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Gupta Period [Early Fourth to Mid-Eighth Centuary A.D.]

Fa-hein, a Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled in India, wrote an account of his travels in which he noted the peacefulness of India...

Author: Roshen Alkazi

Last Updated On: 8/31/2010


History and Social Life
Gupta EmpireThe Gupta empire was founded in northern India at the beginning of the fourth century AD after a long period of chaos which ensued when the Kushan empire ended in the middle of the third century. In the interim period a number of new peoples and states emerged about whom there is very little historical record. It is only with the foundation of Gupta Empire, that there was once again unity and peace over almost the whole of North India.

The Gupta empire lasted for more than two centuries and was vast: it stretched over the major part of north India and to Balkh in the east. In the west, the Guptas totally defeated the foreign invaders, the Sakas, who had been ruling Gujarat for more than 200 years. Known as the ‘Golden Age’ and the ‘Classical Period’, in the age of the Guptas a degree of balance and harmony in all the arts and an efficient system of administration was achieved.

Fa-hein, a Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled in India, wrote an account of his travels in which he noted the peacefulness of India, the rarity of serious crimes, and the benevolence of the administration. Most Indians, except the lowest castes and untouchables practiced vegetarianism. Hinduism was widespread although Buddhism still flourished.

Chronologically, the Gupta period includes the reign of Harsha of Kanauj (AD 606-647) who revived the glory of the empire after the invasions of the White Huns. Neither Harsha nor the Guptas had ever been able to conquer the south, where the Pallavas and chalukyas took over from the Satavahanas. With the Kushans there had been a great deal of influence from the western world because of the dominance of the Roman empire, but now that the latter had collapsed, India was more isolated and purely Indian ideals were being expressed and even exported to the Far East and South Asia where more contacts had been made through trade and religion.

In the Deccan, it was the Vakatakas and not the Guptas who ruled from the first half of the fifth century to the seventh century, and after them the Chalukya King Pulakesin II (AD 609-642) came to power. This region and period has been included under the section of Gupta costume had penetrated into the Deccan and most of north India.

In the previous periods, evidence of costume was derived mainly from sculptures, but in this period the wall paintings of Ajanta most vividly mirror contemporary life and dress.

Costume Man
In this period there was a marked preference for the stitched garment, as compared to any previous age, and clearly defined garments for north India and the Deccan began to emerge, which later crystallized into the garment preference we see in India today. With the Kushans, the stitched garment had gained in status and it was now linked to royalty, for the Kushan Kings and their nobles had rules a large part of India and Central Asia for more than a 100 years. The Gupta Kings realized the value of adopting a dress that had traditionally become identified with royalty. They are shown on Gupta coins in full Kushan dress, that is, the coat, trousers and boots. They continued, however, to wear the indigenous antaryia, uttariya and kayabandh for normal occasions.

Many forms of cut-and-sewn garments became fashionable, especially at court. These garments were not totally foreign to the Indians. Changes had been occurring gradually and the indigenous kancuka, associated with guardians and attendants of the harem in earlier times, probably inspired the brocaded tunic with long or short sleeves worn by ministers, guards, door-keepers, and court attendants. Just as often is seen a simpler version, the white calf-length tunic which the chamberlain wore, a chaddar adding dignity to his attire. The lower garment was usually the antariya and with it was sometimes worn kancuka, which could be tucked in like a shirt. The kayabandh was used to hold the garments in place. The ushnisa (turban) was slowly becoming obsolete, and was now associated mainly with certain dignitaries, ministers and other officials.

Foreigners at court were a common sight as trade and commercial intercourse between India and Persia in this period was at its height. Persia’s influence on Indian art is most clearly seen in the rich floating ribbon decoration, which was in fashion at the Persian court of Khusrau II (AD 600).

In northern India where climatic conditions were more suitable there was greater emphasis on the stitched garments, but in the south, as is apparent even today, the indigenous antariya, uttariya and kayabandh held their own. Strangely enough, although royalty on the Gupta coins is shown wearing the sewn garment of the Kushan Kings, in the Ajanta paintings the king and other members of the nobility are still seen in their fine silk or muslin antariyas.

The king’s costume was most often of striped blue closely woven silk with a floating uttariya. Both these garments invariably had woven borders. Instead of kayabandh a plain cord or belt became more popular, wound once or twice around and then buckled or knotted in a variety of ways to secure the antariya. Sometimes the uttariya itself was twisted thickly and worn aslant the waist with a large knot at the left shoulder. It was the elaborate mukuta (crown) and exquisite jewellery that really set apart kings and high dignitaries from other members of royal entourage. Some scholars believe that these elaborate mukuta were never actually used, but were merely signs of divinity or royalty.

Costume Woman
In the case of male costume it is easier to trace the influence, which came mainly from the invaders and traders. In female costume, however, the variety is much grater and hence it is more difficult to pin-point the exact sources.

