Set mundu is the traditional dress of Kerala Women. Set mundu is also known as mundum neriyathum. It is the oldest raw form of the saree which covers only the lower part of the body. In the set mundu, the basic traditional piece is the mundu, the lower garment worn around the waist. The set or neriyathu forms the upper cloth. Looking back to the Kerala culture, it is very evident that the neriyathu is added very recently, may be after 1960s to the mundu. The set mundu, in recent years, is worn in the modern style with the neriyathu placed over the blouse. Typically it is worn diagonally from along the right hip to the left shoulder covering the blouse and upper part of the body. The remaining loose end of the set (neriyathu) hangs freely from the left shoulder like the pallu of any Indian dress. Because the material is pure cotton, the set mundu or mundum neriyathum is starched and thoroughly ironed before wearing.The set mundu is originally cream in color has a colored strip at the border known as kara. This is usually known as kasavu kara because this border is always in golden color made of kasavu material. The kasavu kara is usually artificial material which looks like gold strings. Mostly this is fine copper strings with gold plating or similar coating. The pure gold kasavu kara is used in expensive Kanchipuram silk sarees and even in expensive set mundu. Until recent years the mundum neriyathum was only woven by handloom. Now these are made in power looms in various parts of Kerala. Still handloom woven set mundu are in high demand and they cost slightly higher when compared to their power loom counterparts.At different parts of Kerala the set mundu is known in different names and the style varies slightly based on the local culture and life style. Though mundum neriyathum is the most common name, set saree, kasavu mundu, mundu saree, Kerala saree are few other names for set mundu.
On festive occasions like Onam and Vishu, set mundu is the preferred costume of all Malayalee women irrespective of where they live. Thiruvathirakali and Kaikottikali are two traditional dances, Malayalee women perform in groups during Onam. The costumes for these dances are always set mundu or Kerala saree. Another big advantage of the set mundu or Kerala saree is that it can accommodate any color for the blouse. The plain golden jewelry always goes with these costumes. Mohiniyattam, the classical dance originated from Kerala also has costumes similar to set mundu with more fan and pallu.
As mentioned, the set mundu is the traditional and cultural costume of Malayalee women and often referred as Mundum Neriyathum. The beauty, elegance, grace and appeal of the kasavu kara contrasting with the otherwise plain white set mundu has become symbol of malayalee women.