, ghoonghat, and chunni. Culturally, a dupatta is considered a symbol of modesty and compliments the overall look of a salwar kameez or lengha choli (also of Bollywood movies where actresses swing them around like lassos) although these days it is slowly evolving out of the daily wear in Pakistan.

A dupatta is an extremely versatile piece of clothing. It can be worn in a number of ways, with a number of different garments, in a number of styles. The myriad designs, patterns, colors and decorations are overwhelming with respect to the dupatta. Each region of Pakistan has its own way of presenting the dupatta with unique embellishments, embroideries, fabrics & weaves. The most common fabrics for dupatta are cotton, silk, chiffon and georgette.

The Chunri

The Chunri, a circular print or tiny dots that are spread on fabric like a wave-like pattern was traditionally a must for wedding ceremonies, but now a rare sight. Used during the wedding function in Hindu Brahmin and Kshatriya farmer’s hones, the chunri was used as an auspicious wrapping for the dowry gifts taken by the bride to her new home. The Sakya caste used the chunri fabric to wrap the nuts and other items in a brass bowl that was sent along with the bride. Originally, chunri was dyed by the Chippah caste, however, today, they are made and sold everywhere.

Chunri was known as dupatta, a long scarf like cloth usually worn by women in Southern Asia. The pattern of chunri was reserved for just dupattas as well. Commonly known as chunri, odhri, and chunni, dupattas were a symbol of modesty. Today the pattern of chunri dupattas is also made on the entire garment like Shalwar Kameez or saris.


In India, the print of fabric is known as Bandhani. Bandhani is a type of tie-dye textile decorated by plucking the cloth with the fingernails into many tiny bindings that form a figurative design. Earliest evidence of Bandhani dates back to Indus Valley Civilization where dyeing was done as early as 4000 B.C. The earliest example of the most pervasive type of Bandhani dots can be seen in the 6th century paintings depicting the life of Buddha found on the wall of Cave 1 at Ajanta. It is also important to note, that mostly cotton was used because the dye penetrates cotton so easily. Today, due to industrialization in Pakistan, Chunri (as they call it here) is done on cotton, and silks as well.


With the industrialization of textile market, it is rare to see chunri hand-done. Today, patterns of chunri can be made with machines or block printing (if you still prefer it hand-done). But, originally, the technique used was a wrap resist technique. The whole cloth is soaked in water to remove starch from the fabric. Then the cloth is rolled up and tied at intervals to form stripes and then at intervals tied with strings. Then the dye is applied. The method of tying determines the pattern of the chunri. When the cloth is rolled diagonally from one corner it forms a stripped patter; when the fabric is folded like a fan it produces a zigzag design. After the dyeing is completed and the fabric dried in the sun, the threads are opened to show the pattern created.

These patterns can get complicated based on color combinations as well. Re-tying the cloth in an additional or opposite diagonal pattern after the first dye bath results in pattern in the second color and so on.

Chunri Today:

Today, chunri is rarely seen and when it is seen it is usually donned by bridesmaids at weddings or the bride at one of her pre-wedding celebrations. Chunri dupattas and fabric is also used as traditional decorations in weddings. Nowadays, to make the chunri outfit more special, there is gold or silver gota work done. The end result is a very traditional outfit perfect for a dholki or mehndi. If you want to go really traditional you can get mirror work or bead work done as well. You just have to do your research.

Personally, I hope to see chunri make a comeback. I made a silk chunri outfit with gota work a few years ago and it was a big hit. I wore it for Eid and it was modest and traditional. Hope you learned something about traditional or heritage fashion of Pakistan today. 

Origin Of The Dupatta And It’s History

The traditional dupatta has been worn in innumerable parts of South Asia since centuries.
The people of Vedic India wore three garments – nivil, vasas, and adhivasa. The adhivasa was a garment similar to the dupatta of present times. During the vedic times, the dupatta was worn both by men and women, unlike the present day scenario. The dupatta with time gradually evolved and went on from being a fabric for practical purposes to something that complimented the overall dressing of a woman such as coordinating suits.

