Lit Post – 2

lit3अब मेरी बेटी का मामला है मेरी कोख में जन्म लेने वाली मैत्रेयी का। मैं इसको उस खड्ड में नहीं गिरने दूंगी, जिसमें गिरकर औरत जीवन-भर निकलने को छटपटाती रहती है और एक दिन खत्म हो जाती है।

Now it is a matter of my daughter, of Maitreyi born from my womb. I won’t let her fall into that pit into which women fall and spend the rest of their lives yearning to escape and then one day they are no more. [X]

Kasturi Kundal Base* is an autobiographical novel by Maitreyi Pushpa that appears to deal a bit with her mother’s life and her early life in Bundelkhand. The still is from the TV series of the same name.

Autobiographies by women in Hindi are thin on the ground. Exceptions include Maitreyi Pushpa’s work (her other autobio is गुडि़या भीतर गुडि़या (Russian Doll)). One of her works, Alma Kabutari, has been translated into English.

The costume here with a plam leaf woven crown is likely Bundelkhand but I haven’t been able to corroborate this (though the palm leaf crown is cited in marriage customs in Central India).

*Title from a Kabir doha.

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Lit Post – 1

lit2 lit1After a few days, he began to visit the boy’s home in Palayamkottai and met his sisters who, dressed in the daring new style of pavadai, blouse and dhavani, strolled about book in hand. Extracts from Padmavati, A. Madhaviah, Trs by Meenakshi Tyagarajan.

A three piece dress comprising a blouse (choli), skirt/lehnga/dhoti and a shawl/dupatta is the most common of all forms of Indian historical clothing.

The pavadai-davani or langa-voni was probably not entirely uncommon for young girls in South India (see this 1868 pic) but as the extract from this 1898 novel shows its evolution into a dress for young, educated women probably dates from the end of the 19th century. At this point it was a “Christian” style, the girls referred to in this paragraph are Christian.  I have to add that I haven’t seen too many pics to support this since most pics of Christian girls have them in a sari.  However Madhaviah was writing in that period and as such the observation has to be take as correct. It then seems to have been universally adopted over time but by the 70s or so it is increasingly more of a rustic garment.

The stills for today’s post are from Vaagai Sooda Vaa set in the 1960s.

Over the years of doing this blog one of the frustrations is finding Indian texts that allow one to construct a rudimentary fashion history. Unfortunately if you primarily read English there is a good deal that is inaccessible. As an e.g. even though Madhaviah was one of the pioneers of modern Tamil writing and this book has a number of references to clothing in Tamil Nadu of the time which I wasn’t aware of, it is accessible only because the family arranged for a translation. Similarly a Tagore novella has numerous details on the clothes of upper class Bengalis, a work I recently read makes a casual reference to famous stores for buying saree jackets. That kind of detail is only possible if one is able to read the original or has access to translations, the latter are far and few in India.  Finding and then working through the texts is a bit difficult but I will try and refer to extracts now and then.

Posted in 1890s, 19th century, Christianity, Colonial, Costume, Culture, Dress Reform, Fashion Quote, Girls, Indian Dress, Indian Literature, Indian Women, Late 19th century, regional styles, sari history, Tamil, tamil Literature, Tamil Nadu, Vintage, Vintage Books, vintage costume, vintage fashion | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indian Royals – 2

The daughters of the Diwan of Travancore in 1868. They appear to be Bala, Neena, Sundara, Sati?. The Diwan was a Maharashtrian from Thanjavur, the sari and ornaments are similar to that seen in Maharashtra and South India in the late 19th century (in fact these styles persisted well into the 20th century). Except for Sundara in pic 3 – wearing what looks like the half saree – they all appear to be wearing nine yard sarees. The colour of the saree in three of the pics is akin to what in Tamil is called araku.  At least in pic 2, the sari end is secured to the body at the shoulder by a brooch as here.


Jamnabai in 1875-6. (For Jamnabai see here).  Apart from the blouse which is a Victorian influenced style, the sari and anklets and other elements are also seen in the 1911 portrait of Chimnabai who was her daughter-in-law.

Suniti Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar (also the grandmother of Gayatri Devi) in 1887. The sari is worn Bengali style, the blouse cannot be seen but is possibly the fuller versions worn in this period. You can see a bit of the high collar (and the jewels) in the close up.  Suniti Devi has a quiet elegance and is probably the grande-dame of House of Cooch-Behar aka Ladies who knew how to dress well.

The Maharani of Mysore, 1900.

Apart from the characteristic way of pleating the lower half of the sari, note the belt and also the way the pallu is pinned to the body of the sari over the shoulder (this is the first time I have seen this arrangement).

r4‘Rubbish, rubbish!’ she exclaimed when she saw them, and picked out over 200 superb saris for her tomboy daughter, in plain and patterned chiffon, with and without borders, some hand-embroidered, others appliques, some embroidered in gold and others of simple, heavy silks.

Ayesha, I am afraid, doesn’t wear her sari half as well as her mother,’ said a family friend. speculating that Ayesha always stood in her adored mother’s shadow, defining her self against Indira at the same time as fearing she could not live up to her example. Maharanis, Lucy Moore.

More often than not if you think of a royal style icon, Gayatri Devi is the name that comes to mind. Her style is to some extent derived from her mother, Indira Devi. Indira Devi’s initial 1910s look as a young woman (on her way to a wedding that did not take place, Edwardian style, wedding in London) gave way to a more sophisticated look in the 20s and 30s (X, X, X, X) which employs a lot of chiffon sarees and you can see her influence on her daughter. She didn’t entirely discard the nine yard sari (she was the daughter of Chimnabai)  it appears in paintings and photographs.

