top of page
World 4 U
November 1, 2021 at 12:00:00 AM
The Mughal Empire. Costume and fashion history

Please choose and click one of the following icons to discuss about this news in our Community.


The Mughal Empire. Costume and fashion history

The Mughal Empire. Costume and fashion history

Hindustan. The Mughal Empire 1526 to 1858.

The Mughal Empire was a state existing on the Indian subcontinent from 1526 to 1858. The heartland of the empire was located in the northern Indian Indus-Gangetic plains around the cities of Delhi, Agra and Lahore. At the height of its power in the 17th century, the Mughal Empire covered almost the entire subcontinent and parts of today’s Afghanistan. The Mughal Empire was known for his tolerance of other religions and had a much higher standard of living than Europe at that time.

Under Aurangzeb (ruled 1658-1707) the Mughal Empire experienced its greatest territorial expansion. However, the territorial expansion overstretched it financially and militarily to such an extent that in the course of the 18th century it fell to a regional power in the political structure of India. Several serious military defeats against the Maraths, Persians and Afghans as well as the intensification of religious antagonisms within the country between the Muslim “rulers’ caste” and the subjugated majority population of peasant Hindus further favoured his decline. In 1858 the last Grand Mogul of Delhi was deposed by the British. His territory merged into British India. Rich evidence of architecture, painting and poetry influenced by Persian and Indian artists has been preserved for posterity.

The people of ancient India had a philosophical outlook towards their clothes; these mattered little in life. But they were passionately fond of ornaments. The Muslim rulers loved both the glamour of garments and the glitter of gold. But as it was, not an inch of bare skin was available except on the face and the hands, for ornamental exhibition. The disadvantage was fully compensated by bejeweling dresses and wearing ornaments over them.

Ibn Batuta ( Abū ʿAbdallāh Muhammad Ibn Battūta 1304 – 1368 or 1369) at one place refers to a silk robe of blue colour embroidered with gold and studded with precious stones’ and ‘the precious stones were so many that the colour of the cloth was hidden from view’. The dresses of kings and nobles were a copy of Persian and Turkish fashions. In an account of the Muslim costume of the fourteenth century it is found that the Sultans, Maliks and other officers wore gown (jakalwat), coat (quaba) tied at the middle of the body and turban. The gown and sleeves were gold embroidered. They plaited their hair and put silk tassels on the hanging locks. They wore gold and silver belts and used shoes and spurs. Their turban was formed by putting a conical cap (kulah) on the head and winding a long piece of cloth round it.

Fashion and foppishness had remained the pleasure and privilege of those who had pelf and power, culture and courage to accept the challenge of a change. During the Sultanate the difference between the well-to-do classes and the masses was almost antipodal. In spite of the political revolution, the villagers clad in scanty dresses remained busy with their ordinary occupation of life untouched and unmoved by any outside influence. When Babar entered India he found the dress of the masses so outlandish that he thought it important to be recorded in his memoirs in 1519. “Their peasant and lower classes,” he wrote, “go about naked.

They tie on a thing which they call langoti, which is a piece of cloth that hangs down two spans from the navel as a cover to their nakedness. Below this pendant modesty-clout is another slip of cloth one end of which they fasten before to a string that ties on the langoti and then passing the slip of cloth between the two legs bring it up and fix it to the string of the langoti behind. The women too have a lang, one end of which they tie about their waist and the other they throw over their head”.

The first Grand Mogul Babur (Zahir ad-Din Muhammad Babur. 1526-1530), a prince of the Timurid Dynasty originating from Central Asia, conquered the Sultanate of Delhi, starting from the territory of today’s Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Babur himself used to put on clothes in many colour combinations. Over a tight- fitting long-sleeved garment, he wore a knee-length coat whose sleeves reached half way to the elbows. At the waist a kamarband was tied whose two gold tipped ends hung from a looped knot on the left. The short lapel of the coat, almost like a wide collar, was sometimes made of gold cloth. His turban was shaped by a long cloth, sometimes a gold cloth, wound several times round a tall kulah (a sort of pointed scull-cap). He wore close- fitting trousers with boat-like shoes. High boots up to the knees were worn while riding.

The outfit was suited for the cold climate of Central Asia from where it was imported. Babur’s attendants also wore a halfsleeved coat whose rear reached up to the back of the knees. At the front the coat displayed one, two or three short pointed flaps hanging from the waist.

Babur’s attire was more akin to that of a general and was appropriate to his great personality. With his indomitable spirit and remarkable military prowess he remained busy fighting the first battles that would lay the foundation stone of the Mughal Empire and open the way for an imperial line. Babur and Humayun did not have time or opportunity to think of any sartorial reform. The costumes of the days of the Sultanate continued.