Dupatta’s Varieties

It wasn’t extremely long ago that the dupatta was a significant aspect of the tradition and value system of every Pre-Partition Indian and Pakistani family. With time it made its appearance in the arena of fashion and was showcased on the big screen. An assorted range slowly bloomed to showcase the unimaginable magic of the dupatta. The variety in Dupatta comes from a number of things that go into creating one – from the basic materials to the texture of the dupatta to its design – everything adds to the final look of the garment.

Some varieties of the dupatta are mentioned as follows:

Khara Dupatta: One of the most majestic and elegant types of dupattas is the khara variety, a six-yard-long dupatta that is a part of the traditional Hyderabadi (in India) attire since the 1800s. The brides from Hyderabad wear this dupatta on their marriage.

Bandhej Dupatta: Of Rajasthani origin, the bandhej dupatta is one of the most elegant varieties of the garment. Adorned with dazzling embellishments that are embroidered on to it using the traditional mirror work technique, the Bandhej dupatta showcases the intriguing part of the state of sand dunes and camels.

Chiffon/Silk/Lawn Dupatta: These dupattas are at the heart of the fashion industry today. The demand of dupattas made out of these fabrics is extremely high because of the comfort of the fabric and its natural flow.

Wearing The Dupatta

The rule of the thumb when it comes to wearing a dupatta is that if it is heavily decorated then it should be worn with a simple salwar suit and vice versa. An extremely decorated lengha, for instance, will be adorned with a dupatta with light work or just a decorative border (That is however not the case with bridal wear).

Dupattas have been beautified with weaving and coloring methods and elements like mirrors, beads, zari, sequins, gold or silver threads, precious and semi-precious stones, pearls (both real and faux), bandhni, chikankari and kantha or Taipchi stitching, block printing, kalamkari and tie and dye.
Dupatta has become an important part of the subcontinent’s culture. For example, it is an integral part of the classical dance kathak, where the dupatta made of a sheer material is looped around one shoulder going across the body and knotted at the waist.
Dupattas are a favorite with designers as they enhance the look of a bridal outfit (or formals). They are also used as a belt around the waist to accentuate it or worn as a turban, as bandanas while traveling or on the beach, morphed as a scarf around the neck to resemble a cowl and the list goes on.

The many states and regions of Pakistan have skilled artisans and rich history of handicraft. Hence, these countries have the most widest and exquisite collection of dupatta styles. From the ‘Lehariya’ dupatta of Rajasthan to the ‘Phulkari’ dupatta of Punjab, most of the regions have their own unique style to showcase.

The dupatta can become a style statement simply by the way it is draped. There are numerous ways existing from region to region in which the dupatta is worn with a lengha/choli- the Rajasthani way, the Bengali style, the Muslim Sikh half-saree style, looped elegantly around the wrist and then some more. In Pakistan too women add further dimension and interest to the garment by wearing them in exciting and unique ways to the region they belong to. Since the dupatta is worn along with a salwar suit or lengha or churidar generally, it can be accessorized according to the occasion. A dupatta can on its own add glamour and exquisiteness to an outfit without the need of too many accessories.

There is a wide global appeal when it comes to wearing a dupatta. The dupatta can be fused with western wear as well as ethnic apparel. It is trendy to team a bright dupatta of a single color to match a kurta with a pair of fitted denim jeans. In contrast, a printed dupatta in darker shades can offset a white chikankari kurta worn either with a churidar or tights that has become popular. In the west, the dupatta is placed in the same genre as that of a scarf. I wear colorful fabrics as scarves with my t-shirt and jeans. So cute!

Dupatta’s Maintenance

The dupatta can be washed with a mild detergent at home in cold water. For multi-colored ones that are part of heavily embroidered ensembles, dry cleaning is advised. Ironing is to be done indirectly.

A Saree

A saree is a long (around 5-6 yards) of fabric. Women can wrap it around their bodies in different ways and wear a complimenting blouse with it. The fabrics can come in an assortment of colors, designs, and quality.

I wore my first saree when I was sixteen at a Halloween party at my mom’s workplace. It was coral/peach color with black beadwork. It wasn’t too expensive so my mom wasn’t too upset with me wearing it. It was quite a fun experience and I remember getting a lot of compliments. Culturally Pakistani women wore saree only after they get married but many young unmarried girls don sarees at weddings and parties as a statement.

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