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Ancient India

The Ancient World and Fashion > Peoples of the South and East
Buddhist monks
Buddhist monks
Hindu women
Hindu women

India has a rich early history. The Indus valley civilization, which flourished between 2600 and 2000 BCE, was larger than any other empire of the time. The Aryan people, who arrived in India around 1500 BCE, introduced the religion of Hinduism, while Buddhism also began in India around 500 BCE. The Gupta Empire of the fourth to the sixth centuries CE is famous for its painting, music, and dance.

People of the Indus Valley

The first civilization in India grew up around the valley of the Indus River around 3500 BCE.Within a thousand years there were over a hundred towns and cities in the Indus valley. The farmers there were the first people to grow cotton and weave it into cloth for clothes. Meanwhile, in the towns and cities, metalworkers and bead makers made headbands, armlets, and necklaces. Beads for necklaces were made from gold, clay, and semiprecious stones. Some pottery beads were modeled in the form of tiny animals.

Clothes for Castes

The Aryan people, who arrived in India around 1500 BCE, introduced a caste system in which people were divided into different classes according to the jobs they did. Children always belonged to the same caste as their parents, and each caste wore different kinds of clothes. The main castes were: the workers, who wore a simple tunic and turban; the merchants, who dressed in more colorful robes and wore golden jewelry; the warriors and kings, who wore magnificently patterned robes and turbans and masses of jewelry; and the priests and scholars, who usually dressed very simply in a loincloth, with their hair knotted behind their head.

Buddhist Monks

Around 528 BCE Prince Siddhartha Gautama gave up his worldly riches and became the Buddha, a wandering holy man who dressed very simply and had almost no possessions. The Buddha attracted many followers who wished to live like him, and he gave precise instructions about their robes. These robes have been worn by Buddhist monks from the sixth century BCE right up to the present day. Buddhist monks have a “triple robe,” which consists of: a waistcloth, wrapped around the body like a sarong; a robe; and an outer robe, which is only worn in cold weather. Monks’ robes can be dyed from roots and tubers, plants, bark, leaves, flowers, and fruits, and these natural substances produce a range of colors from deep red to yellow. The most common color for Buddhist robes is a yellowish-orange, or saffron.

The Gupta Empire

The Gupta emperors ruled from 320 to 550 CE, and encouraged art, science, and trade.Textiles were a major source of wealth for the empire, and large quantities of silk, cotton, linen, and muslin (a very fine cotton) wereproduced to be traded abroad. While the ordinary people in the Gupta Empire wore simple clothes made from cotton, kings, princes, and princesses had splendid clothes and jewelry. A set of famous Buddhist murals painted at Ajanta during the Guptas’ rule portray a group of exquisite dancing maidens, laden with jewels. The dancers wear flowing robes of the finest muslin. Around their necks, waists, arms, and legs are strings of pearls, beads, and jewels. Some have golden, jeweled headdresses rising in points, while others are bareheaded with jewels and flowers woven into their hair.

The Tilaka

Ever since the Aryan period, Hindu women have worn a mark called the tilaka on their foreheads. It is usually made from a mixture of red ocher powder and sandalwood paste and is a visible sign that a person belongs to the Hindu religion. According to ancient Hindu tradition, the tilaka began in Aryan times when the bridegroom used his thumb to apply his blood to his bride’s forehead as a recognition of their marriage.

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