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Woman in choli ca. 1872.

A choli (Hindi: चोली, Gujarati: ચોળી, Marathi: चोळी, Nepali: चोलो cholo) (known in South India as ravike (Kannada: ರವಿಕೆ, Telugu: రవికె, Tamil: ரவிக்கை) is a midriff-baring blouse or upper garment commonly worn with a sari in South Asia and also the Philippines the Ilocanos also wear saree. Choli is also part of the ghagra choli costume in South Asia.


Choli from Gujarat at the Peabody Essex Museum.
Traditional choli tied at the back from Braj region of Uttar Pradesh.
Woman in an ancient form of long, front-covering choli, tied at the back.
Ravike from Karnataka with Kasuti embroidery c.1855–1879. V&A Museum.

The choli evolved from the ancient stanapatta, also known as kurpsika or kanchuki, which was one of the forms of three-piece attire worn by women during the ancient period.[1] This consisted of the antriya lower garment, uttariya veil worn over shoulder or head and stanapatta, a chestband, which is mentioned in Sanskrit literature and Buddhist Pali literature during the 6th century BC [2]. Rajatarangini (meaning the 'river of kings'), a 10th-century literary work by Kalhana, states that the choli from the deccan was introduced under the royal order in Kashmir.[3] Early cholis were front-covering and tied at the back. Choli of this kind are still common in state of Rajasthan.[4] Paintings from the pre-Christian era of Maharashtra and Gujarat are considered the first recorded examples of choli.[5] Poetic references from works such as Silapadikkaram indicate that during the Sangam period (3rd century BC to 4th century AD in ancient South India), a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and upper shawl.[6] Based on paintings and sculpture, the stanapatta evolved into the choli by the 1st century AD in various regional styles[7] In Nepal it is known as a cholo, and in Southern India as a ravike. Both of these styles are tied at the front, unlike Northern Indian choli which are tied at the back. In parts of the Hindi Belt, mostly in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, women wore vest-like garments, known as kanchli, over choli; this complete costume is known as the poshak.[8]

Historical paintings[edit]

Historic photographs[edit]

Changing times[edit]

Bollywood actress Vidya Balan is known for wearing deep-back cholis.[9][10]
An Indian actress wearing a sleeve-less choli with strings tied at the back

Traditionally, the choli has been made from the same fabric as the sari, with many sari producers adding extra length to their products so that women can cut off the excess fabric at the end of the sari and use it to sew a matching choli.[citation needed] For everyday wear, cotton-based materials and silk cotton are widely considered the most comfortable. Chiffon, silk are best suited for formal occasions.[11] The ideal fabric for cholis in the summer is chiffon and georgette.[12]

Designers have experimented with Choli, influencing pop-culture fashion in South Asia, with adventurous tailoring and innovative necklines, such as halter, tubes, backless or stringed.[10] Anupama Raj, a designer and boutique owner commented, "There is a very real need to re-invent the choli so that it can be worn with a variety of outfits. Just as we see the choli to be a deconstructed form of the blouse, we need to deconstruct the choli." Bobby Malik, an exporter-turned-designer commented,"The choli is the most sensuous of all garments created for women. It not only flatters the feminine form, but also brings out the romanticism in a woman, but where Indian designers have failed is at giving it an international look and making it still more beautiful."[13]

Recent styles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Prachya Pratibha, 1978 "Prachya Pratibha, Volume 6", p.121
  2. ^ Agam Kala Prakashan, 1991 "Costume, coiffure, and ornaments in the temple sculpture of northern Andhra", p.118
  3. ^ Katiyar, Vijai Singh (2009). Indian saris : traditions, perspectives, design. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree in association with National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. p. 211. ISBN 9788183281225. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  4. ^ India: past & present – Prakash Chander – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  5. ^ Prachya Pratibha, 1978 "Prachya Pratibha, Volume 6", p.121
  6. ^ Linda Lynton, Sanjay K. Singh (2002) "The Sari: Styles, Patterns, History, Techniques.", p.40
  7. ^ Prachya Pratibha, 1978 "Prachya Pratibha, Volume 6", p.121
  8. ^ Bhandari, Vandana (2005). Costume, textiles and jewellery of India: traditions in Rajasthan. Mercury Books. p. 84. ISBN 9780811810845. 
  9. ^ Nimisha Tiwari (19 June 2011). "The choli lowdown!". Times of India. Retrieved 19 July 2017. 
  10. ^ a b "Vidya Balan puts plunge cholis on fashion map". Times of India. December 20, 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  11. ^ Sarkar, Neeti (June 26, 2010). "Choli ke peeche". The Hindu. Retrieved 21 March 2012. 
  12. ^ Singh, A. D. (March 10, 2012). "Summer breezers". Deccan Chronicle. Retrieved 21 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Roy, Sumona (August 31, 2002). "Deconstructing the choli into daring designs". The Tribune. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Choli at Wikimedia Commons