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History of clothing in India

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History of clothing in India

Part of a series on the
Ancient India
Medieval India
Modern India
The Didarganj Yakshi depicting the dhoti wrap

Indians have mainly worn clothing made up of locally grown cotton. India was the one of the first places where cotton was cultivated and used even as early as 2500 BC during the Harappan Era. The remnants of the ancient Indian clothing can be found in the figurines discovered from the sites of the Indus valley civilization, the rock cut sculptures, the cave paintings, and human art forms found in temples and monuments. These scriptures show the figures of human wearing the clothes which can be wrapped around the body. Taking the instances of the Sari to that of turban and the dhoti, the traditional Indian wears were mostly tied around the body in various ways.

The clothing system was also related to the social and economic status of the person. The upper classes of the society wore fine muslin garments and silk fabrics while the common classes wore garments made up of locally made fabrics. For instance, Women from Rich families wore clothes (Sari specifically) made up of silk from China, but the common women wore sari made up of cotton or local fabrics. The Indus civilization knew the process of silk production. Recent analysis of Harappan silk fibres in beads have shown that silk was made by the process of reeling, the art known only to China till the early centuries AD.


  • Indus Valley Civilization period 1
  • Vedic period 2
  • Mauryan period 3
  • Gupta period 4
  • Mughal period 5
    • Men 5.1
    • Women 5.2
  • Rajput period 6
    • Men 6.1
    • Women 6.2
  • References 7

Indus Valley Civilization period

Evidences for textiles in Indus Valley Civilization are not available from preserved textiles but from impressions made into clay and from preserved pseudomorphs. The only evidence found for clothing is from iconography and some unearthed Harappan figurines which are usually unclothed.[1] These little depictions show that usually men wore a long cloth wrapped over their waist and fastened it at the back (just like a close clinging dhoti). Turban was also in custom in some communities as shown by some of the male figurines. Evidences also show that there was a tradition of wearing a long robe over the left shoulder in higher class society to show their opulence. The normal attire of the women at that time was a very scanty skirt up to knee length leaving the waist bare. Cotton made head dresses were also worn by the women.[2]

Fibre for clothing generally used were cotton, flax, silk, wool, linen, leather, etc. One fragment of colored cloth is available in evidences which is dyed with red madder show that people in Harappan civilization dyed their cotton clothes with a range of colors.

One thing was common in both the sexes that both men and women were fond of jewellery. The ornaments include necklaces, bracelets, earrings, anklet, rings, bangles, pectorals, etc. which were generally made of gold, silver, copper, stones like lapis lazuli, turquoise, amazonite, quartz, etc. Many of the male figurines also reveal the fact that men at that time were interested in dressing their hair in various styles like the hair woven into a bun, hair coiled in a ring on the top of the head, beards were usually trimmed.

Vedic period

The Vedic age or the Vedic period was the time duration between 1500 to 500 BC

The garments worn in Vedic period mainly included a single cloth wrapped around the whole body and draped over the shoulder. People used to wear the lower garment called paridhana which was pleated in front and used to tie with a belt called mekhala and an upper garment called uttariya (covered like a shawl) which they used to remove during summers. "Orthodox males and females usually wore the uttariya by throwing it over the left shoulder only, in the style called upavita".[3] There was another garment called pravara that they used to wear in cold. This was the general garb of both the sexes but the difference existed only in size of cloth and manner of wearing. Sometimes the poor people used to wear the lower garment as a loincloth only while wealthy would wear it extending to the feet as a sign of prestige .

Sari was the main costume for women in Vedic culture. Women used to wrap it around their waist, pleated in front over the belly and drape it over their shoulder covering their bust area and fastened it with a pin at the shoulder. ‘Choli’ or blouse, as an upper garment was introduced in the later Vedic period with sleeves and a neck. A new version of sari, little smaller than sari, called dupatta, was also incorporated later and it was used to wear along with ghaghara (frilled skirt up to feet). The word sari is derived from Sanskrit शाटी śāṭī[4] which means 'strip of cloth'and शाडी śāḍī or साडी sāḍī in Prakrit, and became sāṛī in Hindi. Most initial attires of men in those times were dhoti and lungi. Dhoti is basically a single cloth wrapped around the waist and by partitioning at the center, is fastened at the back. A dhoti is from four to six feet long white or colour strip of cotton.[5] Generally, in those times, no upper garment was worn and Dhoti was the only single clothing that men used to drape it over their bodies. Later on, many costumes evolved like kurtas, pajamas, trousers, turbans, etc. Wool, linen, diaphanous silks and muslin were the main fibres used for making cloth and patterns with grey strips and checks were made over clothes.

