दन्या चीनाखान की दक्ष महिताओं के नृत्यगीत अल्पना की तो ख्याति सुनी ही थी, उस दिन देख भी लिया. केवल अँगुली  के नैपुन्य से चित्रांकित हर रेखा का ये गजब का संतुलन था और कैसी अचूक सीध! शांतिनिकेतन में नंदलाल बोस की पुत्री गौरीभंज की जादुई अँगुलियों का चमत्कार तो देखा ही था जिसके पीछे कलागुरु पिता की शिक्षा, निष्ठा,अनुभव का दीर्घ इतिहास था। किन्तु कुमाऊँ की सरल, दस-बारह वर्ष की वयस में ही बहू बनकर आयी इन बड़ी-बूढ़ियों का कलागुरु था स्वयं विधाता। दो सखियाँ –  शिवानी

I had heard of the famous Nrityageet* alpanas of the talented women of Danya and Chinakhan, that day I saw it too.  Painted simply with dexterous fingers, each line was wonderfully balanced and how precisely straight! In Shantiniketan I had seen the wonder that was the magical fingers of Gauribhanj, behind which lay the long history of the education, determination and experience of her teacher and father, Nandalal Bose.  But Kumaon’s simple women, who came here as brides aged 10-12 years and are now old, their artist-teacher is God himself. Two Friends – Shivani.

Shivani was a  Hindi writer, born 17 October 1923.


Pic from here.

Posted in 1920s, 20th century, Decorative Arts, hindi literature, Indian Literature, Indian Women, Literature, My Translations, Vintage Books, vintage photography, vintage style, Women, women writers | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mantilla Post

In the pics: The late 19th/early 20 century practice of wearing a mantilla with the sari. Often made of lace. Probably a result of the popularity of the mantilla in nineteenth century Europe and more or less confined to Bengal.

Though we think of Gayatri Devi – and perhaps Indira Devi – as epitomising Indian elegance, the original style queen is without doubt Suniti Devi  The mantilla was popularised by her (pic 1 via Getty), it was part of a simplification of the brahmika style introduced by Jnanadanandini Devi

Judging by pic 3, the style was around even in 1911 though you can see it as early as 1883 on Mrinalini Devi (Tagore’s wife).

Though not akin to lace mantillas, the practice of wearing an extra piece of cloth draped over the sari on the upper part of the body is common in weddings in some parts of India (e.g. the Marathi shela, also in this Telugu wedding and in Bengal) – pic 3 is fairly similar though I believe it is intended as an adjunct to the sari that falls right down to the lower leg.

pic 2: via Geraldine Forbes. pic 4: Alkazi collection

A modern version here.

Posted in 1880s, 1910s, 19th century, 20th century, Accessories, Bengal, Colonial, Dress Reform, Early 19th century, fashion, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian Women, Photography, Royalty, Sari, sari history, Studio Portraits, Vintage, vintage costume, vintage photography, vintage sari, vintage style | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooch Post

I had an anon query on tumblr awhile back on how sari pins were worn so I thought I would do a quick post on how brooches were worn in the 1930s and 1940s.

Pins and brooches were around earlier (e.g. 1900s/1910s) earlier and were like the Edwardian bar pin or a round, jewelled brooch. Generally they held the pleats at the shoulder together, around this time the pleats were often bunched and then fastened, the loose end could then be readily draped over the head if required as in the portrait of Sarojini Naidu.

But the prolific use of pins and brooches for sarees is in the 1930s and 1940s. In part this may be due to the fact that the 6 yard saree became very common and probably required some pinning for women unused to the style. The style also made it possible to display this kind of jewellery.

Apart from pinning the saree at the shoulder either by way of the elongated bar pin or an elaborate jewelled brooch (pics 1-4), the brooch was also used to pin the saree at the waist as in pics 5 and 6.  While pinning on the left side seems an elegant way of anchoring the cross drape, you sometimes see brooches on the right side (pic 7) as well as anchored way up as in the artful drape of pic 8 (a similar drape in pic 5).

The brooches of pics 9 and 10 appear to be merely decorative given they are pinned to the blouse and the sari then draped so that they are displayed.

A modern version of the bar pin here.

Posted in 1910s, 1930s, 1940s, 20th century, Accessories, Early 20th Century, fashion, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Jewellery, retro fashion, vintage fashion, vintage jewellery, vintage style | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Autumn Festival

Thanks to RL long time since I did any significant update except for a few pieces now and then on tumblr. Before I start again just a few pics for autumn/Dusshera.


It was autumn, not a doubt of it. Ere long a forest of Kash flowers would whiten the river bank. Padma Nadir Majhi.

If I meet her again twenty years from now!
Again in twenty years –
Beside a sheaf of grain, perhaps,
In the month of Kartik-
When the evening crow goes home – the yellow river
Flows softened through reeds, kash-grass into the fields! Jibanananda Das.