The antariya, which was 18-36 inch wide and 4-8 yards long, was worn in several different ways. The short or long antariya was worn in the kachcha style or as a lehnga, in which case it was first wrapped around the right hip then around the body and tucked in at the left hip. It was drawn very tight across in the hips accentuating their curve most seductively, and was normally calf-length. Another form of the antariya was worn in the Kachcha and lehnga style together. This was usually a very short antariya only up to mid-thigh called calanika. It was drawn first in kachcha style, the longer end of the three yard long material was then wrapped around like a short lehnga. A common form was a skimpy antariya made of cheap linen worn mainly by lower classes. Normally the nobility wore the ankle-length antariya and women of high rank, attendant usually wore the shorter form. But in all cases it was tied under the navel and supported by the hip bones.

The antariya was occasionally worn like the Indonesian sarong- a wide garment reaching from under the armpits to mid-thigh in a simple wraparound fashion. The main difference in the Gupta period, as distinct from the previous periods, is that the kachcha style became less popular with women, being replaced gradually by the more feminine lehnga or lungi was we call it today, although the queen and other ladies of the royal family remained conservative. This conservative kachcha style is still adopted by the women of Maharashtra and South India.

The skirt, bhairnivasani, evolved from the antariya which when stitched on one side became tabular and was worn gathered together at the waist, and held by a girdle. This was one of the earliest forms of a clumsily stitched skirt and used as early as the Early Bronze period by the Germanic race. The bhairnivasani was first used by the Jain and Buddhist nuns, and arose from the idea that a woman’s body was sinful and had to be covered. Also, the kachcha and the lehnga style were considered too seductive as they entailed the antariya to be pulled tightly across the hips. With the Jain sect in particular, an extraordinary amount of clothing was worn by the nuns to completely hide the shape of the female form. From the bhairnivasani evolved the skirt with the drawstring or nada, called ghagri. The ghagri was a narrow skirt six feet long- the same length as original antariya. It was worn mainly by village women, and was very attractive since the border of the cloth was used vertically in the centre to decorate it.

A heavily gathered skirt, an elaboration on the ghagri probably introduced by foreigners, is also seen. It seems to be mainly used by dancers, so that the swirling effect is enhanced by its many folds, which may have been gored. The skirt is still worn by mainly rural peoples, including the Lambadi and Banjara gypsies of India.

Women wore langoti type drawers, the ardhoruka, which had evolved from the needs of modesty. This was a short strip of cloth worn around the waist with an attached piece from the centre of the waist, which was drawn up between the legs and tucked in behind. Like the bhairnivasani this too was an early garment originally used by women ascetics. Jain nuns wore four of these ardhorukas one on top of another, something like the medieval ‘chastity belt’.

It would be interesting to find a satisfactory answer as to why, at this particular juncture, Indian women frequently began to clothe the top half their bodies. For many centuries before, they had moved around self consciously nude above waist. There were probably two reasons. One was that the female attendants in the King’s court thrown into the company of beautiful foreigners who wore upper garments, must have realized that covering the bosom could even be more attractive than exposing it, and accordingly emulated the dress style of the foreigners. Also, with the impact of Buddhism, Jainsm, and Christianity the belief that the body was sinful and must be concealed to avoid temptation was percolating through India, In medieval Europe, around this time, similar changes were occurring in female clothing, and women began covering themselves from head to foot.

The breast-band had been used since Vedic times, as with Greeks, mainly as a support for breasts rather than covers them. There was in addition to the breast-band, an indigenous stitched garment known as cholaka, chola, choli, cholika and kancholika, which is mentioned in early Sanskrit literature. The primitive choli was cut very simply from a square piece of cloth, with a slit for the neck. This was also the early form used as protection by the women of the Germanic or Teutonic races in the Early Bronze age. This evolution from the unstitched to the stitched garments had an inescapable logic as it evolved for purely functional purposes. In the case of the Germanic races it was protection from the cold, and in India it served the purpose of modesty.

A further development of the choli was the fold back at the bottom edge and the introduction of string, attached to make it back less, very like the garments worn today by women in Rajasthan and elsewhere. The apron-like attachment at the front of the choli, visible in some of the frescoes, could have evolved from the need for protection against the cold for the front part of the body, as the back was normally covered by the head-veil, or as a modesty covering over the stomach which was exposed, the skirt or lehnga being worn below the navel. Here again the back was covered by the head-veil.

Another choli, which ends just above the waist, is made of diaphanous material and seen particularly in the dress of princesses and other royal ladies. This choli appears to be fastened in front, probably knotted, as in the case with certain cholis in use today. This would cover the back completely, but expose most of the midriff in front. The Persian shirt or kurta, with its side-opening at the neck, slit sides and four-poted hemline had become thoroughly Indianised and was commonly used even by women. Another style of the kurta was with crossover flaps and side-opening in the angarkha style. Ankle-length fitted tunics in brocade still appear foreign and may have been a Turanian Tartar (a nomadic race of Mongolian stock from Central Asia) contribution to the fashions at court.