In the Rig Veda, mainly three terms were described like Adhivastra, Kurlra and Andpratidhi for garments which correspondingly denotes the outer cover (veil), a head-ornament or head-dress (turban) and part of woman's dress. Many evidences are found for ornaments like Niska, Rukma were used to wear in the ear and neck; there was a great use of gold beads in necklaces which show that gold was mainly used in jewellery. Rajata-Hiranya (white gold), also known as silver was not in that much of use as no evidence of silver is figured out in the Rig Veda.

In the Atharva Veda, garments began to be made of inner cover, an outer cover and a chest-cover. Besides Kurlra and Andpratidhi (which already mentioned in the Rig Veda), there are other parts like as Nivi, Vavri, Upavasana, Kumba, Usnlsa, and Tirlta also appeared in Atharva Veda, which correspondingly denotes underwear, upper garment, veil and the last three denoting some kinds of head-dress (head-ornament). There were also mentioned Updnaha (Footwear) and kambala (blanket), Mani (jewel) is also mentioned for making ornaments in this Vedic text.

Mauryan period

During the Mauryan dynasty (322-185 BC) evidence of female clothing is available from the statues of Yakshis; the female epitome of fertility.[6] The most common attire of the people at that time was antariya, which they used to wear as a lower garment. Generally made of cotton, linen or muslin and decorated with gemstone, it is fastened at the centre of the waist tied in a looped knot. A cloth was covered in lehnga style around the hips to form a tubular skirt. An embellished long piece of cloth, hanging at the front, wrapped around the waist is pleated into the antariya is called patka. Ladies in the Mauryan Empire often used to wear an embroidered fabric waistband with drum headed knots at the ends. As an upper garment, people’s main garb was uttariya, a long scarf. The difference existed only in the manner of wearing. Sometimes, its one end is thrown over one shoulder and sometimes it is draped over both the shoulders.

In textiles, mainly cotton, silk, linen, wool, muslin, etc. are used as fibres. Ornaments latched on to a special place in this era also. Some of the jewelleries had their specific names also. Satlari, chaulari, paklari were some of the necklaces. Similarly, bajuband, kangan, sitara, patna were also prominent during that time.

Gupta period

The Buddha, in Greco-Buddhist style, 1st–2nd century CE, Gandhara(Modern eastern Afghanistan).

The Gupta period is called the golden age of India lasted from 320 AD to 550 AD. Chandragupta was the founder of this empire. Stitched garments became very popular in this period only. Stitched garments became the sign of royalty. But antariya, uttariya, and other clothes still were in use.

Gradually, the antariya worn by the women turned into gagri, which has many swirling effects exalted by its many folds. That’s why, dancers used to wear it a lot. As it is evident from many Ajanta paintings,[7] women used to wear only the lower garment in those times, leaving the bust part bare. Later on, various kinds of blouses (Cholis) evolved. Some of them had strings attached leaving the back open while others was used to tie from front side, exposing the midriff. Calanika was an antariya which could be worn as kachcha and lehnga style together. Women sometimes wore antariya in saree style, throwing one end of it over the shoulder, but the main feature is that they did not use it to cover their heads as it was prominent in earlier periods.

Clothing in Gupta period was mainly cut and sewn garments. A long sleeved brocaded tunic became the main costume for privileged people like the nobles and courtiers. The main costume for the king was most often a blue closely woven silk antariya, perhaps with a block printed pattern. In order to tighten the antariya, a plain belt took the position of kayabandh. Mukatavati (necklace which has a string with pearls), kayura (armband), kundala (earring), kinkini (small anklet with bells), mekhala (pendant hung at the centre, also known as katisutra), nupura (anklet made of beads) were some of the ornaments made of gold, used in that time. There was an extensive use of ivory during that period for jewellery and ornaments.

During Gupta period, men used to have long hair along with beautiful curls and this style was popularly known as gurna kuntala style. In order to decorate their hair, they sometimes put headgear, a band of fabric around their hairs. On the other hand, women used to decorate their hair with luxuriant ringlets or a jeweled band or a chaplet of flowers. They often used to make a bun on the top of head or sometimes low on the neck, surrounded by flowers or ratnajali (bejewelled net) or muktajala (net of pearls).

