In ancient Indian tradition and the Natya Shastra (an ancient Indian treatise describing ancient dance and costumes), the navel of the Supreme Being is considered to be the source of life and creativity, hence the midriff is to be left bare by the sari.
Sculptures from the Gandhara, Mathura and Gupta schools (1st–6th century AD) show goddesses and dancers wearing what appears to be a dhoti wrap, in the "fishtail" version which covers the legs loosely and then flows into a long, decorative drape in front of the legs. Other sources say that everyday costume consisted of a dhoti or lungi (sarong), combined with a breast band called 'Kurpasika' or 'Stanapatta' and occasionally a wrap called 'Uttariya' that could at times be used to cover the upper body or head.
The concept of Pallava, the end piece in the sari, originated during the Pallavas period and named after the Pallavas, another ruling clan of Ancient Tamilakam.
By the mid 19th century, though, bare breasted styles of the sari faced social revaluation and led to the Upper cloth controversy in the princely state of Travancore (now part of the state of Kerala) and the styles declined rapidly within the next half a century.
In ancient India, although women wore saris that bared the midriff, the Dharmasastra writers stated that women should be dressed such that the navel would never become visible.
Poetic references from works like Silappadikaram indicate that during the Sangam period in ancient Tamil Nadu, a single piece of clothing served as both lower garment and head covering, leaving the midriff completely uncovered.
Similar styles of the sari are recorded paintings by Raja Ravi Varma in Kerala.
The two-piece Kerala mundum neryathum (mundu, a dhoti or sarong, neryath, a shawl, in Malayalam) is a survival of ancient Indian clothing styles.
The one-piece sari is a modern innovation, created by combining the two pieces of the mundum neryathum.
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The word 'Sattika' is mentioned as describing women's attire in ancient India in Buddhist Jain literature called Jatakas. The term for female bodice, the choli is derived from another ruling clan from south, the Cholas.