Mauryan and Sunga Periods [321-72 B.C.]

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History and Social Life
Mauryan & Sunga Empires Map
This age witnessed the emergence of India’s first great empire. When Alexander entered the Punjab just before the establishment of the Mauryan Empire, it was with the view to develop its immense commercial resources. Trade with Babylon had long been established. As such, there were many cultural crosscurrents between China, Persia, and India. Alexander founded trading posts all along his course, and left behind Greek colonists who finally intermarried with the Indians. Chandragupta Maurya himself married a princess from the Greek Seleucid Court.

Chandragupta Maurya lived in considerable state. In the processions held on festive occasions, elephants decked in gold and silver, four horsed chariots and yokes of oxen took part. In the towns people dressed in flowered muslin embroidered with jewels. The palaces are said to have been truly luxurious, with great pillared rooms of state, like those in Iran, the golden pillars decorated with embossed vine leaves and silver birds. These palaces were set in lovely parks full of shady trees, many of which had been imported to give variety, and boating as a sport was popular on artificial lakes full of fish.

This was an age of plenty, even for the poor, as the fields were fertile, the basic crops being rice, barley, wheat, millet, and sugarcane. Metals including gold and silver were mined. The state gave the people security and protection, maintained roads, and provided reservoirs and wells. All this helped to create a sense of well-being in the populace. Cattle breeding was as important during the Vedic Age as it is now, and in addition to milk products provided skin, leather, horn, hair and wool which were used in various crafts.

Trade was carried on by ships through the ports along the coastline of Maharashtra, the Malabar Coast, the Tamil country, and Bengal. Land routes were expanded to join the Ancient Silk route through Central Asia to China, and large caravans undertook hazardous journeys for the sake of the profits that were to be made by the adventurous.

Men and women continued to wear three unstitched garments, as in Vedic times. The main garment was the antariya of white cotton, linen or flowered muslin, sometimes embroidered in gold and precious stones. For men, it was an unstitched length of cloth draped around the hips and between the legs in the kachcha style, extending from the waist to the calf or ankles or worn even shorter by peasants and commoners. The antariya was secured at the waist by a sash or kayabandh, often tied in a looped knot at the center front of the waist. The kayabandh could be simple sash, vethaka; one with drum-headed knot at the ends, muraja; a very elaborate band of embroidery, flat and ribbon-shaped, pattika; or a many-stringed one, kalabuka. The third item of clothing called uttariya was another length of material, usually fine cotton, very rarely silk, which was utilized as a long scarf to drape the top half of the body.

The uttariya was worn in several ways to suit the comforts of the wearer: very elegantly by those at court, who drape it on both shoulders or one shoulder, or diagonally across the chest and casually knotted at the waist, or it could even be worn loosely across the back and supported by the elbows or wrist, and in many other ways according to the whims of the weather. But for the labourer and the craftsman, it was more a practical garment to be tied around the head as protection from sun, or tightly around the waist leaving the hands free for work, or again as a towel to mop the face when sweating. Its uses were endless for the poor sections of the society and for them it would be made of coarse cotton.

Women tied their antariya in different ways. Originally opaque, it later became more and more transparent. A simple small antariya or strip of cloth, langoti was attached to the kayabandh at the center front, and then passed between the legs and tucked in at the back. A longer version of the antariya was the knee-length one, being first wrapped around and secured at the waist, the longer end then pleated and tucked in at the front, and the shorter end finally drawn between the legs, Kachcha style, and tucked in at the waist at the back. Another version, the lehnga style, was a length of cloth wrapped around the hips tightly to form a tabular type of skirt. This was not drawn between the legs in the kachcha style.

The uttariyas of upper-class women were generally of thin material decorated with elaborated borders and quite often worn as a head covering. Their kayabandhs were very similar to those of the men. In addition, they sometimes wore a patka, a decorative piece of cloth attached to the kayabandh in front by tucking in one end at the waist. The patka was made from plaited wool or cotton, twisted yarn or leather, and at times it was also woven.

Although, footwear is often mentioned in Vedic literature there is no sculptural evidence for this period, except in the case of soldiers who wear the Persian boot. It may be because shoes could not be taken inside a stupa or Buddhist temple, that they were not depicted on the sculptures on stupas.

