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A case for the ‘Lungi!’

August 18, 2013

Hello Northies,

When will you guys learn the difference between ‘the veshti’ and ‘the lungi?’  Both are NOT one and the same!  A veshti is the most dignified men’s garment down south which comes in off-white or white colour with or without a simple gold/zari/coloured border.  A lungi is a dyed and/or printed version of the veshti and is mostly the night dress.  This simple distinction between the two seems to have escaped the attention of the makers and cast and crew of the film ‘Chennai Express.’  The stereotyping of ‘Madarasi’ is ANNOYING!


Catch my favourite Mallu superstar Mamooty in the white mundu/veshti commercial:

So that is the honour and reverance a white veshti commands down south!  Respect!

And the style of kicking one edge down the lungi/veshti with a foot so casually with that practised ease and lifting the entire garment into a single fold just hovering over one’s knees all in one stroke,  is MATCHLESS!  You have to be born a south Indian to be able to appreciate this fine south Indian male gesture!


Not yet seen the bollywood picture ‘Chennai Express.’  But have watched the ‘lungi dance’ in ‘You Tube.’  Let me ask this questiion.  So what is wrong with the traditional lungi/veshti?  Its the best male Indian desi attire in my opinion.  The northern version of this garment is the dhoti tied up in a different way all across India.  Finally it all measures up to a single piece of cloth of about 5 yards.  The way you wrap it and tie it makes it either a north Indian dhoti or the south Indian veshti.  A lungi though is altogether a different version, colourful unlike the former two.  When the ends are sewn together the same lungi evolves into a ‘kaili’ the most popular version with the masses and labour class of south India.  So what do you expect?  For our farm labourers to work in the paddy fields clad in jeans and t-shirt?!

Anyway a lungi is by far a very healthy choice of clothes that comes mostly in cotton and rarely in silk.  Most are spun in handlooms until today.  Frankly speaking it helps in proper air circulation in men and is never constricting.  Body movements are much easier this way.  My grandfathers and father and father-in-law and uncles and other respectable males in my circle as well as in our society could never be seen in anything other than plain white south Indian dhoti/veshti which gave them a dignified look.   In fact the only way I can picture my father and father-in-law and grandfathers is in clean white veshtis with crisp full sleeved white shirts, no other way, and with an optional white angavastram (shawl-like) thrown in with a gold zari border.   The trousers were merely the office wear in those times.  Days are changed now.  Urban India is no  more like it used to be and the men in my own family do not even own a lungi leave alone know how to tie one in their hips in the present.  The only 2-3 white silk veshtis (lungis as  north Indian refer to them) my hubby owns are from our wedding and house warming celebrations.  I am safe-keeping them because in some temples down south, men are not allowed in wearing western clothes like shirts and trousers.  They have to enter these places of worship only in white vesthtis and be bare-chested even today as its been so for ages.  And the same dress code is required for some very important poojas at home as well.  One cannot sit in a yagna or homam wearing pants.  As for  my son’s generation, no chance of making them don the traditional Indian attire.  How soon  the white veshti/lungi has been phased out of urban Indian male wardrobe is distressing to note.

But the small solace is that, rural Indian men continue to don the native white veshti (in daytime) and colourful lungi (in evenings).  In the state of Kerala, its heartening to see men of all ages donning the white veshti with simple one line borders to colleges and workplaces over full sleeved shirts.

I have the following to say on lungis/white veshtis:

* I repeat, the white veshtis/lungis are good for Indian males/any males in any part of the world because they allow proper air circulation for men and are not constricting the way a pair of tight jeans could be.     A white veshti or lungi is merely a 5 yard UNSTITCHED piece of cloth.  Its like the whole garment breathes air in and out!

*  Wearing a pair of jeans through day and night could be detrimental in a hot and humid country like India and could be the direct reason for increasing male infertility in India.  A tight pair of jeans first of all cuts out full air-circulation to all our body parts and could restrict free blood circulation and bodily movements.  The temperature of inner organs could exceed the  normal range suggested for male Indians when jeans are worn round the year especially in summer months which raises serious health concerns.  A medical doctor might not give you this diagnosis but our grandfathers and grandmothers can.  Indian youth cannot be doing themselves any more harm than donning a tight and airless pair of denims or corduroys but do they know it?

*  Add a stashed mobile phone to the men’s pocket.  This is a total recipe for disaster.  Now you can understand why male infertility is suddenly a big issue in India in the last few years.  The intake of coke and pepsi is worsening the prevalent conditions because these carbonated drinks contain an exceedinglyhigher level of sugar and chemical compounds.

* A white lungi/veshti is a dignified dress code which is why even our Union Minister P Chidambaram is wearing it to the Parliament and while meeting with foreign dignitaries and when in foreign tours attending important conferences and seminars.  If this could be an indecent or unacceptable or inappropriate dress code, then  the white veshti would have gone out of scene long time back.  As for the northern Indian version of dhoti. our ex-prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were true sons of soil who refused to be seen in anything other than the desi attire be it in national scene or the international arena.

* A white veshti/ colourful lungi is 100% desi, is an easy and comfortable and non-cumbersome nightwear.   First of all, you are spared the tailoring expenses! Our ancestors have not adopted this dress code for centuries without a proper scientific reason to back it.

* A white veshti/lungi is also easy on the budget of impoverished rural Indians.  For their line of work in farms etc, no other dress code is more suitable than veshti/lungi.  Affordability factor is thus a chief reason for this form of clothes to be the choice of our villagers.

*And why, lungi is not limited to south India but is preferred and somewhat like official dress code for men in south east Asia as well starting with Bangladesh and spanning Burma, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei albeit called by respective regional name.

Having said all this, i can’t help being amazed at the stark simplicity that is the hallmark of traditional/desi Indian attire as passed on to us by our ancestors over the millenniums: be it the sari or the dhoti/veshti/mundu/lungi, the unstitched plain sheath of cloth that completely covers you with dignity yet is suggestive (lol as in the case of saris) and sexy (at times lol!).  Until today, this is for the keeps atleast with rural Indian culture which is another remarkable feat.   What uncomplicated creatures our forefathers were doing away with bothersome tailoring!

Sadly the dhoti, staple Indian men’s garment, is still out of bounds when it comes to clubs  in our metros.  Its hightime we Indians grow out of this colonial mind-set, regaining some longlost self-respect in the process.

Sharing herewith the original ‘Lungi’ song:

I enjoy this one much better than the Lungi song in ‘Chennai Express.’  I am a traditional white veshti/dhoti/colourful lungi fan anyday!



As an afterthought i am adding this:

Not a great admirer of the ‘Father of our Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi really.  But what i always adore about him is his simple loin cloth attire for its spartan look and simplicity.  The short and folded dhoti (and not loin cloth as its made out in media mostly) is the true desi attire especially in hot, rural India.  The perfect clothing for the great Indian summers.  ‘India lives in her villages’ said Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and its an impeccable truth in itself.  Gandhi wove the dhotis with his own hands in his ‘Sabarmathi Ashram’ in Gujarat in handlooms.  The sepia-tainted pictures/videos of the frail man walking to attend London summits during the freedom movement, bare-chested and clad only in dusty spartan woven dhoti, and while addressing the nation’s masses on numerous occasions are impressive.


From → Etcetera

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