The uttariya remained, but was worn very sheer and more as flattering accessory, rather than as the substantial article of clothing it had once been. It is normally seen in Ajanta, delicately wafting behind, like the floating ribbon decoration, which was also in fashion at the Persian court at this time.

Headgear and Hairstyles
Simple plaits were no longer visible, and hair was so elaborately dressed at times, that the help of maid-servant who were expert hair-dressers was obviously essential. There were seemed to be broadly two styles of foreign origin, while the complicated ways of dressing long hair were mainly derived from South Indian and Deccani styles. The latter became extremely popular in the Gupta age. The use of missi to darken gums and lips, and henna to redden the palm and soles of the feet was fairly prevalent.

Of foreign origin was the short hair, which was sometimes frizzed in front with luxuriant ringlets quite unlike anything seen today, or just left hanging loose to the shoulders or lower, held by a fillet or a chaplet of flowers.

The indigenous style showed itself in long hair worn in a bun either high or low on the neck or knotted at the side of the head, or with the coil wound on the left on top of the head. The bun itself was something a simple tight knot, at other times in the shape of the figure eight, or large and loosely wound, but almost always surrounded by flowers or had large lotus blossoms tucked into it. In addition, there could be a, ratnajali, jewelled net or a net of pearls called muktajala, worn over the bun.

Tiaras were often used with short or long hair, and pearl string could define the parting of the hair, as could be jewelled band. Fillets both simple and elaborate were commonly used to hold back short hair. Turbans too had not disappeared completely and women wore them very effectively, sometimes made of brocade or striped material, and completely covering the hair.

The profuse use of flowers cannot be overemphasized in this period. Besides surrounding the bun they were used as tiaras, and in as many ways to dress the hair as could conceivably be imagined by the women wearing them. In the Deccan, hair styles of the lower classes (even those belonging to the menial orders) or the peasant women could be as elaborate as those of the higher-class women.

For men, a tiara or crown with a band inset with pearls and something festooned with garlands replaced the turban. This slowly became more common for the king when informally dressed in indigenous garments; attendants wore this as well with shoulder-length hair. On the Gupta coins, however, the king is shown in Parthian-Kushan dress and wears a skull cap or helmet as headgear. The king probably used this latter costume on formal occasions, which required military regalia, or at sports like hunting.

In royal entourage, the turban continued to be worn by high officials, like the chamberlain, ministers, military officers, civic officials and so on, where it had become a distinctive symbol of their respective ranks. It could be of fine muslin tied over a large knot of hair at the centre of the forehead or a striped turban worn flat and twisted giving a rope-like effect to the cloth when wound. The ministers were often Brahmins with all their hair shorn keeping only the ritual top knot.

Generally, hair was worn loose by men, shoulder-length and curled, in the gurnakuntala style, sometimes with a head band to hold it in place, or adorned with a strand of pearls. Very short hair was also fairly common and looked much like the hair worn today except that clear parting in the hair was seldom visible.

There were, however, fashions in the dressing of men’s hair, which was sometimes cut unevenly at the edges, giving the appearance of a wig; at other times the earlier form of a top knot was employed, but in a more decorative manner, using only a portion of the hair, the rest hanging in curls to the shoulder.


Gold or hirana was more commonly used than ever before, especially in the Deccan where there were gold mines. Gold ornaments for both men and women were exquisitely made, acquiring a new delicacy as beaten work, filigree work and twisted wire was skillfully combined with jewels-particularly pearls. Kundala was the general term for earrings, which were mainly for two types, both of which were circular. One was a large ring type and other was a button type, karnaphul, with a plain or decorated surface. The bali, a small gold wire circlet worn on the upper part of the ear with pearls strung on it, or two pearls and one emerald,is still popular. Large ring-type earring later developed pendants that shook with the movements of the head and were called kancuka-kundala or ‘tremulous earring’.

The sutra was a chain for the neck. When made of gold with precious stones in the centre, it was called hemasutra. But this was the era of the pearls necklaces or muktavali a single strand of small pearls was the haravsti, one of big pearls, the tarahara, and one with gem in the centre of the pearl was known as sudha ekavali. However, it was the glorious vijayantika, a necklace made from a successive series of pearls, rubies, emeralds, blue stones and diamonds, that was most sought after. The nishka or coin necklace also continued to be popular.

Upper arm ornaments were known as the angada and keyura, the former like a coiled snake, and the latter, a cylinder made of filigree work or inset with pearls. Bracelets, valaya were generally simple or inset with pearls. Bangles of conch shell or ivory were worn in set graded sizes, like those used by primitive and folk people today. Finger rings, anguliya were of gold or studded with precious stones, ratnanguliya. Tiaras-kirita and crown-mukuta were worn by men and women of the nobility and were particularly splendid, often having pearls suspended from them so as to delicately surround the face. All the above ornaments were common to both men and women. These were jewelled girdles, anklets, and an attractive ornament of two strings of pearls or flowers, worn crosswise on the chest and back, in the vaikaksha style. It was sometimes held by a clasp at the centre. A very provocative garter-like ornament, the pada-patra, was sometimes worn by women on the upper part of the thigh. This ornament could be quite decorative with festoons of pearls and other ornamentation.