In the more remote villages and jungles, shepherds, hunters and people of similar occupations were mostly aboriginal or belonged to the lowest caste. They generally wore simple unbleached coarse varieties of the cotton antariya and turbans, much the same as we find today, and the practice of tattooing was fairly common. The more primitive tribes who lived in the forest wore garments made from grass (Kusa), skin, and fur.

Headgear and Hairstyles
Women generally covered their heads with the uttariya, worn straight or crosswise, often resplendent with beautiful borders. The hair, centrally parted, was made into one or two plaits or in a large knot at the back. The uttariya could be worn simply hanging down at the back or secured to the head with a headband, or with one end arranged in a fan at the top of the head. Skullcaps were sometimes worn under or over the uttariya to keep it in place, or at times it could be decorated with a fringe or pendants. Helmets too are seen as headgear for phrygian women who probably wore long-sleeved tunic with tight fitting trousers and a phrygian cap which was conical and had ear flaps. In India, the Amazons wore in addition, the crossed-at-chest belt vaikaksha, with metal buckles, shield, and sword. Women sometimes used turbans of decorated cloth.

As regards male headgear, in the early Maureen period there is no trace of the turban mauli, but in the Sunga period we find great emphasis on this form of male head dress. These were remarkable headdresses in which the hair itself was often twisted into a braid along with the turban cloth. This twisted braid was then arranged to form a protuberance at the front or the side of the head but never at the center top, as only priests could use this style. Over the turban a band was sometimes used to hold it in place. In addition, decorative elements like a jewelled brooch or a jhalar (fringe) could be attached to the turban, or one end folded in pleats and tucked in like a fan.

From the sculptures we find there was a richness and profusion in the jewellery worn by both men and women. Earlier, it had a massive quality to it and the workmanship was coarse. A little later, with the Sungas, the jewellery became somewhat refined. In the Arthashastra attributed to Kautilya, and in the sculptures of the period we find references which show us that the material used most frequently were gold and precious stones like corals, rubies, sapphires, agates, and crystals. Pearls too were used and beads of all kinds were plentiful including those made of glass. Certain ornaments were common to both sexes, like earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets and embroidered belts. Earring or karnika were of three types-a simple ring or circle called Kundala, a circular disc earring known as dehri and earrings with a flower-like shape known as Karnaphul.

Necklaces of two kinds were worn. A short one called Kantha which was broad and flat, usually gold, inlaid with precious stones, and a long one, the lambanam. These chain or bead necklaces were sometimes three-to-seven stringed and were named after the number of strings of which they were composed. At the centre of each string of beads was an amulet for warding off evil forces. Baju band or armlets of gold and silver beads were worn on the upper arm, and were occasionally studded with precious stones. Bracelets called Kangan, very often made of square or round beads of gold, and richly embroidered cloth belts completed the male ensemble. Women, in addition, wore girdle called mekhala, a hip belt of multi-stringed beads, originally made from the red seed kaksha but now made of gold and silver beads, with shapes ranging from round to square and oval. Dancing girls added on to these, chains of gold and silver to which bells were attached. All women wore anklets and thumb and finger rings. The rings were plain and crowded together on the middle joints of the fingers. Anklets were often of gold in this period, though silver was more common. They could be in the form of a simple ring, Kara, a thick chain, sankla, oran ornamental circle with small bells called ghungru.

There is no evidence of nose-rings in the period. Forehead ornaments for women were quite common and worn below the parting of the hair and at the center of the fore-head. These consisted of thin plate of gold or silver stamped in various patterns, as well as a star-shaped sitara and bina. And a tiny ornament called bindi.

The only material evidence we have of a piece of Mauryan jewellery is a single earring found at Taxila dated second century BC which similar to Graeco-Roman and Etruscan Jewellery.

Military Costume
Sewn garments which had been used by the Persian soldiers were sometimes utilized for military dress by the Mauryans. This consisted of a sleeved tunic with cross straps across the chest to carry the quiver, and a leather belt with sword. The lower garment was more often the Indian antariya rather than the Persian trousers. The headgear was usually the turban or headband, whereas the Persians had worn the pointed cap. The mixture of foreign and indigenous garments is interesting as it shows one of the early phases of evolution in the costumes of Indians. This came about in the colder north, where the Persian garments were more suitable, climatically and functionally, in case of soldiers. Although, coats of mail are mentioned in the Arthshastra there is no visual evidence of it in this period.

