Monday, March 7, 2011

A Garment of Modesty from the Mughals to the Indo-Pak Sub-Continent Today


Shalwar Kameez traces its origins to the Mongols and was once considered a Muslim Dress. Shalwar Kameez is a traditional garment worn by the people of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It is worn by both men and women due to its modesty with Muslim values, comfort and freedom of movement. Differences exist between Men’s and Women’s Shalwaar Kameez.

The Shalwar Kameez has a very significant place in the History of the Textiles and traces its roots back to the invasion and subsequent rule of the Indian subcontinent by central Asians as far back as 400 CE.  Evidence of Persian influence on Textiles and Clothing in India can be traced to the Kushan dynasty (001 AD). Coinage and stone palettes found from the Indo-Scythian/Parthian period show Greek and Persian influences in clothing. The palettes depict people dressed in caps or head-bands, ruched long sleeved Tunics, calf-length Coats worn loose crossed-over from right to left and secured with leather or metal belt and baggy trousers.

The Timurids (Muslim Dynasty of Turko Mongols) who invaded the northern part of the subcontinent in the 12th century brought with them their traditional nomadic Attire with its Persian and Turk Mongol influences. The descendants of the Timurids established the Mughal Empire (derived from Mogulistan or Land of Mongols- AD 1526-AD 1857). 

The Mughal emperors are renowned for their impassioned interest in painting, architecture, jewellery making literature and poetry, textiles. Textiles flourished remarkably under the Mughals. Various techniques of weaving, crinkling, dying, patterning and embroidery were developed and encouraged. Interestingly, each emperor maintained his own contemporary style of dressing in court and otherwise.

Badshah Babar who laid the foundation for the empire came from the cooler climate of Samarkand, retained the costumes of his homeland. The most popular Garments in his period were a long Coat called Chafan and a sheep-skin Overcoat called Postin worn with Pajama-like trousers. His son, Humayun introduced Persian elements in the court costumes. A patron of arts and painting and passionately interested in astronomy, he is said to have sought the help of planetary movements in choosing what to wear. He also maintained a special treasure house in his palace to accommodate Textiles and Garments.

Humayun's successor Jalaluddin Akbar led the empire to its classic and most flourishing period in history. This Classic period saw the spread of the empire from the north to most areas of the Indian subcontinent. His reign encouraged a synthesis of Persian and Indian styles in everything from architecture to clothing. This led to the flowering of classical forms, styles and shapes that later became an integral part ofIndian Dress Design. Akbar took the initiative of introducing local textiles, which were best suited to the hot climate of the region. He commissioned workshops for carpet making, textile design and was devoted himself to making haberdashery which he considered a pleasant pastime!  He himself took interest in the fashioning of Court Dresses and introduced the Chakdar Jamah to his court, which is a cross over Tunic, with slits around the skirt and an asymmetrical hemline. The men dressed in a Tunic called Jamah and was worn with close fitting Pajama trousers called Izar and later known as Shalwar. Although it was in fashion in India since medieval times, Akbar restyled the garment and developed it into a formal gown by removing slits, rounding the hemline and increasing the fullness of the Skirt. The Tunic was tightened at the waist by a belt of fabric with tassels called Patka. The Jamah which was knee long in the beginning, reached up to the ankles (referred to as Sarbgati meaning that which covers the entire body) in the later Mughal days. The women's Dress of the empire consisted of close fitting trousers paired with a bodice (a variation of Jamah called Angharakha or Qameez) that came down to the end of the Shalwar and worn with a half-sleeved embroidered open Jacket with a delicate transparent Shawl (called Paramnarm meaning extremely soft) draped like a sari.

During subsequent reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb the royal garments became more decorated with heavy embellishments of floral designs. Motifs were outlined with gold thread coupled with ‘Pietra-dura’ effect of the precious stones. Block printing and the art of Kalamkari (meaning pen work) were rejuvenated with Persian influences of Persian flower motifs and designs by the 17th century.

The Mughal rule is considered a ‘golden age’ of textile crafts in the Sub-continent. By the seventeenth century, Jamah, Chogha(cape) and Anghrakha remained the height of fashion along with accessories for men such as the Atamsukh (a long, loose garment worn like an overcoat in winters), Turban (the style of tying the turban varied according to social status), Patka, Jutis (shoes) and Farji (kind of a coat) etc. The precursor of the current Cummerband was another popular piece of clothing (called Kamarbandh meaning waistband) worn as girdle or waistcoat by both men and women to enhance the bust-line. The court Garments of era were marked by intricate patterning of clothing and delicate handmade embellishments.

The form of dressing followed by Indian classical Kathak dancers is a near accurate portrayal of the styles of clothing in the Mughal period and shows vividly the influences in the fashion world in the Indian subcontinent today.

The present day Shalwar Kameez in its various styles is an adaptation of the clothing of Mughal era.

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