Today’s pic from A Year with the Gaekwar of Baroda (1911), the book has a dedication to her. The sari is probably a Chanderi/Maheshwari sari.

r3Unidentified Maratha Princess, 1930s. The saree is worn in the nine yard style (nauvari) but appears to be a sequinned/embroidered chiffon with a stitched border characteristic of the decade.  Though the gold butis are kind of traditional. Like in this pic, thick anklets, but worn with a mojri kind of shoe.


Posted in 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, 1900s, 1910s, 1930s, Costume, Culture, Early 20th Century, fashion, historical dress, historical fashions, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian royalty, Indian Women, Late 19th century, Maharashtra, regional styles, Royalty, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, sari history, Sets, Studio Portraits, Vintage Blouse, vintage costume, vintage fashion, vintage sari, vintage style, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indian Royals – 1

r11Unidentified man, Jaipur, possibly royalty. Painted portrait (gelatin silver print and watercolour) from the 1930s.

The collared coat is possibly a sherwani – a garment that displaced the jama, angarkha kind of tunics of the Mughal and Rajput courts by the late 19th/early 20th century. As in this pic you could wear a shirt under the sherwani. Collars were less common than the bandhgala or mandarin collar version.   While there is a lot of variation in turbans in India in the 19th century by the 1930s this kind of safa pagri was common in North India (South India favoured the Mysore peta). Ear piercings for men was common in India but it’s use declined over the 20th century.

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Rajasthan princes, 1920s. Possibly grooms since both wear sehras. Rather different from the Punjabi sehra you normally see, also looks a little uncomfortable. The sherwani of pic 1 is probably silk with gold embroidery, pic 2 looks like a brocade/silk jama. Pic 1 also reminds me of Sushant Singh Rajput :)

r12Sahibzada Abdul Aziz Khan* and Sa’adat Ali Khan of Tonk in 1925, the latter became the Nawab in 1930. The sherwanis are possibly velvet with gold/silver embroidery. Even though this style is seen in many historical, it is more late 19th/early 20th cent. – it is seen in a number of portraits in this period.  Caps (topi) as seen on the Sahibzada were also often of velvet with gold/silver thread embroidery.

Sometimes the edging of the sherwani is not embroidered but more in the manner of trims as on the senior Nawab of Tonk.


*per my notes poisoned two years after this photograph was taken.

r15Maharaja Pratap Singh, Jammu and Kashmir, circa 1900. [X]

More often than not vintage photographs of Indian royalty display a good deal of finery and jewellery so that the two seem synonymous. But dressing styles in fact varied a lot and were sometimes austere as in this portrait of Pratap Singh (see also the Gwalior Maharaja).

The jama with the side open flap and turban is seen in other 19th century portraits like this one of Raja Deen Dayal.

Official portraits were a different matter. Even in this portrait the Maharaja wears little accessories bar what I think is the Star of India paraphernalia.


Posted in 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, 20th century, Colonial, Costume, Culture, Early 20th Century, historical costume, historical dress, historical fashions, History, India, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian History, Indian men, Indian royalty, Islamic Dress, Islamic style, Painted Photographs, Photography, Royalty, vintage costume, Vintage Men | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sobha Singh’s Art

‘an accomplished but somewhat sugary style that reminds us of Edmund Dulac’, as Partha Mitter describes it (The Triumph of Modernism: India’s artists and the avant-garde 1922-1947, London 2007, p. 146)……approximate date for the pictures….between 1931 and 1941. X.

Sobha Singh, Wine Drinking.

Pic 2, 3 and 4 – click for larger view and closer details of the hair ornaments (jhoomar and mathapatti), the jewelled fringe for the choli, waist sash and the somewhat unusually shaped payal.

The other painting (Devotee) has simpler details, the clothing is *very* diaphanous here which is kind of common in some of the popular art of the 1920s and 1930s (e.g. Hemen Mazumdar).

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Mulgaokar’s art

Filmy costumes for mythological/historical figures in Raghuvir Mulgaokar’s 1953 paintings/calendar art.

Pic 1: Mastani  – this outfit aka a kameez that has a tight fitted bodice and skirt and the jhoomar for the hair is both particular to films and also late 19th century.
Pic 2 (below pic 1): Padmini – kind of Hindi film does Rajasthani costumes.
Pic 3: Devayani – a flowing dress with a girdle (or sometimes a sari) is often used to depict mythological figures.

Posted in 1950s, Art, Bollywood, churidar kameez, Costume, Courtesan, Culture, Dancer, Deccan, Film Costuming, ghaghra, historical costume, indian art, Indian Dress, Islamic style, Maharashtra, mid century, Paintings, Rajasthan, regional styles, Sari, vintage art, women in art | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dancers (Sudhir Khastgir)

For awhile (in the 50s I think), Sudhir Khastgir painted a number of dancing figures. Here are two:

Sudhir Khastgir, Dancing Figure, 1962. The lower panels indicate the earrings and forehead ornament, a little bit of the knotted ponytail, bangles and the girdle.

khastgir1957Another painting by Khastagir (1957). Unfortunately I have lost the source and my notes on this.


Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Art, Bengal, Costume, Dance, Dancer, indian art, Indian Dress, Indian men, Indian Women, mid century, Paintings, Vintage, vintage art, vintage costume, Vintage Dress, women in art | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment