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Adorning The Self


Page Last Updated: October 31, 2016

In Indian culture, the body is invested with various meanings. This is reflected in its rich sculptural tradition where a language of poses as well as hand and leg positions developed to convey specific messages. Decorating the body is yet another way of conveying meaning. Throughout Indian history, the kinds of costumes and accessories worn can be seen to fulfill two criteria: simplicity and opulence. In either instance, the choice of clothing is dependent on the person's status, wealth and religious orientation.

© K. L. Kamat
Woman Puts on Makeup
Woman Puts on Makeup
Wooden sculpture (Kashta-Shilapa) from Nanjangudu

We know about fashion in ancient India only from looking at sculpture as very few examples of costumes, textiles and jewelry have survived. In the Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3000-1500 BC), clothing tended to be simple. Men wore loin-cloths while women were bare to the waist. Status was reflected in the kind of jewelry worn; high ranking women sometimes covered their bosoms with jewels. It was only with the coming of the Aryans to India that more complicated clothing was worn. This consisted of two parts: the upper and lower garments. Later, a cloak was added. These were generally pieces of cloth draped over the body in a style seen in many Indian costumes today.

With the coming of the Muslims, there was a shift towards covering the body as evidenced in the purdah. Following the Muslims, Hindu women began to adopt the choli (bodice) to cover their bare-chests. The emperors Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shah Jahan (11627-1658) amassed great fortunes which they used to spend on beautiful objects including jewelry. From the A'in-i Akbari, we know that there were designers from Europe and the Middle East at the Moghul court during Akbar's reign.

© K. L. Kamat
Quilted Hat of a Vijayanagar Nobleman
Quilted Hat of a Vijayanagar Nobleman
From a 14th Century Painting

Certain kinds of adornment conveyed specific meanings, such as the turban. When in audience with the king, it was mandatory to cover the head as it was a sign of honor. While the rich indulged themselves with fine clothes and jewels, the peasant wore only the most functional clothing, leaving most of his body bare. However, lack of wealth and status was not the only reason for choosing simple clothing. Individuals such as the sadhu (ascetic) wore the most simple clothing in keeping with his spiritual aim of denying the ego and forsaking the material pleasures of the world.

Many ancient costumes and jewelry styles have survived to this day with only slight modifications. There are also regional variations in some costumes, such as the saree. In spite of these changes in styles which have taken place in tandem with changes in Indian society, the trend towards simplicity or opulence continues to be a major influence in costume and jewelry.

See Also:

 
Alamkara: 5000 Years of Indian Art
Introduction
| Foreword | Kings & Courtiers | Ideal of Ornament
Enduring Image | Adorning the Self | Heroic Ideal
Stream of Devotion | From Pot to Palate | Pursuit of Pleasure
Mortal Women & Celestial Lovers | Smell of Earth | References

Alamkara - 5000 Years of Indian Art
5000 Years of Indian Art

Pictures
Indian WomanMan Offers Ring to GirlfriendBharatesha VaibhavaWoman with Bow - Stone SculptureLovers in Pahari style.
Ornately Decorated Rudrakshi MalaLady Churning CurdsA tier of spiral foliage of exquisite designA Three Headed Mythological Figure Rides a Lion <br> Illustration from Telugu text <I> Ragamalika </I>Woman Grinding Herbs to Make Cosmetics
Emperor Babur Hunting a TigerStatue of Meditating BuddhaMetallic Floral DesignBronze Statue of Shiva, TamilnaduA Statue of Meditating Mahavira
Carved Bust of a Celestial, KhajurahoSculpted Chandela Temples Depicting EroticaDecorated NutcrackerA Nutcracker Styled as Yaksha-YakshiShiva the Magnificent
Woman Puts on MakeupDasara -- painting on the walls of Mysore palace

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