Religious Persons
of the three religions- Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, it was Hinduism which evolved from early Vedic sources with sacrifice as its main ritual and had as its keepers of religion the Brahmin priests, who belonged to what later came to be the highest category in the caste system as practiced in India. Later in life, a Brahmin man or woman became a sadhu or sanyasin, seeking detachment.

The Brahmanical Sadhu(Sanyasin) was an ascetic who lived either in a hermitage or visited holy places. He wore a shaped kilt-like garment made of strips sewn together, which was tied at the waist with a cord. A short rectangular cloak covered the left shoulder and breast, leaving the right side exposed. The hair and beard were allowed to grow, the former being plaited and arranged in a spiral at the top of the head. He sometimes wore a headdress in the shape of a cap. Women ascetics too wore this cloak and what appeared to be a cap. These garments, often made from leaves or the complete bark of tree, were tied with a cord. Such a bark garment is still worn by the Kumbipatta sect in Orissa. Skins of antelope and goat called ajina were used by anchorites and wild ascetics, muni, as a covering for the chest. Men ascetics did not cut their nails, hair and beard and carried there few possessions on a yoke balanced on the shoulders.

Buddhism, founded by Gautam Buddha, b.fifth century BC, had no caste division. It had a religious order of monks, bhikshu, and nuns, bhikshuni, who set up monasteries where they studied their religion, later leaving to preach and collect alms.

Buddhist monks normally shaved their heads and beards but kept the head covered with a headdress. If unshaven, the hair was worn in a knot on top of the head. Lay brothers wore theirs on the right side of the head. Their dress was the common antariya with an uttariya and a larger chadder, all dyed saffron. Buddhist monks, bhikshu, had few possessions and their clothes were made of rags patched together and dyed red or yellow. These consisted of a lower garment antaravasaka, an upper garment uttarasanga, a cloak samghati, a waist clothe kushalaka, and buckled belt samakaksika. Worn-out leather soles strapped to their feet completed their attire. Their possessions consisted of a patra or begging bowl, a razor, tweezers for removing hair, clippers for cutting toe and finger nails, an ear pick, a tooth pick, gauze for filtering drinking water, a needle, a walking stick, an umbrella, a fan and a bag of medicines.

The third religion Jainsim, was propagated by Mahavira, b. fifth century BC and its main doctrine was ahinsa, non-violence. Later two sects developed-the sky clad (naked) Digamber sect and the white clad Svetamber sect. Both had nuns and monks who functioned as missionaries.

In the Jain monastic order, monks and nuns wore a white costume consisting of a robe and cloak. They covered their nose and mouth with a piece of gauze to ensure they would not inhale even the smallest living organism and so cause its death. Their hair and beard were shaven and most lived the life of missionaries continuously travelling on foot. The Jain ascetics smeared their bodies with mud, took the vow of silence, clothed themselves in skirts made of bark, and carried a stick made of three rods bound together, and an umbrella. They wore brass ring and brass bangles. Their other possessions included a water jug, clay bowl, and pot with spout, broom, hook, portable stool, rosary, and an alms bowl.

Textiles and Dyes
Weaving of fine and coarse varieties of cloth was well established. Cotton, silk, wool, linen and jute fabrics were readily available. Furs and the better varieties of wool and silk like tussar, called kausheya like Eri or Muga silk of Assam, yellowish in its natural color but when bleached called patrona, were used. Kaseyyaka (High quality cotton or silk) and the bright red woolen blankets of Gandhara were worth a small fortune each. A rain proof woolen cloth was available in Nepal. Resist dyeing and hand printing in a pattern on cloth has been mentioned by Greek visitors to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, as is the Indian glazed cotton cloth which was in common use by 400 BC. Material similar to the khinkhwab (which is the interweaving of silk and gold or silver wires beautiful floral pattern) was in great demand and even exported to Babylon long before the Mauryas.