I always like seasonal posts, so here is one of autumn. The painting is by Prankrishna Pal.

On the streets of Mumbai, apta and marigold being sold in early October (photographs mine).

And paintings of the goddess, in one a glimpse of Kali/Durga, the other of Saraswati.

The first painting is by KH Ara, the second is attributed to Manisha.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 20th century, Art, costumes in art, Culture, Dancer, Early 20th Century, Flowers, Flowers in Literature, Goddess, Hinduism, Indian Aesthetics, indian art, Indian Costume, indian festivals, Indian Flora, Indian Women, Paintings, Sari, Sari Blouse, Vintage, vintage art | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

प्रेमचंद के फटे जूते/Premchand’s Torn Shoes


Source: Flickr.

Most folk would have seen the Google Doodle of 31 July 2016 in honour of Premchand’s birth anniversary.

My translation of Harishankar Parsai‘s essay Premchand ke Fate Joote (Premchand’s torn shoes) below. Original Hindi version from which I translated  here. Its fairly rough so excuse the translation but you can get the gist of it.


Before me is a picture of Premchand, a photograph taken with his wife.  On his head is a cap of some kind of thick cloth, he also wears a kurta and dhoti. His forehead is taut, his cheekbones protrude, but his luxuriant moustache fills out his face.

On his feet are canvas shoes, its laces are tied untidily. Due to the carelessness in tying, the metal tips of the laces seem to be falling off and it is difficult to insert the laces in the eyelets on the shoe. The laces are then tied any which way.

The right shoe is fine but the left shoe has a big hole and the digits stick out.

My attention is fixed on that shoe. I think – if this is the attire for taking a photograph, what is worn informally? No, this man does not possess different kinds of attire – he doesn’t possess the virtues of changing his attire according to the occasion. What he is is what you see in the posed photograph.

I then look at his face. Do you know, my literary predecessor that your shoe is torn and your toes show through it? Do you have no realisation of this? No shame, no sense of abashment or hesitance?  Do you not even know that if you pulled the dhoti down a little the toes could have been hidden? And yet on your face there is a great indifference, a great confidence! When the photographer said “Ready, Please”, then according to tradition you would have attempted to smile and just when you tried to slowly draw out the smile lying somewhere in the oil of a deep well of hurt the photographer would have clicked and said “Thank You”. Strange is this incomplete smile.  This is not a smile, there is derision, satire in it!

What kind of a man is this who takes a photograph of himself in torn shoes and is also laughing at someone!

If you have to take a photograph, you wear proper shoes or do not take one at all. You don’t lose anything by not taking one. Perhaps it was on your wife’s insistence and you thought all right and sat down to have your photograph taken. But this is such a great “tragedy” that a man did not have the shoes to take a photograph. Looking often at  your photograph I want to cry as I feel within myself your anguish but I am stopped by the sharp, sorrow filled satire of your eyes.

You do not understand the importance of a photograph. If you did, you would have borrowed shoes before getting photographed.  People borrow a coat to display prospective bridegrooms.  People take out a baraat in a borrowed car. To take a photograph, even a wife may be borrowed, and you could not even ask for a pair of shoes! You do not understand the importance of a photograph.People daub themselves with attar so their photograph is fragrant! Even the worst of men have perfumed photographs!

A cap can be bought for 8 annas and shoes even at that time would have cost no less than 5 rupees. A shoe is always more expensive than a cap. Now the price of shoes has increased even more and for one shoe you can sacrifice 25 caps. You too were affected by this proportional value of shoes and caps. This anomaly has never struck me with such sharpness before as today when I see your torn shoes. So many epithets –  a great writer, the king of novels, an era changing author and many more – and yet the torn shoes in a photograph!

My shoes are never very good either. Though they look good externally. My toes do not protrude, but beneath the big toe the base is torn. The sole rubs against the ground and sometimes it is abraded and bloodied by the rough ground. The whole base may fall, the whole sole may peel, yet the toe will not protrude. Your toes are seen but your feet are protected. My toes are covered but the sole is being worn away.  You do not understand the importance of a curtain and here I am sacrificing myself for the curtain!

You wear your torn shoes with such pride and style! I cannot wear them so. Never will I take such a photograph in my entire life, even for a biography.

This satirical smile of yours depresses my morale. What does it mean? What kind of a smile is it?

—Did Hori  gift a cow?

—On a winter night did the nilgai graze and destroy the entire field of Halku?

—Did the son of Sujan Bhagat die because the doctor did not want to leave the Club?

No, I think Madho drank away the money given for his wife’s coffin. It seems like that kind of smile.

I again look at your shoes. How did it tear, my people’s writer?

Did you keep wandering?