The mekhala or girdle was worn by women quite low on the hips and suspended from the katisutra. The latter was probably a string tied at the waist and hidden under the upper edge of the antariya, in which it was rolled. The mekhala hung in a seductive clasp at the centre from this string, over or under which hung a small pleated frill of cloth. This is still seen in the Bharata Natyam dancer’s costume of today. Men to hold the antariya used a simple straight belt or sometimes above it, which could have a buckle either square, round, rosette-shaped, or rectangular.

On the women’s ankles the kinkini, with its small bells, tinkled as they moved, or there nupura (anklet) could be made from jewelled beads, maninupura. Although women of all classes wore anklets, they are not seen on the feet of goddesses in sculpture.

Flowers in the form of necklaces, mala, were worn on the head, entwined in the hair, and looped around the neck or waist or worn crosswise in garlands on the chest. The mala was usually made of fragrant kadamba flowers. Kings wore chaplets of white flowers even on military expeditions and officials of state tucked a bunch of flowers into their top knots. Women loved to decorate themselves with flowers as well, and wreaths of scented flowers hung from their ears. Their brows were also adorned with wreaths and heavy garlands of amarnath hung on their hips.

Military Costume
In previous centuries, except occasionally in the Satavahana age, there was no fixed uniform for the indigenous army. It was the Kushan army, well clad and equipped, that became the prototype on which the new military uniform of the Guptas was based. The king himself adopted the Kushan royal costume in formal occasions as status symbol. In early period the Gupta soldier had worn the antariya with his bare chest inadequately covered by the six jewel-striped channavira. This evolved into the more efficient foreign-influenced kancuka with trousers or short drawers, jhangia, and high boots, with a helmet or cap, and sometimes a fillet to tie back the hair.

Later the soldier’s uniform was either a short-or-long-sleeved knee-length tunic, kancuka, which had a centre front opening with V-shaped or round neck. The tunics were sometimes spotted with black aloe wood paste, which could be a type of tie-dye, or bandhni as it is known today. This may have been their version of the camouflage on military uniforms. It is possible that these tunics were worn over a brief antariyas, as the foot soldiers seldom wore trousers to cover their bare legs. Instead of knee-length kancuka a short tight-fitting blouse, cholaka, was sometimes worn with the short antariya. Around the waist, the kayabandh could be wound once or twice, holding a short dagger or curved sword. Shields were curved or rectangular, the former sometimes decorated with a dragon’s head. Some soldiers continued to wear only the short antariya, which was often striped, and with this indigenous garment the wheel-type disc earring were still worn. Head-dresses were normally a simple skull cap or just a scarf or cloth wound around the head like a turban.

The cavalry wore a more elaborate dress, closer in style to the original Parthian-Kushan dress being a mid-calf length quilted coat with long ruched sleeves. With this was worn a fillet or head band, or sometimes a white turban. Others in the cavalry wore more colorful and diverse garments. Mid-thigh length tunics of brocade or printed cloth (for example, yellow with blue dots, green with checks in which a flowered motif was set in each compartment, or yellow with a pattern of birds, rosettes, lozenge shapes mainly in blue, yellow ochre or white), trousers and an uttariya-a bossed flowers, completed their very colorful uniforms.

The elephant drivers were picturesque in their short-sleeved tight-fitting cholaka with decorative bands at the neck, hem, and sleeves. With this were worn short drawers of plain or gold-striped cloth and a skull cap or scarf on the head. The king himself, when attired for battle wore a short, tight –sleeved kancuka and an elaborate turban with serpent. His bodyguard carried curved swords like the Nepalese khukri and shields of rhinoceros hide in checked designs. His sword-bearer wore a patterned tight tunic with pointed ends reaching to the knees, and the kayabandh wound twice around the waist.

The leaders or chieftains of the various contingents in the army were decked in pearl-embroidered tunics made from the famous stavarkha cloth of Sassanian origin and chaddars of many colors, or in the complete Central Asian outfit consisting of a dark blue quilted tunics with a V-shaped neck and long full sleeves with soft dark trousers and a saffron turban of Indian origin instead of Central Asian conical cap.

Armour was worn as further protection. It was known as the cinacola, probably of Chinese origin. It was sleeveless covering the front and back, and was made of metal. A helmet for soldiers was known as sirastrajala. Bows were of two kinds: the simple one-piece bow and the classic double-curved bow probably made of three pieces.

Religious Persons
The Hindu sanyasi, by the Gupta period had slowly given up his bark-strip garments and adopted red ochre robes, very similar to those of the Buddhist monk. It is from this period in history that there is a marked resemblance in the appearance of Hindu sanyasis and Buddhist monks. Earlier there had been marked differences. The red ochre uttariya of the sanyasi was tied into the vaikaksha style (crossed over the chest), or a tattered rag of same color knotted over the heart and a deerskin was occasionally worn over the left shoulder. A loincloth of the same red ochre color, sometimes held up by a black leather belt, completed his costume. Later on, a stitched garment, either a robe or a patched tunic replaced this costume. The hair was normally matted and worn in a top knot tied with a cord or a fillet across the forehead, at times with the formidable emblem of a skull affixed to it. The matted hair took on a yellowish tinge due to ashes being rubbed into it, and appeared bleached from exposure to the sun.

