(Last Updated on : 14/03/2014)
Costumes of ancient India mainly included those clothes that were wrapped around the body in different ways. There are several literary works or sources that broadly define the costumes of ancient India. A complete idea of the people's dress and costumes of the ancient age can be obtained from the Vedic literature
. As regards garments, the Rig Veda
comprises terms like adhivastra, kurlra and andpratidhi. The first denotes an outer cover or veil. The second was, perhaps, a head-dress or head-ornament and the last one indicates a part of a woman's dress. Linen and wool seem to have been used in making clothes. Further, the Vedic texts also mention that gold was widely used for making ornaments. Niska, rukma were the names of certain ornaments that were hugely used to decorate the neck and the ear.
Costumes in Vedic Age
From a study of the Atharva Veda
, it appeared that one's garment mainly comprised an inner cover, an outer cover and a chest-cover. Besides kurlra and andpratidhi, already mentioned in the Rig Veda, nivi, upavasana, vavri, usnlsa, kumba and tirlta appear in Atharva Veda. These appear to signify correspondingly underwear, veil, upper garment, and the last three denoting kinds of head-dress. The last three are taken by some to mean different sorts of head-ornament. Footwear (updnaha) and blanket (kambala) are also mentioned. Besides linen and wool, silk
was also used as dress material. Besides gold, mani (jewel) is also mentioned in this Vedic text as an ornament. Cosmetics appear to have been used as beautifying aids. Baldness was hated, and medicines were applied for the growth of hair. There were prayers for the growth of thick hair. A thorny thing seems to have been used as a comb. The barbers used to shave hair and beard.
Costumes in Age of Brahmanas
In the age of Brahmanas
, people appear to have attached great importance to dress and decoration. Knitting, sewing and weaving were known. Garments were made of wool, cotton
and silk. Generally, the dress consisted of three parts - main portion, outer garment and nivi or under-garment. From certain Brahmanas such as Shatapatha Brahmana it appears that gold and silver ornaments have been in use. Necklaces made of gold or pearls are also mentioned in Shatapatha Brahmana.
People of the Sutra age appear to have worn garments made of cotton, wool, flax, hemp, animal skin, silk, and bark; the last two kinds were probably used exclusively at religious rites and sacrifices. Ksauma and Kauseya are the words used to denote clothes made of linen and silk respectively. An upper garment and a lower one were usual. On certain occasions, the turban (usnisa) was also used. Adhivdsa is the term used to denote an upper garment. Prdvarana is also found to indicate a wrapper or an outer cover. Both weaving and sewing appear to have been in vogue. Kumba-kurlra appears to have been gold ornaments attached to the head-dress; some however, take it to mean a hair-net. Blankets of wool (Kambala) and of the hair of mountain goats (Kutapa) were used also used. As far as ornaments are concerned, both males and females of the Sutra age appear to have worn them.
Apart from earring and other stuffs of gold and silver, niska or necklace worn round the neck, made mostly of gold and sometimes also of silver; it appears to have been used by both men and women. Rukma, made of gold or silver, seems to have been a encircling ornament, with 21 studs sewn in a strap of deer-skin and strung on a three-fold hempen cord, worn round the neck.
The use of flowers and flower-garlands, especially in marriage and other ceremonial occasions were also in vogue. Other aids to enhance one's beauty included mirror, collyrium and fragrant unguents. Several other forms of hair-style were obviously in trend. Shaving the head and beard was necessary on certain occasions, for example Srauta sacrifices and at the end of the period of mourning. Women sometimes used to keep two locks of hair.
The different kinds of fabric, used for making garments, according to Panini included Kauseya meaning silk cloth, woollen cloth and cotton cloth. Some of the garments were antarlya, pravara and Brhatika. Antarlya appears to denote cloth directly covering the body. Pravara seems to have been a wrapper. Brhatika was, perhaps, an upper garment thrown over the shoulders, and hanging down to the knees. Several kinds of blankets appear to be referred to by Panini and Patanjali. Beautifying the body with ornaments and various kinds of decoration in the Paniniyan age includes aids like Darpana (mirror), anjana (collyrium), mala (garland), gandha (perfume), danda (stick), asi (sword), updnah (shoes), the last three appear to have been used by males.
Costumes in Epic Age
Several references are found about the costumes of ancient India in the greatest epics Ramayana
. In Ram numerous references to clothes especially glittering robes have been found. The grown-ups appear to have worn two pieces of garments, one lower and the other upper; the former called vastra and the later uttariya. Women also used an uttariya and an adhovastra. The words sucl (needle) and tunnavdya (tailor) also occur in this epic thus symbolising that sewn clothes were in use, and sartorial service was in demand. Kancukas or jackets and usnlsas or turbans appear to have been put on mainly by attendants and soldiers. A kind of head-dress appears to have been put on by Raksasa women. It has been also found that wooden or leather sandals were mainly used by men.
Of the ornaments, mainly used ones were Kundala or ear-ornament, hara (e.g. V. 9.48) or necklace, hastabharana or bracelet, ahgullyaka or ring. Of kundala, there were two well-known types, namely karnavesta and s'vadamstrd. Necklaces and bracelets appear to have been used by both men and women. Of necklaces, the following varieties are mentioned in Ramayana - graiveyaka, maid hiranmayi and niska. Niska, a kind of gold-coin, was used as necklace. Such coins were, perhaps, strung together. Several types of bracelets were ahgada or keyura, pdrihdrya and valaya. Girdles were probably worn by women only. Further, Nupura, with tinkling bells attached, was used by women. Floral decorations were in use among both males and females. The people of the epic age appear to have been particular about their hair. The common practice among women seems to have been to divide the hair into two halves by drawing a line across the middle of the head and to make two braids hanging loose. There are references to soldiers keeping their hair well-groomed.
Cloths of different colours appear to have been put on in the Mahabharata age. Red was the colour appropriate in war. Garments varied according to different regions and subsequently the festive dress of the Ceylonese appears to have been studded with jewels and the Kiratas living in hilly regions used to wear animal skin. Even Raksasas are found to have put on very fine cloth. The Mahabharata bears out the use of ornaments, mostly of gold, even among the males. It is curious that ear-rings were used even by males. Interestingly, the people of this age appear to have been particular about hair-dressing. It is believed that horn of a buffalo was in use for blowing or wearing a horn on the head; even today people of some aboriginal tribes are found with horns on their heads. Not much information about the garments of women is found in Mahabharata. At the time of marriage, brides appear to have worn silk cloth usually of red colour. Women appear to have used ornaments like necklace, ear-ring, jewels, niska (gold coin), conch-made things, bracelet, etc. Flowers and garlands were widely used in the epic age.
Costumes in Age of Puranas
The main materials used for the garments in the Puranic age include cotton, silk, wool, linen. The mention of Prdvarana is found. It appeared from the Puranic texts that sometimes the hairs were completely shaved or shaved partially and sometimes a tuft was kept. Long hair and dishevelled hair was also disliked. Further, unkempt beard was probably disliked. The Indian Puranas
mention the head-dresses usnisa and mukuta, the former more frequently. Among ornaments, it mentions keyura, ahgada and waist-bands are also found. Some kinds of perfumes and collyrium are also mentioned in it.
Moreover, Pali works contain descriptions of the garments mainly of the Buddhists. The Dhammapada
refers to people clothed in yellow robes and describes ear-rings made of precious stones. Thus, from all the references of these literary sources it can be said that costumes in ancient India were really diverse and colourful.