Mughal period

The Mughal dynasty included luxury clothes that complemented interest in art and poetry. Both men and women were fond of jewelery. Clothing fibres generally included muslins of three types: Ab-e-Rawan (running water), Baft Hawa (woven air) and Shabnam (evening dew) and the other fibres were silks, velvets and brocades. Mughal royal dresses consisted of many parts as listed below:


Jama: This was considered as the main royal garb of Mughal emperors. It is a tight fitting frock coat with flared skirt up to knee length fastened on the right side of the body.

Patka: Used to keep the jewelled sword around the waist of jama. The patka is a type of girdle made of a fine fiber which is hand painted, printed or embroidered.

Chogha (clothing): These are embroidered, long sleeved coats generally worn over jamas, angrakhas and other garments. It is generally up to knee length and is open from the front.

Pagri or turban: This was common attire of Mughals and their subjects, as it proclaimed their status. To give a turban to somebody means you are relinquishing your powers to them. On the other hand, the forcible removal of a turban was considered a mortifying disgrace.


Mughal women wore a large variety of ornaments from head to toe.[8] Their costumes generally included Peshwaj, Yalek, Pa-jama, Churidar, Shalwar, Dhilija, Garara and the Farshi where they all included head ornaments, anklets, and necklaces. This was done as a distinctive mark of their prosperity and their rank in society. Headdresses were often worn by Mughal women and were available in various styles.

During the Mughal period there was an extensive and pervasive tradition of wearing embroidered footwear, with ornamented leather and decorated with the art of Aughi. Lucknow footwear was generally favoured by nobles and kings.

Rajput period

Rajputs emerged in 7th and 8th century as a new community of Kshatriya people. Rajputs followed a traditional life style for living which shows their martial spirit, ethnicity and chivalric grandeur.


Rajput's main costumes were the aristocratic dresses (court-dress) which includes angarkhi, pagdi, chudidar pyjama and a cummerbund (belt). Angarkhi (short jacket) is long upper part of garments which they used to wear over a sleeveless close fitting cloth. Nobles of Rajputs generally attired themselves in the Jama, Shervani as an upper garment and Salvar, Churidar-Pyjama (a pair of shaped trousers) as lower garments. The Dhoti was also in tradition in that time but styles were different to wear it. Tevata style of dhoti was prominent in Desert region and Tilangi style in the other regions.


"To capture the sensuality of the female figures in Rajput paintings, women were depicted wearing transparent fabrics draped around their bodies".[9] Rajput women's main attire was the Sari (wrapped over whole body and one of the end thrown on the right shoulder) or Lengha related with the Rajasthani traditional dress. On the occasion (marriage) women preferred Angia. After marriage of Kanchli, Kurti, and angia were the main garb of women. The young girls used to wear the Puthia as an upper garment made of pure cotton fabric and the Sulhanki as lower garments (loose pyjama). Widows and unmarried women clothed themselves with Polka (half sleeved which ends at the waist) and Ghaghra as a voluminous gored skirt made of line satin, organza or silk. Other important part of clothing is Odhna of women which is worked in silk.

Jewellery preferred by women were exquisite in the style or design. One of the most jewellery called Rakhdi (head ornament), Machi-suliya (ears) and Tevata, Pattia, and the aad (all is necklace). Rakhdi, nath and chuda shows the married woman's status. The footwear is same for men and women and named Juti made of leather.


  1. ^ Keay, John, India, a History. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
  2. ^ kenoyer, j.m. "Ornament Styles of the Indus Valley Tradition : Evidence from Recent Excavations at Harappa, Pakistan" 17 (17-2). 
  3. ^ Ayyar, Sulochana (1987). Costumes and Ornaments as Depicted in the Sculptures of Gwalior Museum. Mittal Publications. pp. 95–96. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Michael Dahl (January 2006). India. Capstone Press. pp. 13–.  
  6. ^ Zimmer, Heinrich (1946). Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. 
  7. ^ Harle, J.C. The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent (2nd edn ed.). Yale University Press Pelican History of Art.  
  8. ^ Dey, Sumita. "Fashion, Attire and Mughal women: A story behind the purdha" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Abbasi, Sana Mahmoud. "A Comparison Study between Rajput & Mughal Indian Miniature Paintings" (PDF) 2 (2). p. 3. 
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