The Brahmin acharya (teacher) normally wore a short antariya and uttariya; the latter could be of narrow strips stitched together. His head covering consisted of a kantopa (cap) over his top knot.

The Buddhist monk (bhikku) and nun (bhikkuni) now wore linen or silk. The poorer ones dyed their red or yellow linen garments inexpensively, in a dye made from dates, red earth, red stone powder or wild pear. The monks wore a samghati (double cloak), uttarasanga (upper garment), and antarvasa (lower garment). The antravasa, 36 inches wide and 2½ yards long, was wound round the waist where a girdle secured it. Both the girdle and inner cloth had subtle differences in the way they were worn by each sect. The samghati was a 21/2 yards square with a five-finger wide strip attached at the neck. This had a drawstring through it, which was tied, at the chest. When the weather was particularly cold both Buddhist monks and laymen wore a quilted garment called hi-pa, which covered the front of the body and went over the left shoulder and across the back, being fixed in position under the arm at the right side, something like the deer or antelopes skins which were used by religious orders in the past of protection.

The nuns wore the same garments as the monks, only their antariya, was stitched together at the edges to form a skirt, and was 36 inches wide and 72 inches long. This was gathered and tied at the waist. After adolescence the nuns covered their breasts. Besides these three garments, both monks and nuns were allowed to have two pair of undergarments, a mat and towels.

Jain monks had to wear totally unstitched white linen or cotton garments, which were not to be cut or joined; this meant they were specially woven to specifications. Their chaddar, antariya and kayabandh could occasionally be made from camel’s hair, jute, and even bare fiber. Very rarely was silk allowed its use being generally discouraged. The kayabandh could not be more than four fingers wide. For Jain nuns, the rules were even more specific and the number of garments they wore was astonishing. The large number was designed to conceal the shape of the body as much as possible. Four different langoti types of drawers, the ardhoruka, were worn one over the other to cover the lower parts of the body. Over this was worn the lehnga or skirt known as bhairnivasani which was not to be drawn tightly over the hips and was held by a string and not a kayabandh at the waist, as the latter was considered too fashionable. The breasts were covered by a length of cloth 1¼ yards by 18 inches approximately. This was wrapped tightly around and fixed at the side. The aupakaksiki was 27 inches square and covered a part of the chest and back, and was tied over the left shoulder: the vaikaksiki, absolutely similar, was worn in the opposite direction and tied at the right shoulder. It is not difficult to imagine how shapeless and unattractive the whole ensemble must have been. Finally there was the samghati or double cloak. Each nun was allowed four of these in different widths from 1 to 4 yards and each about 2 yards long. Each cloak was to be worn on specific occasion, and the one, which was 1½yards wide, was to be used only in the toilet. In addition, a large square shawl of 2 yards was used during particularly bad weather. Jain nuns or monks did not wear shoes.

Textiles and Dyes
In the Gupta age the finest textiles were available, printed, painted, dyed, and richly patterned in weaves or embroidery. the art of calico printing improved considerably and many of the traditional prints of today originated in this period. There were checks, stripes, and bird and animal motifs, for example geese, swans, deer, elephants, and so on. Delicate embroidery on muslins, consisting of hundreds on. Delicate embroidery on muslins, consisting of hundreds of different varieties of flowers and birds, was skillfully executed, along with intricately woven brocades, which continued to be in vogue. These brocades with floral designs from the Deccan and Paithan were like the Jamiwar and Himru fabrics of today. The former is a silk floral design on a wool background and the latter has cotton for its main wrap. Gauze from Decca was noted for its transparency and was said to be so fine that the only evidence of its presence was the delicate gold edging of cloth. This had led to the further sophistication of wearing a transparent garment over a brightly colored one. Before this, the transparency of the cloth had only accentuated the nudity below.

Gold and silver woven brocades of Benares, which had a very ancient tradition, were still used, and in the north and the north-west the art of embroidery reached the highest peak of development. Silk was woven in black and white check patterns especially for cushions, which had handsome covers of, gold, silver or dark-colored cloth embroidered or patterned in silver stars or four-petalled flowers, or of striped materials with chess-patterned bands. Special bedcovers known as nicola and pracchadapata, and rugs or floor carpets known as rallaka and kambala were made.

Dyeing too was very sophisticated and the diagonal stripes, which were popular, merged in each other in places as soft and dark tones. This beautiful effect was created by the resist dye technique. Tie dying of Gujarat and Rajasthan, in many different patterns, was called pulakabandha and was used a great deal in the upper garments of women. The process of bleaching was perfected, and all thin brocades, which had been the prerogative of rich now, percolated to form the festive and bridal attire of the poorer classes, for which a special cheaper variety known, as rasimal was available.