Mughal Princess Roshnara Begum (1617 – 1671), second daughter of Shah Jahan and Empress consort Mumtaz Mahal.

Frontispiz of the book: Asia, or: Detailed Description Of The Empire of the Great Mongols (Moghuls) and a great part of the Indies by Olfert Dapper in 1681.

Mughal Emperor Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim (1569 – 1627). Imperial name Jahangir.

Humayun’s son Akbar, the most important Mughal ruler (reigned 1556-1605), who fortified the empire militarily, politically and economically, was a gifted statesman destined to wield the two racial elements into a cultural synthesis. He set out to remove all invidious distinctions between Muslims and non-Muslims. He meted out fair treatment to his Hindu subjects, appointed them to high posts and encouraged inter-racial marriages. He himself married two Rajput princesses. He pursued a policy of universal toleration by holding religious discourses. He was the first Mughal Emperor who did not sport a beard. All this gained him the love and reverence, the cooperation and goodwill of all his subjects and brought the Hindus and Muslims closer.

Not being fully satisfied with all these great social achievements, he tried to obliterate the communal differences in dress. His psychological insight told him that uniformity in appearance engendered a sense of belonging and a feeling of fraternity and harmony. As a step towards sartorial reform Akbar adopted a style of dress nearer to that of the Rajputs. The size of the turban was reduced and the kulah was detached from it. Earlier the Muslim jama had a frontal slit and was tied at the left side. Some women who had not fully overcome their initial shyness struck a compromise by wearing a ghagra instead of trousers beneath the skirt-slitted jama as they were apprehensive that the outlines of their limbs would show up through the frontal opening. Akbar ordered the jama to be made with round skirt without any slit and to be tied on the right side. Thus the new dress became a model of propriety and the fashion of the empire because the Emperor himself loved to wear his own innovated attire. In a reciprocal gesture some Rajputs also felt pride in imitating Iranian dresses. Each trying to become the other was an index of the flowering intimacy between the two communities.

Akbar also coined new and pleasing terms to be used in place of Persian names of various articles of dress: jama (coat) became sarab gati (that which covers the whole body); izar (trousers) was yar pairahan (companion of the coat); nim tanacha (jacket), tanzeb (adornment of the body); burqua (veil), chitragupita (face concealer); kulah (cap), sis shobha (adornment of the head); shal (shawl), parmnaram (that which is very soft); and paiafzar (shoes), charan dharan (that which covers the feet). Akbar also introduced the fashion of wearing the shawl doubled (doshalla).

After Akbar had ruled for four decades there was some change in the dress. The main elements of the costume were the coat, the turban and the trousers. Over a full sleeved undergarment was worn the half-sleeved long coat with three hanging V-shaped points in front and three at the back. The coat commonly known as jama was fitted tightly up to the waist and then like a skirt reached below the knees. At the chest it had two overlapping lapels. First the left lapel was taken beneath the right one and tied with its inner side by the help of ribbons already sewn in the garment. Then the right lapel was placed over the left and fastened by ribbons on the outer side of the left lapel. Numerous lapel flaps in a descending line were used on both sides of the chest. An Akbar type turban was worn. The waist was adorned by two bindings. A sash of gold brocade was displayed over a waistband of thin muslin. The motif on the hanging ends of the sash was geometrical, squares and triangles, and not floral. Trousers with puckers were visible below the lower edge of the jama.

Towards the end of sixteenth century, the jama was made of a diaphanous cloth, so transparent as to make visible the trousers beneath. It was a garment for summer wear. Most Rajasthani men, both from upper and middle classes, wore almost the same style of dress as was prevalent in Mughal courts. The costume had three varieties of jama. The most common was the one reaching below the knee. The other had pointed ends, four around 1560 and six around 1580. Sometimes these points became very sharp and elongated, reaching almost to the ankles. There was a third type long enough to cover almost the whole of the trousers but it was not as popular as the first two. Sometimes the jama had full sleeves.

Most women in northern India, however, were hesitant to copy an exotic dress and continued to prefer the halfsleeved bodice (choli), the ankle-length skirt (ghagra) and the head-scarf (orhni). The upper garment was fully embroidered at the neck and sleeves and the tasselled ends of the transparent orhni were decorated with pompoms. Pompom, an ornamental ball of wool or silk, was very much in fashion. They were found on the strings that tied armlets and bracelets, on shoes at the end of dangling tassels, and on the hair. But wives of noblemen and officials and high ranking ladies, bewitched with the magnetic influence and beauty of the Mughal fashion, adopted the Mughal jama with flowing skirt, the tight trousers and the orhni. The ends of a decorated sash worn underneath the jama are visible.

bottom of page