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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Textiles of ancient Bharat

Bharat was known the world over for its cotton, in particular, and textile weaving has been one of the oldest industries. Excavations of the Sindhu Saraswati Civilization (SSC) sites have revealed artifacts and textiles that bring to light the well-developed nature of the textile industry in ancient Bharat.

Spindle whorls of wool and coarse cotton and copper sewing needles have been discovered in many SSC sites. Archeologists have found a cotton fragment attached to a metal tool at Mohenjodaro and silk strands embedded in jewelry at Harappa and Chanhudaro. The discovery of numerous needles and spindles at the SSC sites attests to the fact that embroidered woven clothes were used in ancient Bharat.

Artifacts also confirm that men and women wore both stitched and unstitched clothes. This also dispels the myth that stitched clothes weren’t in vogue in ancient Bharat. It must be mentioned that there were distinct differences in the clothing of people belonging to various classes. While the rich wore long and loose kurtas, the poor donned short and tight ones.

In ancient Bharat, both cotton and silk stitched and unstitched clothing were draped around the body. Male apparel included unstitched clothing to cover the upper body mainly worn by priests and nobility. Dhoti was another unstitched garment worn by men in ancient Bharat. Other garments donned by men were a turban (usnisa), a lower garment around the waists (nivi), and a shawl-like upper garment draped across the shoulders (paridhan).

Female apparel included stitched and embroidered clothes. Terracotta female figurines wearing dresses, full-sleeved gowns, short skirts with waistbands, and tunics with overlapping knee-length skirts have been unearthed. The women too draped a cloth around their waists (candataka) and sometimes draped a vasana as their upper garment. These garments were in keeping with the climate and trends. Also, varna, marital status, region of origin, and social status could be known from the costumes.

Bharat was the first nation to grow, weave, and pattern cotton fabrics. Fine cotton muslins of Bengal weavers, Kalamkari of Andhra’s cotton weavers, and block-printed resist-dyed fabrics of Gujarat were exported to Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Roman empire, and Southeast Asian countries.

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Mughals having introduced the Chikankari in Bharat isn’t a historically backed fact. Ajanta Cave Paintings are believed to carry samples of chikan embroidery. Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay says that chikan could be dated to the times of Harsha (590-647 CE). Megasthenes (third century BCE) also mentions flowered muslin being used in Bharat during the times of Chandragupta Maurya.

There is enough material at hand that attests to the antiquity of Bharat’s textiles and with ongoing excavations at the SSC sites more proof is certain to emerge in this regard. It can be said with certainty that the handloom industry of Bharat started in the pre-historic era and continues to date.

(Featured Image Source: Indic Tales)

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