Ancient Indian Costume

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Item Code: IDD682
Publisher: National Book Trust, India
Language: English
Edition: 2023
ISBN: 9788123716879
Pages: 152 (B & W Figure Illus: 79)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
Weight 200 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This book is an abridged edition of Ancient Indian Costume by the same author. It traces the evolution of costume in ancient India between 321 B.C and A.D.850, largely on the basis of archaeological sources. Each of the four chapters includes a brief social history of the specific period, its costumes, headgears and hairstyles, jewellery, textiles and dyes, and a short note on the visual art of the period. Supplemented with 79 illustrations, this edition is intended as a primer to the layperson who seeks an insight into the costume of ancient India. It will also serve as handy reference to illustration, art students, fashion designers and costume designers for film, television, and theatre. The original edition of this book has been used as a textbook in several institutions including East-West University, Honolulu.


About the Author

Roshen Alkazi has managed various contemporary art galleries for the past four decades or so and is at present Director of her own art gallery, Art Heritage, New Delhi. She has been a costume designer for more than five decades, both in Bombay and Delhi with the Theatre Group, Theatre Unit, National School of Drama, and is currently involved with Living Theatre in this capacity. She has taught history of costume at the New Delhi Polytechnic for several years. A poet in her own right, Writers' Workshop, Calcutta, has published two volumes of the verse, Seventeen Poem and Seventeen More Poems.



The simplest and the most sophisticated of attire is in the form of Ardhanarisvura, the right half practically unclad or clad in a tiger skin or elephant hide with reptiles as ornaments, but the left half with the most sophisticated of both drapery and ornaments. The mountain princess Parvati decks herself with every possible jewel and has gorgeous costume.

Though originally the idea of costume was only to cover parts of the body, it developed rapidly and nature contributed immensely towards the material sought for costume. Costume is not the same throughout the year. Kalidasa specially mentions how summer came in its rigor to give the beloveds of the prince lessons on the mode of dress, where the upper garments were delicately inter woven with jewels, pearl necklaces pendent on ever so pale breasts and the silken garments so fine that they could be blown away even by the softest breath: athasya ranagrathi tottariyam ekantapandutanalmbiharm, Nissvasharya msukam ajagama gharmah priya vesam ivopadeshtum Raghuvamsa 16.43.

It was not the same in winter, where the prince enjoyed the damsels with lovely waists, who attracted him when he tied and untied and played with the garments on their hip, rustling as silk usually does, and made specially for use in winter and fragrant with the fume of frankincence, displaying their golden waist bands: marmarair agurudhupagandhibhir Vyaktahemarasnais , juhrur agrathanamokshaloupam haimanair nivasaniah sumadhyamah Raghuvamsa 19.41.

This would give an idea that costume in a tropical country like India differed almost every few months. Sunlit, the land is glorious, both jewellery and costume adding beauty to the lovely form, however much Kalidasa may deny in a taunting way "what is not an adornment to beautiful form", kim iva hi madhuranam mandanam nakritinam abhijnanasakuntalam 1.18.

Beautiful form apart, dress was a great factor. Dress distinguished different classes, different trades and vocations, different stages of life and different aspects of the mind. The brahmachari, pupil and the yati or ascetic were the only ones who were absolutely the simplest, devoid of ornaments and very sparing in dress.

Mrs. Roshen Alkazi has made a detailed study of ancient Indian costume from the earliest times to the end of the Gupta period. She has ransacked jewels and costumes from one end to the other of our great subcontinent giving a number of sculptures and supplementing them with drawings specially prepared to explain each variety. She has described in detail every sketch that is given and the photo—graphs that illustrate her large and liberally illustrated volume. She has studied the various areas, classified and given maps to show the vast range of the Indian subcontinent. She has patiently worked on this for quite a long time and it is indeed a pleasure to see that she has come to the end of her devoted work to make available her fine book Ancient Indian Costume which I am sure will be welcomed by all lovers of Indian culture.



Geographical, climatic and racial factors have had a great influence on the history of India, and consequently on the costume of its people. The very shape of India, a suspension from the continent of Asia, sealed by the Himalayas in the north and surrounded by the ocean on its other two sides, isolated it sufficiently for change to come by very slowly. The only entry into India by land was through the various passes of the north—west. Culturally, the divisions in India have been formed by the two great rivers, the Indus and the Ganges, with their tributaries in the fertile north and west. The Deccan plateau in the centre with the Western Ghats and similar ranges on its east coast, uniting at the bottom to form the Nilgiri Hills, sealed off the south of India, there by allowing it to retain a distinct culture of its own.

This book is a study of the costumes prevalent in four periods—Mauryan—Sunga (321-72 B.C.) Satavahana (200 B.C;.—A.D. 250), Kushan (13G B.C.—A.D. 185) and the Gupta period (early fourth—mid—eighth century A.D.) The two main sources from which historical reconstruction of costume scan be made are the literary and archaeological sources. It seems safer to base most of our evidence on archaeological remains, as literary descriptions of clothes can be vague, exaggerated or confusing. Each chapter includes a brief social history of the period, its costumes, headgears and hairstyles, jewellery, and textiles and dyes. Religious and military costumes have also been given some emphasis. As the visual style of the art of each period epitomizes the costume prevailing in that period, a brief note on it has been added.

Illustrations have been selected with a view to showing as much variety as possible of the garments worn in each period. This has been done to make a reasonable reconstruction of the clothes as they evolved and changed in ancient India. An attempt has been made in the line drawings to clarify and emphasize the functional aspect of clothes by completing a broken fragment of sculpture or a line in a painting, by eliminating the extraneous, and by disentangling from the welter of sculptural or painted forms the manner in which clothes have been attached to the human body, and the elements of which they are com-posed. The illustrations are accompanied by brief written descriptions using, as far as possible, the appropriate terminology. Occasionally, English terms such as robe, belt, and tunic which from the strictly academic view may appear anachronistic, have been used for purposes of simplification and clarity and to avoid the sort of pedantry which only confuses the reader.

This work is an effort to provide substantial material for ready reference in a direct simplified form, without the encumbrances of abstruse references or technical jargon. Besides laypersons, for whom this abridged edition is primarily intended, it is hoped that illustrators, art students, fashion designers, and costume designers for film, television and theatre will get an idea of the essentials of the costume of a particular period by referring to this book.

I wish to express my gratitude to all those scholars whose painstaking works have been a source of inspiration to me. My thanks to Shyama Chopra, Uttara Baokar, Neeta Gangopadhya and Rohini Parong for having patiently worked and re—worked on the line drawings over the many wears it took to complete the original edition of this book.




Foreword ix
Preface xi
Mauryan and Sunga Periods (321-72 B.C) 1
Satavahana (Andhra) Periods (200 B.C. - A.D. 250) 23
Kushan period (130 B.C. - A.D. 185) 57
Gupta Period (Early Fourth to Mid eighth Century A.D) 87
Glossary 131
Bibliography 136
Index 139
Sample Pages

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