To escape your dues to the grocer did you take a 2 mile detour to get home?

Wandering your shoes do not tear, they are worn away. Kumbhandas’ shoes were worn away in his travels to Fatehpur Sikri. He regretted a good deal. He said – “Coming and going my soles are worn, I forgot the name of Hari”.

And to those who called to gift he said – “Looking on them causes pain, yet I have to salute them.”

When we walk our shoes wear away, they do not tear.

I think that you have been hitting something hard and immovable. Some thing that has hardened layer by layer over many years, perhaps you hit that repeatedly and your shoes tore. Some raised mound in the middle of the road, perhaps you tested your shoes on it.

You could have taken a diversion and walked around that raised mound. You can after all compromise with the obstacles in your way. All rivers do not break mountains, some simply change course and go another way.

You cannot compromise. Do you also have the same weakness that drowned Hori, the very same weakness of custom and “dharma”? That dharma was his chains. But the way you smile, perhaps this dharma is not your chains but your liberation!

Your toes seem to be signalling something to  me, that which you think is hateful, perhaps towards it you do not point a finger but your toes?

Are you now making a gesture to that thing against which you collided repeatedly thus tearing your shoes?

I understand. I understand the gesture of your pointing toes and your sardonic smile.

You must laugh at me and all of us, at those who walk covering their toes and wearing out their soles, at those who bypass obstacles and walk on. You say – encountering obstacles I have torn my shoes, my toes protrude but my feet were saved and I walked on. But you were so worried about covering your toes you destroyed your sole. How will you walk?

I understand.  I understand the matter of your torn shoes, I understand the gesture of your toes, I understand your satirical smile.


Even though Parsai in this piece suggests that the photograph might have been taken at the insistence of his wife (Shivarani Devi) it doesn’t appear that she has “dressed up” for the photograph either. The sari she wears is a kind that was quite simple and worn by many  women in the 30s-50s, she also retains the full sleeved older kind of blouse (if we assume this as taken in the 30s). As for her shoes, those are fairly straightforward khadaun/sandals with all her toes shown:)


An earlier post on Miss Malti in Godaan – styling by Pallavi Datta.

Posted in 1930s, 20th century, Authors, Early 20th Century, hindi literature, India, Indian Authors, Indian Dress, Indian Literature, Indian men, Literature, My Translations, Photography, Vintage Men | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ashadh ka ek din

आषाढस्य प्रथमदिवसे मेघमाश्लिष्टसानुं
वप्रक्रीडापरिणतगजप्रेक्षणीयं ददर्श॥१.२॥

Ashar has come, filling the southern sky with
A cloud, frolicksome as an elephant
About to charge, he seems to lower his tusks. (translation of lines from the Meghadoot from here).

The month of Ashadh is the first month of the rainy season and is followed by Shravan. This year it runs from 5 July to 2 August.

Ashadh ka ek din is a 1958 play by Mohan Rakesh. Given the title it is obvious the pivotal events of the play occur during the month.

Before we jump into the costume, my favourite bit of the movie with Kalidasa and Mallika sheltering a pursued deer. It feels like a sweet nod to Shakuntala. Plus I am a sucker for cute animals:)

I often refer to Roshen Alkazi‘s books on Indian costume.  These books were written in part as background research for theatre productions. While she didn’t costume the 1971 movie based on the play – Lalitha Kaul did – it does share some elements in common with Alkazi productions of the 1970s. That is there is historical basis for the costumes but they are also stylized for the theatre…and of course often more modest than historical art or literature suggests.

Ashadh ka ek din is set in the times of Kalidasa, so you are roughly looking at the time of the Gupta empire.  The film is also influenced by the Ajanta frescoes (indeed what work set in the era isn’t?).  And additional element is the hill setting of the film.

The principal character, Mallika (Rekha Sabnis), is a village girl. In the initial scenes (e.g. with the deer) she is a young girl, in the later scenes a young woman. Throughout the film has her in simple handlooms, either plain or striped. The sari is a simple wrap, unless I am missing something it is kind of devised for the film since it doesn’t exactly follow the antariya-uttariya pattern though there is an example of a wrap that starts from the underarm in the frescoes (see below).

There is very little jewellery save the thread necklace and an arm band, both of which probably have a silver pendant or amulet. The hair is tied in a single braid (ekaveni).

The second female character in the film is the princess Priyangumanjari.


Priyangumanjari’s costumes appear to be based on the Ajanta frescoes (see especially the fresco below of 3 women). The costume uses some of the elements from frescoes as well as literature – the diaphanous uttariya, pearls as hair ornaments, the coiffure with curls. Though wearing an upper garment wasn’t essential, the film uses a block print top – perhaps akin to the flowered muslins described as being worn in cities.