Special costly silken fabric known as stavaraka was originally manufactured in Persia and is known to have been imported into India. This was a cloth studded with clusters of bright pearls and worn by royalty.

In the highly civilized Gupta empire, we find jewelled head-dresses, and striped muslin lehngas adding to the sensuous fullness of the body and lending it a free-flowing movement. The mood is relaxed, somnolent and languorous, with sheer floating scarves and shinning radiant eyes accentuating the aura of dream-like delicacy. Pearl strands decorating the archways, and looped on diadems and around necks, further enhance the undulating movements of the graceful figures.


Maid ServentAntariya: worn very short in kachcha style; after knotting at the centre both ends are passed between the legs, fluted and tucked in at back centre to fall to the ankles; one end has been tucked in under the mekhala and the other over it

Mukatavali: necklace of one strand of small pearls (haravsti)

Keyura: worn on the upper arms-baju, cylinderical, inset with pearls and tied on with ribbons

Valaya: bracelet of filigree work

Mekhala: girdle at the hips is decorated with discs; a small frill of cloth hangs at the side which could be part of the end of the antariya pulled around from the back after tucking in, and tucked in again at the front

Kundala: simple ring-type earrings

Nupura: anklets are simple and cylinderical

Hairstyle: hair has been drawn back into one plait, with a few curls at the forehead; a fillet is worn and also a chaplet of flowers to which a semi-circular ornament has been attached on either side of the centre parting

It is possible that she wears a short choli of very light material. She holds a fly-whisk (chauri).

PRINCESS [Ajanta, Cave I]

gupta_dynasty_princessLehnga: the antariya has now become the lehnga; it is held first at the right hip then taken once around the body and tucked in tightly at the left hip in pleats or simply as in this figure

Uttariya: of sheer material, thrown over the breasts

Muktavali: several pearl necklaces of small and large pearls including one long strand which hangs between the breasts

Valaya: one simple and one ornamental bracelet is worn on each wrist

Keyura: armlet of filigree work festooned with pearls on upper arms

Bali: ring-type earrings with pearls strung; a samller simple ring is worn on the upper part of the ear

Anguliya: ring worn on the little finger of the right hand

Nupura: very simple anklet

Kirita: a decorative tiara

Hairstyle: elaborate, adorned with flowers and jewels, the hair being worn in a large bun at the nape.

The stool or short-backed chair (piddha) has turned wooden legs very similar to those available in most parts of Inida today. Covering it is a pearl studded or tie-dyed cross-shaped cloth. The large cushion at the back is covered with printed cloth and the cushion used as footrest has a pearl edge.

OLD WOMAN [Ajanta, Cave XVII]

gupta_dynasty_oldwomanSari: an elaongated form of the antariya, the left end is passed between the legs and tucked in at the back; the right and longer end is taken around the body and thrown over the left shoulder from the front and is visible in folds at the left

Muktavali: two strings of pearls at the neck

Valaya: simple bracelets, two at each wrist

Kundala: ring-type earrings

Hairstyle: drawn back and knotted

She is carrying a flower garland.


Ardhoruka: langoti type of patterned striped drawers- a short strip of cloth worn around the waist with an attached strip from the centre of the waist which is drawn up between the legs and tucked in at the back

Choli: short blouse of diaphanous material

Vaikaksha: two long strings of pearls crossed at the chest

Muktavali: string of pearls at the neck

Kundala: large disc-type earrings

Uttariya: worn over the left shoulder

Keyura: flat simple armbands

Valaya: bracelet, one on each wrist

Nupura: anklets of simple design

Headgear: a striped scarf tied around the head and knotted at the back, tassels are visible behind the right shoulder; further back on the head is a decoration of leaves with a central motif probably tied around a chignon-type hairstyle

She carries an offering and could be of foreign origin as the scarf on the head suggests.

COURT LADY [Ajanta, Cave I]

gupta_dynasty_courtladyGhagri: the early form of a skirt to the knees in which there is a draw-string (nada); the border of the woven silk material can be seen vertically down the centre

Valaya: graded ivory or conch-shell bangles

Hara: bead necklace

Hairstyle: centre parting with chignon on nape decorated with ribbons; a wreath of leaves is worn around the head


gupta_dynasty_maidserventGhagri: a simple skirt with drawstring (nada)

Pratidhi: breast-band tied at the back

Girdle: ornamented, worn over the skirt for additional support

Vijayantika: necklace of strings of looped pearls with precious stones

Keyura: armlets with incised design

Valaya: bangles and pearls bracelets

Kundala: large ring-type earrings

Hairstyle: worn shoulder-length and loose

She carries a large palm-leaf fan.

