Friday, September 10, 2010

Mughal Male Garb: An Attempt to Bring Together Islamic & Hindu Cultures

Anne Harwood, for the Scholars of St. Thomas Aquinas, 2008

Male garb during the reign of Akbar was comprised of five basic components. 
Men wore a pagri (turban), a jama (coat), a patka (shawl), a katzeb (sash) and either trousers or a dhoti (loincloth).

The Jama
Essentially, the jama is a snugly fitted garment that is complemented by a pair of long sleeves, a distinctive crossover bodice and a full skirt. Although very few examples of the jama have survived from Akbar’s reign, there is a wealth of artistic evidence which, combined with Abu Fas’l’s documentation in The Akbarnama, probably completed in 1596, make it possible to recreate an authentic garment.

A defining characteristic of Akbar’s reign (1556 – 1605) was his attempt to bring together the Islamic and Hindu cultures. His efforts ranged from the personal and dynastic (such as when he married a Hindu princess), to the administrative (Hindu officers figured prominently at his court), to the arts (Akbar was an enthusiastic supporter of Hindu poets and artisans).

This passage illustrates Akbar’s attempts to blend the cultures, as the terms he uses to describe the garments are a mixture of Hindi and Persian phrases. It seems clear that he recognized the need to bring them together while permitting them a means of recognizing each other at a glance, so that the potential for awkwardness and social blunders was minimized. To this end, the Emperor decreed that Muslims would tie their jamas on the right, and Hindus on the left. The jama was therefore a powerful symbol of a man’s religious and social identity.

Akbar further indicated that the skirt of the jama (which is attached to the bodice by a seam hidden beneath the wearer’s sash) should be made rounded: in the reign of his grandfather, Babur, pictorial evidence shows the jama made with slits in the hemline and drooping corners, creating an asymmetrical outline.

The jama is differentiated from other coats of the Mughal era (such as the angharka) in that the skirts overlap in the same fashion as the bodice.

Rather than buttons and loops, the jama was fastened by two pairs of ties. In the case of a Hindu garment, there were two ties inside the jama on the right hand side, one at the armpit and another at the waist. These are hidden from view and help to keep the bodice closed and in place. Another set of ties, usually between seven and nine pairs, closes the bodice on the outside (left) edge. Functional but decorative, these tapes form a row of descending knots or "streamers" overlapping the next pair of ties. While the colour of these tapes can match the colour of the jama, quite often they contrast colourfully with the outfit. In length these outer tapes are not all that long, perhaps some 4 to 6 inches at most.

The social status and wealth of the wearer were indicated by the textiles used to create the jama, by the fullness of the skirts and the length of the sleeves. The sleeves were tight-fitting to the wrist, and were commonly so long as to form soft folds along the forearm. The sleeve also features an inset triangular gusset in the armpit, which allows for a snug fit without compromising mobility.

As previously indicated, the textiles available in Hindustan during the Mughal era were varied and opulent: depending on what the wearer could afford, the choices ranged from lustrous silks to virtually transparent cottons. The finest cottons were found in the upper echelons of court and the hot, humid south, while heavier fabrics were favoured in the cooler north and by those of lower economic status.

Dhoti or Paijama
In his diary, written no later than 1529, Emperor Babur remarked on the dress of the native Hindus: “Peasants and people of low standing go about naked. They tie on a thing called languta, a decency-clout which hangs two spans below the navel. From the tie of this pendant decency clout, another clout is passed between (the legs) and made fast behind.” What Babur is describing is more commonly called a dhoti, which is nothing more sophisticated than a length of fabric (usually cotton) tied around the nether portions like a loincloth. People in India have worn these since antiquity, as seen in the Ajunta cave-paintings dating from the 1st to the 6th centuries C.E.

However, anyone wishing to do business with the affluent Muslim amirs was well-advised to look as much like them as possible. Abu Fas’l describes a garment called yar-pirahan, or trousers. He describes these as “…drawers made of all kinds of stuff, single and double…” though he specifically mentions silk and cotton, held in place with a string.

Another term for these trousers is paijama, from which comes our familiar word denoting sleep attire. The word is a compound of two Persian words, pai meaning “feet” or “legs”, and jama meaning “covering”. Both men and women wore paijamas, possibly in imitation of the warlike Rajput princes who preferred them to the dhoti for the mobility they afforded. During the Akbari period, men wore trousers invariably with their jamas (in this context, coats), and there is no artistic evidence to suggest that dhotis were ever worn in combination with the coats.

Paintings of the period indicate that the paijamas were loose and flowing from the waist to the knee, where they became snug down to the ankle. Often the fabric on the lower legs is wrinkled, suggesting that the paijamas were longer than the leg itself and pushed up, just like the sleeves of the jama, in a display of conspicuous consumption. At no time do the paijamas match the jama in colour, and solid colours appear to have been the fashion during Akbar’s reign.

