The history of Indian fashion is a mesmerizing journey that traverses through centuries, unfolding a tapestry of sartorial elegance, cultural diversity, and evolving trends. Among the many remarkable periods in India’s fashion evolution, the Mauryan and Sunga eras stand as key milestones, reflecting the splendor and sophistication of ancient Indian clothing. Spanning from the 4th century BCE to the 1st century BCE, these epochs witnessed a confluence of art, craftsmanship, and societal influences that shaped the garments and aesthetics of the time. In this captivating blog, we delve into the enthralling world of the Mauryan and Sunga periods, unearthing the captivating tales of Indian fashion that have withstood the test of time.
The Mauryan and Sunga period marked the advent of stone carving under the influence of Iranian and Greek civilizations. This period witnessed the emergence of India’s greatest empire. Often referred to as the Age of Plenty, the period is known for fertile fields, gold, and silver mines etc. Security was given to the common mass by the state and the resources were looked after. Such an air of prosperity helped create a sense of well-being in society.
In the history of Indian fashion, during the Mauryan and Sunga periods, people continued to wear three unstitched garments, reminiscent of the Vedic era. The primary attire, known as ‘antariya,’ consisted of a white cotton or muslin fabric, sometimes adorned with gold or precious stones. Men wore this fabric draped around their hips and between their legs, extending from the abdomen to the calves or ankles, while workers and common folk wore shorter versions. Secured at the waist with a scarf called ‘kayabandh,’ which came in various styles such as ‘vethaka’ or ‘muraja,’ the ‘antariya’ offered flexibility and comfort. The ‘uttariya,’ a length of fine cotton or occasionally silk, served as a long scarf to drape the upper body, with different ways of wearing it depending on the individual’s needs. In the history of Indian fashion, women had their unique ways of tying the ‘antariya,’ including attaching a small piece of fabric called ‘langoti’ at the front and wrapping it between the legs. Another style was the knee-length ‘antariya’ that was wrapped around the waist and then folded and tucked, with the shorter end drawn between the legs. High society ladies adorned their ‘uttariyas’ with intricate borders, often wearing them as head coverings. Their ‘kayabandhs’ resembled those of men, while the addition of a decorative fabric called ‘patka’ enhanced their attire. Though footwear is rarely depicted in sculptures from this period, soldiers were seen wearing Persian boots. In remote villages and forests, shepherds, hunters, and lower-class individuals typically wore simple unbleached cotton ‘antariyas’ and turbans. Tattooing was also fairly common among them. Tribes residing in the forests wore garments made from grass, kusa, skins, and fur. The rich history of Indian fashion during the Mauryan and Sunga periods reflected the diversity and cultural practices of the time.
2. Headgear and Hairstyles
During the Mauryan and Sunga periods, women often covered their heads with the ‘uttariya,’ which was adorned with beautiful borders. It could be worn straight or across the head, and sometimes hung at the back or secured in the front. Turbans made of decorative fabric were occasionally worn by women. In terms of male headgear, the early Maurya period did not feature turbans or maulis, but in the Sunga period, turbans became prominent. These turbans incorporated the hair, which was often braided along with the fabric, forming a bulge at the front or side of the head. Priests were the only ones allowed to have a bulge at the center top of their turban. A smaller band was sometimes used to hold up the turban, and decorative elements like jeweled ornaments or fringes could be attached to it.
The figurines from the Mauryan and Sunga periods reveal a sense of grandeur and opulence in the adornments worn by people. Initially, the jewelry had a massive quality with coarse craftsmanship, resembling the adornments of native clans in Madhya Pradesh or the metal jewelry worn by the Bhils in Western and Central India today. However, with the Sungas, the jewelry became more refined. References in the Arthashastra and sculptures from the period indicate the use of materials like gold, precious stones such as corals, rubies, sapphires, agates, and gems. Pearls and various types of beads, including glass beads, were also abundant. Earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets, and embroidered belts were common ornaments for both genders. Earrings came in three types: simple rings or circles called ‘kundal,’ round plate earrings known as ‘dehri,’ and flower-shaped earrings called ‘kaan-phul.’ Necklaces included short and broad ones called ‘kantha,’ often made of gold adorned with precious stones, and long necklaces called ‘lambanam.’ Forehead ornaments for women were prevalent, consisting of thin plates of gold or silver with various patterns, star-shaped or sitara designs, and a small decoration called bindi placed at the center of the forehead.
4. Textiles and Dyes
During the Mauryan and Sunga periods, the weaving industry was well-established, producing a variety of fine and coarse fabrics under state departments. Cotton, silk, wool, cloth, and jute were readily available. Luxurious materials like furs, high-quality silk such as tassar, and fine woolen blankets were highly valued. Resist dyeing and hand printing on cloth were practiced, and glazed cotton cloth was commonly used. Fabrics like khinkhwab, which intertwined silk and gold or silver wires in beautiful floral patterns, were in high demand and even exported to Babylon. Coarse and fine varieties of cotton, wool, and a fabric called karpasa were available. Woolen fabrics were dyed in pure white, red, rose, or dark colors. Blankets were made with bordered edges, plaits, or woven wool strips. Felting, the process of pressing fibers together, was also known. Wool was used for headdresses, trappings, and blankets for the poor, while finer varieties were used for wraps and shawls by the upper class. Washermen also served as dyers and perfumed garments after washing. The primary colors used for dyeing were red, white, yellow, and blue. Fabrics were woven in patterns and printed for various purposes, including rugs, bedcovers, blankets, and garments.
In conclusion, the history of Indian fashion during the Mauryan and Sunga periods reflects a fascinating tapestry of diverse clothing styles and cultural influences. From the unstitched garments and intricate tying techniques to the use of fine fabrics and embellishments, Indian fashion showcased opulence and craftsmanship.