MAID SERVANT [Ajanta, Cave I]

gupta_dynasty_maidserventCholaka: choli-type blouse with an apron front and V-neck made of pulakabandha-tie and dye cloth

Anatriya: lehnga style, of striped cloth

Kundala: ring-type earrings

Valaya: simple bangles

Hairstyle: simple bun with flower wreath (mala)

DANCING GIRL [Ajanta, Cave I]

gupta_dynasty_dancing_girl Cholaka: fitted choli-type blouse with an appron front; the long sleeves are of dark red brocade, while the middle is of white silk, probably tied at the back with ribbons that are visible

Antariya: lehnga style, is of silk with purple, green and yellow stripes with lozenge patterns in white

Mukatavali: three-stringed pearl beads

Valaya: two simple and one ornamental bangle on each wrist

Kancala Kundala: elaborate earrings with pendants

Mukuta: tiara of gold

Hairstyle: large bun at the nape with wreaths of flowers and sevral strings of pearls or gols chain (sarasari) wound around and held by brooches

MAID SERVANT [Ajanta, Cave I]

gupta_dynasty_maidserventCholaka: double jacket of bandhni (tie-dye cloth) the upper one with shorter sleeves in the angarkha style; the lower one is green in color with longer sleeves

Hara: two necklaces, both of beads with the central bead of differnt shape

Hairstyle: curly hair held back by a fillet

Appears to be foreigner as is evident from the simple hairstyle and lack of ornate jewellery. The angarkha is shown open, the left edge of the neckline fastening is curved to fit the inside right edge probably with ties as in the modren angarkha.

YASODA [Deogarh]

gupta_dynasty_yasodaAngarkha: mid-thigh length tunic with left opening and bordered edge all around; it has long sleeves and a four-pointed hem in Persian style

Ghagri: heavily gathered skirt tied at the hips with a nada

Kantha: flat heavy short neckalce

Valaya: bangle on left wrist

Mukuta: tiara-like ornament at the forehead

Uttariya: worn over the head and left hanging behind the shoulders; it has a decorative border

Hairstyle: probably a thick twisted roll of padding is fixed at the centre parting and held in place by tiny plaits of hair; this is till used to hold high the head -covering by some women of north India and gives an extremely regal effect to head veil

The covering of the head with the veil is possibly of parthian/scythian origin and is seldom seen at Ajanta.

MAID [Ajanta, Cave XVI]

gupta_dynasty_maidAngarkha: long-sleeved tunic with probably a left side-opening running down to the pointed hem

Hara: a simple chain

Kundala: large ring-type earrings

Uttariya: worn over the head and left hanging behind the shoulders in Parthian or scythian style

Hairstyle: probably a thick twisted roll of padding is fixed at the centre parting and held in place by tiny plaits of hair; this is till used to hold high the head -covering by some women of north India and gives an extremely regal effect to head veil

ATTENDANT [Ajanta, Cave I]

gupta_dynasty_attendantRobe: ankle-length in white material with a pale blue frill at the hem; it has tight sleeves and a collar; the hem of the sleeves and the edge of the collar are embroidered; there is a tiraz band trimming at the upper arm and floating ribbons at the back opening

Headgear: a round cap of red material (broad-cloth or velvet) with a white border of fur or wool and white plume at the centre

This is often reffered to as the Persian Embassy scene, but the figure appears to be a Turanian Tartar from Central Asia. Turanian Tartars were influenced in their dress by the persians, as seen in the tiraz band, floating ribbons and round cap.

KING [Ajanta, Cave XVII]

gupta_dynasty_kingAnatriya: short and striped worn in the lehnga style with a long end visible on the cushion

Necklace: of gems with loops

Suddha Ekavali: neckalce of pearls with a central gem

Keyura: elaborate armlets with loops suspended from a cylinder of filigree work

Valaya: Ornamnetal bracelet, one on each wrist

Anguliya: ring on little finger

Kundala: elaborate earrings

Kirita: tiara of metal with ornamental discs and motifs

Silk ties on necklace are visible at the right shoulder.


gupta_dynasty_ministerKancuka: indigenous simple round-neck tunic with long sleeves and a front opening; probably calf-length

Uttariya: wrapped around the waist and thrown over the left shoulder in upavita fashion with the final end resting on the left arm

Bali: simple ring-type earrings with pearl suspended

Haravsti: large pearl necklace

Torque: simple necklet

Hairstyle: long hair combed back smoothly


gupta_dynasty_chamberlainKancuka: indigenous striped white tunic with long sleeves and front opening; probably calf-length

Chaddar: cloth decorated with a fish-scale pattern; worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm in upvita fashion

Torque: necklet of twisted wire with beads

Headgear: flat turban of twisted cloth held by ribbon bands at intervals, worn as a mark of office by the chamberlain

GUARD [Ajanta, Cave II]

gupta_dynasty_guardKancuka: mid-calf length tunic with four pointed ends, V-neck and long sleeves; the cloth is star-patterned

Trousers: gathered in churidar style

Headgear: skull cap

Kayabandh: sash tied at the waist

This Kancuka has the four-pointed hem of the Kushan-Parthian under tunic, Which was common to all scythian races including the kshatrapas. The indigenous influences is in the choice of thinner and more decorative cloth used to suit the climate conditions of India, and the rich way of life at court. The alck of jewellery would also denote a foreigner.