Pagri or Turban
Although Abu Fas’l describes a number of soft caps worn at Akbar’s court, the universal headwear for both Muslims and Hindus was the turban. Ritu Kumar writes:

The most important accessory for an Indian man was his turban, which proclaimed his status, religion, caste and region of origin. To submit a turban to anybody was a sign of total subjugation and the removal of a turban was the most humiliating punishment that could be inflicted on any man.
Paintings from the court of Akbar indicate that there was a difference between the wrap used by a Muslim and that of a Hindu. Generally, Hindu turbans were fuller and rounder than those of the Muslims, who favoured elaborate jewellery to embellish their headgear. Because of the widely disparate, complex and personal styles of wrapping a turban, however, it is virtually impossible to say with any certainty which wrap an individual would have adopted. As Kumar says, “The variety of regional sizes, tying styles and patterns is the subject of a book in itself.”

Fortunately, the traditional Jairpuri turban—called a safa—was well documented. According to Kumar, the safa is “…twenty-five metres long and twenty cms wide. They are usually tie-dyed and worn with the ends left hanging at the back. In former times, the intricacy of the patterning depended on the status of the wearer. Single coloured pagris were used for daily wear, while pagris tie-dyed with lahariya (wavy), mothra (checked) and chunari (dotted) patterns were reserved for special occasions. It requires a consider able amount of expertise to tie a turban well and professional turban dressers, known as pagri bands, were often employed for this purpose.”

The textile known as bhandej is still produced in Rajasthan, and is readily available in East Indian fabric shops. 

Patka, Katzeb and Juttis
Three more items finish off the male costume and these are the patka (shawl), the katzeb (sash) and juttis (shoes).

The Patka
The patka is a handsome garment often depicted in illustrations of the period draping elegantly from the shoulders of Akbar’s courtiers. It survives today in India as the dupatta, worn by women as a scarf with their salwar camise and Hindu men on their wedding day.

During the reign of Akbar, the patka was a fairly wide length of woven textile, often plain, but sometimes embellished either with embroidered, painted, block printed or woven designs. We have no evidence that one method of embellishment was preferred over the other, and it is difficult to ascertain how the patka was decorated merely from looking at the illustrations. Given that embroidery, painting and weaving were all arts encouraged by Akbar in his imperial workshops, it is reasonable to assert that the embellishment of a patka was dependent, not on technology or availability, but on the affluence and social status of the wearer.

Other patkas found in the illustrations of Akbar’s courts are further embellished with fringes. They came in wide range of colours, from white to saffron yellow to blues and greens and even (though rarely) black.
Muslims were inclined to wrap their patkas in a variety of styles. Abu Fas’l writes in The Akbarnama that the Emperor himself “…has commenced to wear them double, which looks very well." Hindu men favoured a simple throw, eschewing knots and allowing the garment to drape simply and elegantly over their shoulders, held in place using only the weight of the textile itself.

From antiquity, Hindu men were also in the habit of wearing garlands of fragrant flowers, such as jasmine and champa.

The Katzeb
Even more ubiquitous than the patka, was the katzeb, or sash. In illustrations of the period, it is clear that the patka and the katzeb never matched one another, but like the patka, the katzeb was richly decorated in a number of ways. Examples of 16th century katzebs reveal that the pallavs (edges) were rarely backed or lined by a stabilizing fabric; therefore embroidered borders were either uncommon or very skillfully executed. It is more likely that the most highly embellished sashes were of brocaded, painted or block printed textiles. Tie-dye is also very likely, as in the case with turbans.

Sashes in the reign of Akbar seem to be of two lengths, long and short. Labourers, servants and courtiers in a hunting party are often shown with shorter and plainer katzebs. Wealthy emirs and the Akbar himself are depicted as wearing longer and more abundant sashes, and in a few cases, two sashes of contrasting colours at once (see Figure Six).

Generally, however, a single katzeb sufficed, and these were worn in numerous ways.

Shorter sashes would have been roughly 2 ½ yards of fabric for a simple tie and drape, while considerably longer sashes, wound around the torso more than once, obviously required more, and bespoke the status of the wearer. Findlay-Arthur estimates that “the average Akbari katzeb measured in the region of sixteen inches to twenty-two inches wide, possibly as much as twenty-four inches wide for very fine and delicate fabrics, including very fine weave cotton.”

Like the patka, the katzeb was made of various textiles. Most extant examples from the 18th century are silk, silk and cotton mixed, and a cotton middle section with a highly decorated silk, satin or velvet pallav. Given the availability of cotton in India since earliest times, all-cotton katzebs for everyday wear must certainly have been available.

                 Hindus and Muslims differed greatly in their approach to footwear. Followers of Islam wore shoes and boots habitually to protect their feet from the heat and hazards of the Indian landscape. Hindus, on the other hand, view feet and leather both as “unclean”. The making of leather goods, therefore, is and was left to the members of the lowest castes. As a rule, Hindus preferred to go either barefoot or in sandals called paduka, which were made of “pure” materials such as wood or even metal! A bulbous carved or cast decoration fits between the first and second toe, which is how the paduka is kept on the foot. Shoes were invariably removed before entering living areas and temples.

                The jutti was the most common form of shoe worn by visitors to Akbar’s court. They resemble more of a slipper, having a curled toe, no laces and often lack a back for the heel of the foot. The soles are made of leather, and the uppers are made of either leather or fabric, frequently embroidered with gold and silver, especially in the case of a Muslim wearer. A very simple pair of juttis can be seen on the feet of a man in Figure 5, just below the knee of the dancing man in the foreground.

No comments: