The Mughal Empire covered Northern and Central India and reigned between the years 1483 and 1857. The first emperor was Babur and the last Bahadur Shah in the 374 year long reign of the dynasty.
Emperor Akbar was considered to be the greatest of all the Mughal rulers and Emperor Shahjahan is best known for building the Taj Mahal, one of the finest monuments of the world. It was perhaps the world's most civilised centre of power at the time. Its glittering court in Agra, Delhi and Lahore, was filled with all the magnificence and luxury that Asia could supply.
The luxury and lifestyle of the era is unparallel to any of the preceding or following dynasties. During the Mughal rule the emperors ruled over a prosperous civilisation that produced many goods. Highly skilled dyers and weavers in India produced textiles with beautiful designs. This successful industry created an enormous amount of clothing for markets throughout Asia and Europe.
Luxury designs for the court
It is important to note the Persian influence on Mughal fashion. In addition to trade relations, the Persians maintained close diplomatic and intellectual ties with the Indian sub-continent. In 1549, artists from Tabriz and Herat integrated Emperor Humayun's art academy. At the instigation of his successor, Akbar the Great (1556-1605), textile manufactories were founded in the empire's new capital at Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Lahore and Ahmedabad, with the aid of Persian weavers. Predictably, therefore, Mughal designers took their cue from the Persian Islamic repertoire.
Pictorial textiles reflected new fashions at the Mughal court, characterised by the swaying figures of young women or plump male courtiers, identical to contemporary miniatures. Rows of flowering plants or bushes with hovering butterflies or home to various species of birds, in particular the nightingale, were among favoured new fabric layouts.
The decorative repertoire refers more to abstract motifs such as the imaginary floral, variants on calligraphic script in addition to a wide range of Islamic patterns. The mid-sixteenth century, “Kara Memi”, inventor of the so-called “four flowers style”, incorporated artful arrangements of hyacinth sprigs, carnations, sprays of plum blossom and lotus a flower significant to spiritual India.
The majestic lifestyle of the women and men of leisure and courtly personalities was impressive during the Mughal Era. They displayed such spectacular style in clothing and fashion sense that we continue to imitate and mirror their grand reflections. So opulent were their ideas of style and sense of finesse that it was difficult to match their high standards.
Superb dexterity and artistry were needed to create products of the Mughal master craftsman who were patronised for generations by the endowment and facilitation of the Mughal institutions and courts. They were many facets and metamorphosis of Mughal fashion and I shall try to share with you a glance into the complex and rich fashion traditions of the historic period.
The jeweled crowns were designed in the architectural likeness of the courts that belonged to the nobility. It was commonly known as the “Taj” made of gold and precious stones. The elaborate designs varied and were worn according to the significance and stature of the stately functions.
Other head ornamentation like central “mang tika” or “tikley”, side “jhapta”, pins, clips and ornate “shita paties” were adorned as head embellishments.
The layers of transparent gossamer silks were worn in the finest, nets, organzas, tissues and muslins. It elegantly covered their heads in the most stylised fashion. The veils were probably the most important fashion accessories with extravagant adornments and trimmings of gold and brocade borders. The pieces were engineered in layouts that focused on the head and end pieces of the wraps.
This was the garb of the Rajputs of Rajasthan. One of the richest states of India, the Maharanis and the princesses of the region were particularly adept at displaying their fashion prowess. The long skirts termed as “lehenga” in India are flared skirts with extensive hemlines. Interestingly these were made of 60 or more pieces of individual pleats hand-stitched together to create a parasol of skirting. Always matched with a “choli” blouse it was an extraordinary ensemble.
Angarkha and choga
Worn by both men and women, “angarkha” is a yoked formal wear fitted on top and cut with an a-line pattern on the hemline. It can come in layers with an under and over piece. The garment is heavily embroidered on the chest area with “churidar” sleeves. It often also had overlapped front openings fastened with jewels. Regal in attire, it is topped with a coat or “choga”. “Chogas” came in both short and long sleeves, high collared and decorated with detailed enhancement applications.
Best known today as the “anarkali” style. Worn extensively by the Muslim courts of north India. There are many versions of this outfit but the most elaborate ones were probably worn by the dancers. The Lucknow gharana ideally propagated this style with its superb high-end artistry. The undulating motion and drape of this Mughal ensemble is timeless. “Churidar” and flowing veils created a fantasy imagery of a celestial angel.
Emperors, maharajas, noble men and women all displayed exquisite jewellery, extremely ostentatious and extravagant pieces that were a symbol of their status and place in society.
Collar or cascading, the jewels were divine pieces of artistic genius. Chest ornamentation and chandelier style earrings or “jhumkas”, “danglers” were adopted by the fashionistas in great variations and were painstakingly made by the master crafts men. Armlets, bracelets, cuffs, “karas” and anklets were adopted in diverse design orientations. Both men and women wore excessive statement rings. Belts, “batuas” and “jootis” were encrusted with jewels and custom made to order.
The opulent and majestic fashion of the Mughal royalty ushered in a glorious period of fashion in the Indian Subcontinent. They patronised the finest of all that their country could offer and were perhaps responsible for developing an impressive design industry that continues to flourish today.
Photo: Iqbal Ahmed
Makeup and styling: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe and jewellery: Farzana Shakil