KING AND QUEEN [Gupta gold coin]

gupta_dynasty_kingandqueenChugha: close-fitting coat of the Kushans with a row of decorative buttons with fastenings at the centre; the opening in front is held together and the waist edge ends in a point at the centre

Trousers: do not appear to have creases at the knee

Headgear: close-fitting cap

Earrings: Button style

The queen is dressed in indigenous costume as seen in her antariya and uttariya, her hair is worn in a bun at the top of the head. From the Licchavi tribe, she wears nupura on the ankles.

HORSE MAN [Ajanta, Cave XVI]

gupta_dynasty_horsemanQuaba: calf-length striped coat with pointed collar and tiraz band braid on upper arms; floating ribbon ties are visible at the back

Headgear: dome cap with band

Belt: worn at the waist

Probably a Turanian Tartar of Mongolian stock. Their costume is very similar to that of the persians, from whom the tiraz band trimming, pointed collar and floating ribbon ties originated. baggy trousers tucked into boots are probably worn.


gupta_dynasty_footCholaka: short jacket covering the chest with half-sleeves and a decorative braid at the hem and sleeve-edge

Antariya: short and striped material with a border

Kangan: one bracelet on each wrist

Hairstyle: shoulder length hair; wears no headgear

Equipment: spear and rectangular, curved shield of rhinoceros hide

Elephant riders and foot soldiers in the Gupta army wore a similar uniform. The were sometimes nore resplendent in gold-striped antariya and skull caps or fillets on their heads.

GUARD [Ajanta, Cave XVII]

gupta_dynasty_guardQuaba: of foreign origin, this calf-length tunic has the Persian-type pointed collar and tiraz band braid trimming on upper arms

Girdle: worn at the waist

Kundala: disc-type earrings

Hairstyle: drawn up in a large top knot

Equipment: oval shield and curved sword

Although, the costume is foreign the hairstyle, sword and earrings are indigenous. This was probably a foreign uniform adopted by the Gupta army.

BHIKKU [Ajanta, Cave XVI]

gupta_dynasty_bhikkuAntaravasa: this lower garment was normally 36" wide and 2½ yards long and worn around the waist where it was secured by a girdle or tucked into the nada (drawstring)

Uttarasanga: the upper garment is thrown over the shoulder in a loop

COURT LADY [Gwalior Museum]

gupta_dynasty_court_ladyHairstyle: hair is worn with a centre parting which is covered by a decorative ornament attached to the mukuta (tiara) at the forehead and the jewelled braid at the left side of the nape; the braid then continues like a fillet around the crown of the head

Mukuta: highly decorative in embossed gold or silver, has little pendants suspended from it at the forehead

Kundala: large wheel-like earrings

Haravsti: one strand of large pearls

Torque: twisted wire necklace of celtic origin


gupta_dynasty_female_votaryHairstyle: hair is worn in a large pompadour style on the crown of the head with tiny curls along the forehead

Ratnajali: from the elaborate tiara-like ornament around the head, strands of pearls form a net over the hair-style; there is a central ornament at the forehead from which are suspended strands of pearls

Mala: large flowers above the ears are used as further ornamentation to the hairstyle

Kundala: very large ring-type earrings

Bali: small earrings with suspended pearls; worn higher up on the ear

Suddha Ekavali: pearl neckalce with a gem at the centre; has ribbon ties

KING [Ajanta, Cave I]

gupta_dynasty_kingHairstyle: short hair

Mukuta: tiara of floral motif from which pearls are looped and suspended

Bali: earrings from which separate drops of pearls and sapphires are suspended

Valaya: bracelets of different kinds at the wrists

Sutra: simple chain at the neck

He wears a brown striped silk garment. He is making an offering of lotus flowers to the Buddha on a tray which appears to be covered or painted in a design.

PRINCE [Ajanta, Cave XVII]

gupta_dynasty_princeHairstyle: appears to be shoulder length and loosely knotted at the nape; bound with ribbons with stylized curls at the forehead

Headgear: twisted turban in stripes or bound at intervals with braid; there are large gem-encrusted brooches at the sides and a central ornament on the top

Kundala: simple ring-type earrings

Muktavali: one-string pearl necklace

YOUNG MAN [Ajanta, Cave XVII]

gupta_dynasty_young_manHairstyle: simple, shoulder length, drawn back without a parting and left loose; a shorter strand is seen over the ear

Glossary: Find the actual meaning to the Hindi words used in above document [Shown in Italic Format]


Gupta Period, Ancient Indian Costume, Golden Age, Classical Period, Chinese Buddhist, Man Costume, Woman Costume, Headgear And Hairstyles, Jewellery, Military Costume, Religious Persons Costume, Textiles And Dyes, Maid Servant, Princess Costume, Votary Figure, Court Lady, Dancing Girl Costume, Chamberlain, Foot Soldier, Court Lady, Gwalior Museum