The unibrow struck me as a little unusual (it somehow seems like  a post Qajar influence in India) but it does appear to date to an earlier period in Persia. You can see a few examples at Ajanta.

For the antariya, there are a few simple wraps seen in the Ajanta frescoes and often these are striped. Priyangumanjari’s is a tad more voluminous but it is striped and held in place by a girdle.

For comparison two Ajanta paintings. The second is taken from here.

Kalidasa (Arun Khopkar) appears first as the village lad with great talent and later in the film he returns from Ujjain after hitting the big time but disillusioned. In the first half the costume for most of the village men, including Kalidasa, is a shawl and dhoti.

When Kalidas returns his attire is a little different, he wears a tunic and like with Priyangumajari the antariya is a  bit voluminous and striped. It isn’t entirely clear to me if this sartorial choice is due to Ujjain (since some of the other city characters wear different clothes) or a result of his returning after a period of wandering. On the other hand I might take it as Gupta Age hipster chic:)

Below costumes of characters from Ujjain, a hunter and the men who accompany Priyangumanjari. It has a few of the elements of costume adopted by the Mughals including a tunic, antariya and kayabandh. There is also a distinction between the finer cloth of the city and the coarser version of the village. The full costume of the hunter can be seen above (with a sword in his kayabandh) where he is shown with Kalidasa.

Among the other male characters in the village is Vilom (Om Shivpuri), Kalidasa’s antagonist and Nikshep. The former is older and his costume is almost threadbare. Nikshep is younger and though the costume is similar in including a shawl and dhoti it is worn more elegantly and is richer in its few details.

Ambika is Mallika’s mother and seen in a simple wrap sari, worn much like Mallika’s.


I am not sure which part is played by  which actor but the cast credits include Anuradha Kapur, Uma Sahay, Pinchoo Kapoor, Hemant Bose, Surendra Dheer, Sharma and Vishnu Mathur.



For a shorter version in the 80s see this episode of Bharat ek Khoj. The costume for Mallika is the ghaghra-choli of Western India and there are a  few changes for the characters from Ujjain too including Priyangumanjari. For the latter, the inspiration seems to be sculpture with the elaborate hairdos, breast band etc.

Posted in 1950s, 4th century AD, Ancient India, costume design, Costumes in Cinema, Culture, film costumes, Film Costuming, Hairstyles, historical costume, historical dress, historical fashions, historical hairstyles, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Cinema, Indian Costume, Indian Literature, Indian men, Indian Theatre, Indian Women, Romance, Sanskrit Drama, Sanskrit Literature, sari drape, Theatre | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Monsoon Post

I could probably do an entire blog on the seasons in India and the associated poems but for this blog I stick to posting when we are in the midst of a season. More often than not I post on the flowers of the season, given that they feature a good deal in describing beauty as well as in beauty rituals.

Today’s flower is the kadamba.

New woodland grass
My soul and the kadamba blossom together.
Rain clouds wet my eyes with their blue coryllium. Kshanika, Rabindranath Tagore

The kadamba is so emblematic of the arrival of the monsoon in India that even the breeze is referred to as kadambanila in the season. It is not entirely common to spot a kadamba tree in India now and even less to find the blooms sold on urban streets. So its nice to see the blooms out and about in Bangladesh.

See also X, X, X.
Also part of Jharkhand cuisine.

So let your hair
Now full of budding flowers
Bloom as it desires. Ainkurunuru 496.

The Kadamba tree usually flowers around July. References to the wearing of its flowers largely come from Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara and Meghadutam, sometimes rather confusingly as adorning the hair parting. This is probably the only image I have seen though where it is used as a hair ornament.

Art by Manishi Dey.

Their hips are golden with girdles of kadamba flowers
their shoulders streaked from earrings of banana buds
and their bosoms white with necklaces of jasmine
delicate of nature is the costume
favored by the fair ones.

In the clumps of ketaki
as the tiny leaves unfold
the spikes appear
with tufts as white as lambs’ tails.

The other flowers of the monsoon: Jasmine/Juhi (Still from The Cloud Door), Ketaki (illustration from Ponniyun Selvan) and Banana flowers (Kathila earrings).

Monsoon poems from here.

And to end here is the last stanza of the canto on Varsha (Rainy Season) in Ritusamhara:


A source of fascination to amorous* women,
A constant friend to trees, shrubs and creepers,
the very life and breath of all living beings–
May this season of rains rich in these benedictions
fully grant all desires accordant with your wellbeing

Translation courtesy The Loom of Time (Chandra Rajan).

*why does kamini sound better than amorous?!


Posted in Ancient India, Culture, fashion, Flora, Flowers, Flowers in Literature, Hair, historical fashions, History, Indian Authors, Indian Women, Literature, Paintings, Poetry, Sanskrit Drama, Sanskrit Literature, Seasons, vintage art, vintage hair | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment