A preface to my readers: This post is going to be a long so grab a cup of chai and plan to read this in a couple of sittings. Or if you are like most people and need a 10-15 minute break from the stress of work, then by all means go ahead. I won’t stop you. You will learn something here.
A second preface: This post is dedicated to Bunto Kazmi, a fashion designer influenced by the Mughals and my all-time favorite.
Arguably the most successful and vast empire before the British rule in the sub-continent has to be the Mughal empire. The empire started in the 1500’s and ended with the invasion of British Army in 1857 (we still love you Queen Elizabeth!) Despite the remnants of British monarchy and harsh realities of its rule (I love you Kate Middleton. Come visit Pakistan), the Mughal influence on India’s art, architecture, fashion, and culture still persists today. They left behind an influence on India so deep, that almost no form of art and culture has been untouched like the Mughals.
The Mughal Emperors were liberal in their outlook. They were great patrons of art, literature, music and architecture. Besides the Mughal Emperors were fond of adopting new dress and new fashion which synthesized their own culture, contemporary culture and the indigenous culture. It was during Akbar’s reign that the synthesis of Hindu and Persian Muslim clothing style came into existence. Akbar was a very farsighted ruler. He was not in favor of clothing style of his forefathers because such a thick-clothing was not suitable for Indian climate. It was also obvious that the changes in the costumes introduced by Akbar were also politically motivated. He was in need of service of Hindu nobles; this is the reason that he adopted some of the Indian dressing styles, introduced some changes and also renamed them.
The ladies and gents of the Mughal Empire wore beautiful and expensive clothes made from the finest materials and adorned themselves with jewelry from head to toe. Back then, “costume design” was an art form – each emperor adopted his own contemporary style of clothing, whether it was Babar’s long coat or Akbar’s treasured “chakdar jama” tunic. It wasn’t just women who benefited from this golden age in fashion – men equally took care and consideration in their court outfits.
Mughal Men’s Clothing:
The Jama: The Yaktahi Jama (an unlined Jama) originated in Persia and Central Asia, where it was worn both short and long, over a pajama to form an outfit known as the “Bast Agag”. In Persian, the word “Jama” means garment, robe, gown or coat. The definition of the Mughal Jama is a side-fastening frock-coat with tight-fitting bodice, nipped-in waist and flared skirt, reaching the knees. An angharka in today’s fashion, if you will.
The Chogha: This is a very ancient garment which we have seen all throughout the Persian, Mongolian and other areas. The word Chogha in Mughal times referred to a long sleeved coat, open down the front, usually down to hip length or knee length. By the medieval period, Choghas in India were made loose enough to be worn over Angharkas, Jamas and other garments. Some were very ornate and embroidered.
Doshala and Shawls: Akbar also introduced a new fashion of wearing shawls by wearing it in double folds. The wearing of the shawl (double-sided) has been termed by many scholars as doshala, i.e. a double faced shawl consisting of two fabrics attached at the underside with the fabric having two right sides and no wrong side. During the Mughals the production of Shawls reached its zenith. The Mughal rulers encouraged it to a great extent which led to the commercialization of the industry. As a result of Shawls began to produce on a large scale in India, this all brought a high perfection in its production. Shawls were also exchanged among noblemen as gifts.
The Patka: Around the waist of the Jama, a long piece of fine fabric was tied like a sash. This was the Patka, from which a jeweled sword could be suspended. Patkas were hand-woven with complex designs, or embroidered, or hand-painted or printed.
Dhoti and Paijama: Another term for these loose 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 (wide-legged pants) for the mobility they afforded. 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 (think churidars).
Peshwaz: Loose jama-like robe, fastened at the front, with ties at the waist. Usually high-waisted and long-sleeved. Sometimes several fine transparent muslin peshwaz were worn, for a layered look. Sometimes a choli (blouse) was worn under the Peshwaz.
Yalek: A long under-tunic reaching to the floor, usually with short sleeves or sleeveless.
Churidar: Cut on the bias, much longer than the leg, so that folds fall at the ankle, worn by men and women.
Shalwar: A triangularly cut pai-jama with a quilted band at the ankle (poncha) worn by men and women.
Pagri or Turban: In India a turban proclaims status, religion, caste and family. To submit your turban is a sign of total submission. When a man dies, his turban is tied on the head of his eldest son, to signify taking the responsibility of the family. Even some women wore turbans in medieval times. Mughals tied their turbans then added decoration by way of bejeweled bans, pin jewelry or other ornamentation.
Caps: Caps worn were heavily ornamented and in a variety of styles.
Ornamented shoes with turned up toes (Jhuti) were Persian in style, and were worn by men and women. Shoe styles included “jhuti”, “kafsh”, “charhvan”, “salim shahi” and “khurd nau” and were curved up at the front. Lucknow was most famous for its footwear in Mughal times, and the art of Aughi, embroidery on leather and velvet footwear, was very popular.
Ornaments are worn not only for the purpose of attracting the attention of others around but also as a distinctive mark of status, rank and dignity. Indian women, too, have shown a great liking for jewelry. The Mughal ladies loaded themselves with a large variety of ornaments. Different types of head ornaments, ear ornaments, nose ornaments, necklaces, hand ornaments, waist belts and ankle/foot ornaments were used in the Mughal Empire.
Mughal Women’s Fashion
The gorgeous dressing sense of the Mughal ladies was not confined to the Mughal harem. But there were several occasions where the Mughals and the Hindu women came into contact with each other, a number of social gatherings were organized for the purpose. By coming into contact with the Hindu women the Mughal ladies began to bend towards more varied feminine dresses, the royal ladies of the Mughal court had started to wear saris.
Dhilja: A woman’s pai-jama made of silk, cut wide and straight.
Gharara: A woman’s pai-jama cut loose to the knee and adding gathers.
Farshi: A woman’s pai-jama cut without folds to the knees, and then gathered into pleats to the floor.
Women’s fashion was also greatly influenced by the court. They wore Shalwars, Churidars, Dhiljia, Gharara, and farshi gharara (see above). Muslim women favored the pants style, and Hindu women, the skirt. In either style, the drawstrings were decorated at length with pearls and jewels (I feel drab)
They wore lots of jewelry including earrings, nose jewelry, necklaces, bangles, belts, and anklets.
Owing to the relative isolation of the ladies in court, fashion in the early days of the empire adhered to traditional dress of Khurasan and Persia. In time, the social and diplomatic relationships between the Mughal Dynasty and the rest of India (Rajputana in particular), led to more exchange in accoutrements.
With the addition of Rajput princesses (through marriages) during the reign of Akbar, Hindu clothing came to influence the court. The wives and consorts began to dress similarly, regardless of religion.
Influence on Today’s Fashion
Mughal fashions are most prominent in long lenghas, cholis, and peshwaz – flowing floor-length skirts that are most commonly seen in modern Pakistani bridal outfits. In menswear, it is common to see churidars and Jama, also known as sherwani.
The use of heavy, embroidered silk is also derived from the Mughal Empire – where different kinds of silks were popular amongst emperors and their courts.
Golden-toned color palettes and contrasting patterns are also features of Mughal fashion design which have been adapted to many South Asian wedding attires. It is said that the color prevalence of red in bridal wear was also adopted during this era (Muslim brides wear white).
Only the costliest clothes of cotton, silk or wool were used. Today, that is not always the case.
The Mughal fashion has also evolved for the modern woman’s need. Lenghas with crop tops, short angharka with cigarette pants are all modern takes on Mughal fashion.