, 35 tweets, 12 min read
1) A brief thread about the remarkable continuity of sartorial traditions of women of pre Islamic medieval India, regional variations and related issues
History of rich sartorial tradition of India is very interesting. From most ancient times to modern times - rich Indian dressing ranging from the turbans and dhotis to sarees defines not only our civilization but also its inherent unity in diverse traditions of Bharat.
3) Unfortunately it is also the target of very widely propagated myth - That Pre Islamic Indian dressing was very liberal to the extant that women didn't worn Ghunghat/veil and even used to roam half naked/ bare breasted in public!
4) It is further argued that it was the ISlamic invasions and subseqeunt influence of victorian morality that forced Indians to adopt conservative standards among their dressings. (especially women)!
5) Sadly unlike most of the myths related to Indian history which are propagated by Leftist, this particular rhetoric is propagated and fiercely defended not by the leftists but my ideological brethern themselves!

This thread is apartial attempt to address that falsified notion.
6) One of the argument propagated to support this myth is that medieval temple walls from Kashmir to Kanyakumari profuse in sculptures of bare breasted women which also appears in other forms of art too such as bronze and paintings.
7) However using the art forms in such manner out of their proper context without is inherently faulty method.

For going by this logic 15th century Europeans must be roaming naked for renaissance era European art is full of such paintings and sculptures!
8) Infact take a look at this pics of Temples of Palitana and Udaipur built c.17th century when Islamic barbarians had already dominated land for centuries!

Going by the logic then women in western India were still moving bare breasted even after Islamic invasions!
9) Furthermore Indian sculptural art rarely focused on realism unlike the greek art. It was ofcourse more of a personal preference than anything else (Our Gods are afterall above the realm of reality) . But the result was quite different.
10)For eg look at these two sculptures - Both from Punjab, both handle same theme - but one is made in Hallenistic style &other in Indian. Does it mean that morals changed so drastically within few 100 miles in same region that dressing changed from fully clothed to almost naked?
11) Clearly then relying on sculptural art alone is not a good approach. For it not only defies rationale and logic but it also goes against other more reliable literary and other forms evidence. Let me go through those other ignored evidences.
12) While the evidence for the practice of Ghunghat and covering upper part of body goes back all the way to the time of epics and before, for the purpose of this thread it will be suffice to focus only on immediate pre Islamic medieval period to keep it brief.
13) WESTERN INDIA - Richly carved temples of Pre Islamic Gujarat and Rajasthan are profusely adorend with sculptures like this. Going by prevelant logic then women must be moving bare breasted in western India before advent of Islam.
14) But literary sources suggests other thing. For eg Hemchandracharya - A Jain monk and great polymath of 12th century praised women of Anahil pattan (Capital city of Chaulukyas of Gujarat) for the modesty of their dress covering all parts of body properly.
15) That Mansollasa written in far away Karnataka also talks about the practice of Gurjara women covering upper part of their body in full sleved blouse further confirms the assertion.
16) It is further corroborated by contemporary manuscript paintings such as this from 12th - 14th century W. India.

Infact the dressing depicted here is still prevelant in Guj. & Rajasthan including the Ghunghat covering only back portion of head as seen in first pic.
17) Clearly then contrary to fantasy of bare breasted women modern traditional dressing style of Guj. & Raja. had already emerged even before Islamic period!

Furthermore as Gangetic plains followed the similar cultural ethos, same conclusion can be applied for that region too.
18) DECCAN: Reference for the Practice of covering upper part of body in this region actually goes all the way back to the Satvahana period. There are already references to the bodice in Satvahana ruler Hala's sensuous poetry in Gaha Sattasai.
19) While there are some medieval literary sources from Deccan describing sartorial fashion of the region, one of the most interesting reference comes from Kashmir!

In Rajatarangini, Kalhana mentions attire of women of Dakshinatya in following manner.
20) Once again, note that there is clear mention of bodice, which was known as far as Kashmir.

Interestingly as seen in the paintings from Virupaksha temple of Hampi, the dressing style of noble women of Vijayanagara indeed matches with the description of a Kashmiri Kalhana!
21) On side note" Reference occurs in the context of the story of King Harsha of the Kashmir who being impressed by the fashion prevalent in Deccan sought to introduce it in Kashmir. Interesting isn't it? :-)
22) Speaking of KASHMIR itself, its sculptural art gives clear insight into sartorial tradition of the region which hardly supports the notion of bare breasted dressing.

For eg look at the dressing of Parvati in this beautiful 9th century Murti of Shiva family.
23) Effects of Hellenistic realism of earlier centuries was still clinging into artistic traditions of North western India and hence its sculptural art can be treated with some reliability unlike other parts of India.
24) Also look at this interesting sculpture of 7th century sculpture of Varahi from Kashmir. The dressing style here has starking similarity with the traditional dressing style still prevalent in PUNJAB!
25) I have been often told how Punjabi dressing has deep impact of Islamic rule.

But Even for Punjab which remained under Islamic occupation for longest amount of time, its traditional dressing had already emerged in Pre Islamic period as one can see from previous sculpture.
26) BENGAL - Bengal or Eastern India in general do not give any evidence for the practice of Bodice/blouse in medieval times. But one can't conclude on the basis of it that women were moving here half naked in pre Islamic times.
27) For instance Rajashekhara in 7th century gives following account of the sartorial tradition of eastern regions (Magadh, Bengal and Odisha) - One garment covering entire body where Ghunghat kissed the head and arm pits (Bahu mula) were visible
28) Interestingly exactly similar style was prevalent in Bengal as late as 19th century as one can see in this iconic picture of Bharat Mata in Bengali attire by Abanindranath Tagore.

In Odisha one can easily come across women in such attire even today.
29) Modesty of the dressing of Bengali women is also clearly celebrated in this Medieval poem.
30) Funnily enough As late as 19th century Bodice/Blouse prevelant in west & south was considered undesirable among Bengali women for it revealed body curves and waist. On the other hand Eastern style is still undesirable in Western parts for it reveals arm pits!
31) In summary As one can see even before the Islam arrived in India major regional dressing styles of Hindus that we see today from Bengal to Gujarat had already started emerging.

One finds hardly any support for the fantasy of women roaming half naked in preIslamic India!
32) On side note also note how evidence comes from far away regions - For eg evidence for western Indian dressing in literature from Deccan or that for Deccan from Kashmir and for Bengal from North India! Says many things about the cosmopolitan world of medieval India...
33) Infact if the purpose was to avoid Islamic wrath, then it is still hard to explain such dressing with visible arms and waist - which by the Islamic standards of desert tents was still very much revealing in many cases.
34) More importantly I find the very assertion that our ancestors bent to the ways of barbarians very problematic. They were brave enough not to compromise with their standards, Morales and norms
35) In conclusion all I would like to say is that Dressing of Indian women wasn't to revealing nor like that desert tent called Burkha. IT was modest and enhanced their feminine grace.
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