The pancha in Telugu, called dhoti or doti in Hindi, Laacha in Punjabi, mundu in Malayalam, dhuti in Bangla, veshti in Tamil, ' dhotar in Marathi and panche in Kannada, is the traditional garment of men's wear in India. It is a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, usually around 5 yards long, wrapped about the waist and the legs, and knotted at the waist.
In northern India, the garment is worn with a Kurta on top, the combination known simply as "dhoti kurta", or a "dhuti panjabi" in the East. In southern India, it is worn with an angavastram (another unstitched cloth draped over the shoulders) in Tamil Nadu or else with a "chokka"(shirt) in Andhra Pradesh or "jubba" (a local version of kurta). The lungi is a similar piece of cloth worn in similar manner, though only on informal occasions. The lungi is not as long and is basically a bigger version of a towel worn to fight the extremely hot weather in India. The sarong is another similar item of clothing.
The dhoti is considered formal wear all over the country. It is eminently acceptable wherever "formal wear" is bespoken or enjoined in India. Apart from all government and traditional family functions, the dhoti is also deemed acceptable at posh country clubs and at other establishments that enforce strict formal dress codes. The garment enjoys a similar, eminent status across the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. In many of these countries, the garment has become something of a mascot of cultural assertion, being greatly favoured by politicians and cultural icons such as classical musicians, poets and literatteurs. Thus, the dhoti for many has taken on a more cultural nuance while the 'suit-and-tie' or, in less formal occasions, the ubiquitous shirt and pants, are seen as standard formal and semi-formal wear.
In southern India, the garment is worn at all cultural occasions and traditional ceremonies. The bride-groom in a south Indian wedding and the host/main male participant of other rituals and ceremonies have necessarily to be dressed in the traditional pancha while performing the ceremonies.
Unspoken rules of etiquette govern the way the pancha is worn. In south India, men will occasionally fold the garment in half to resemble a short skirt when working, cycling, etc., and this reveals the legs from the knee downwards. However, it is considered disrespectful to speak to men or to one's social inferiors with the pancha folded up in this manner. When faced with such a social situation, the fold of the package is loosened with an imperceptible yank of the hand and allowed to cover the legs completely.
Pancha are worn by western adherents of the Hare Krishna sect, which is known for promoting a distinctive dress code amongst its practitioners, with followers wearing saffron or white coloured cloth, folded in the traditional style. Mahatma Gandhi invariably wore a pancha on public occasions, but he was well aware that it was considered "indecent" in other countries and was shocked when a friend wore one in London. (See The Story of My Experiments with Truth/Part I/Narayan Hemchandra.)
The genteel Bengali man is stereotyped in popular culture as wearing expensive perfumes, a light panjabi and an elaborate dhuti with rich pleats ,the front corner of the cloth being stiffed like a japanese fan and holding it in his hand; whilst feverishly discussing politics and literature. It is considered the most elegant costume and is worn at bengali weddings and cultural festivals.
Over the past century or more, western styles of clothing have been steadily gaining ground in the region, gradually rendering the pancha a garment for home-wear, not generally worn to work. It is less popular among the youth in major metropolises and is viewed as rustic, unfashionable and not 'hip' enough for the younger age-set. However, use of the pancha as a garment of daily use and homewear continues largely unabated.
The garment is known as the vaeshtti in Tamil Nadu and Mundu in Kerala. It is called pancha in Andhra Pradesh and panche in Karnataka and dhuti in bengal. The word is related to the Sanskrit pancha meaning five; this may be a reference either to the fact that a 5-yard-long strip of cloth is used. It is also related to the sanskrit word 'dhuvati' .In one elaborate south Indian style of draping the garment, five knots are used to wrap the garment, and this also is sometimes held to have originated the word.
It is usually white or cream in colour, although colourful hues are used for specific religious occasions or sometimes to create more vivid ensembles. Off- white dhuti is generally worn by the groom in bengali weddings. White or turmeric-yellow is the prescribed hues to be worn by men at their weddings and upanayanams. Silk panchas, called Magatam or Pattu Pancha in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh respectively, are often used on these special occasions. Vermilion-red dhotis, called 'sowlay', is often used by priests at temples, especially in Maharashtra. Kings and poets used rich colors and elaborate gold-thread embroideries. Cotton dhotis suit the climatic conditions for daily usage. Silk panchas are suited for special occasions and are expensive.
There are several different ways of draping the panchas. The two most popular ones in south India are the plain wrap and the Pancha katcham or (five knots or five folds). The first style is mostly seen in south India as shown in picture. It is a simple wrap around the waist and resembles a long skirt. It will be folded in half up to knees while working. Second style is folding around the waist in the middle of the garment and tying the top ends in the front like a belt and tucking the falling left and right ends in the back.
The North Indian style, worn in the West by devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, consists of folding the cloth in half, taking the left side, pleating it vertically, passing it between the legs and tucking it in the waist at the back. The right side is pleated horizontally and tucked in the waist at the front.
Along with dhoti, the angavastram or thundu (an extra piece of cloth) will be draped depending on the usage. Farmers carry it on one shoulder and treat it as sweat towel. Bride grooms use it as entire upper garment. It will be folded decoratively around the waist while dancing. South Indian Hindu priests wrap about the waist as the extra layer. North Indian priests (especially those of ISKCON) may drape it across the body with two corners tied at the shoulder (or they may wear a kurta instead).
It is also worn in East Africa, mainly by the Somalis and Afars, it is called a ma'awees.