Cotton, wool and a fabric called karpasa were available in the north in both coarse and fine varieties. There were also fine muslins often embroidered in purple and gold and transparent like later-day material which came to be called shabnam (morning dew). The coarse varieties were used by the populace. Woolen cloth, avika, from the sheep’s wool was either pure white (bleached) or dyed pure red, rose, or black. Blankets or kambala were either made by completing the edges with borders or braids, or woven wool strips were joined together. The process of felting (pressing the fibers together, instead of weaving) was also making known. All varieties of wool were available, coarse for making head-dresses, trappings and blankets for richer class.

Washermen were also dyers, rajaka, and they perfumed garments after washing them. Four primary color were recognized in the dyeing of textiles: red (dyed with safflower and madder), white (through bleaching), yellow (natural color of yarn and saffron), and blue (indigo leaves). Fabrics were also woven in patterns and printed for use as carpets, bedcovers, blankets, and clothes.

Forceful sculptures carved during the Mauryan-Sunga period in the first century BC in the north at Bharut and Sanchi give us a feeling of superhuman power. The drapery hangs heavy folds and the jewellery is massive and somewhat coarse. Turbans coil and twist with the hair to form protuberances, with serpentine armlets and anklets closing in on strong limbs. The head veils of the woven are voluminous; long-beaded aprons and crossed scarves at he chest suggest fruitful abundance, and necklaces and strings with amulet boxes suspended on the breasts indicate a fear of evil and dark forces around. With the coming of the Sunga dynasty there is greater emphasis on detail in the elaborate jewellery of the women, which is more elegant and finer and adorns the figures seen in soft relaxed postures.


Mauryan & Sunga - Donor figure [Bharut]Donor Figure [Bharut]

Antariya: Lower cloth, calf length, of fine cotton with fluted ends in front, worn in kachcha style, that is between the legs.

Uttariya: Upper cloth of printed cotton worn crosswise on the head.

Kayabandh: Embroidered flat cloth band, pattika style, worn in a looped knot with fringed ends.

Mekhala: Six-stringed hip belt of gold or silver beads.

Lambanam: long necklace made of chains held at intervals by flat bands, phalakahara style.

Kantha: Short necklace of five strings of beads in gold or silver.

Karnika: Trumpet-shaped earrings.

Kangan: Ten bracelets adorning each hand.

Baju Band: Decorative armlets worn on upper arms.

Kara: Anklets of twisted wire worn on both ankles.

Sitara: Star shaped forehead ornament of gold or silver with a stamped pattern.

Mauryan & Sunga - Kuvera Yaksha [Bharut]Kuvera Yaksha [Bharut]

Antariya: Kachcha style, both equal ends being taken between the legs after knotting the front; these ends are then held diagonally, fluted and tucked into the waist at the back to hang between the legs up to the ground

Uttariya: upavita fashion, worn across the chest and over the left shoulder

Kayalbandh: muraja style, drum-headed knobs at the ends, tied in a looped knot

Baju Band: armlets with elaborate incised pattern

Kangan: several bracelets on each wrist

Karnika: trumpet-shaped earring or karnaphul

Mauli: turban of printed cloth held by decorative bands wound over the top knot of hair and at the side of the head

Mauryan & sunga - Warrior [Bharut]Warrior [Bharut]

Antariya: knee-length, worn in kachcha style with fluted end tucked in at centre front

Tunic : one of the earliest depictions of the cut and sewn garment; it has short sleeves and a round neck, full front opening with ties at the neck and waist, and is hip length

Boots : fitting to the knees

Head band: tied at the back over short hair

A broad flat sword with cross straps on the sheath is suspended from the left shoulder.

Mauryan & Sunga - Courtier [Bharut]COURTIER [Bharut]

turban is wound around the long hair tied in a top knot; to fix the turban in place a decorative band has been used; large disc-type earrings and two strings of beads adorn the neck

Mauryan & Sunga - Necklace [Bharut]Necklace [Bharut]

Kantha: short neckalce called tilari (three-stringed); each string consists of graduated peaarls and a central gem

four-stringed: chaulari

five-stringed: paklari

seven-stringed: satlari

Mauryan & Sunga - Armlets [Patna]Armlets [Patna]

serpentine armlets are of the Achaemenid type and depict the Iranian influence on Indian jewellery of this period; he wears an antariya inthe lehnga style, an uttariya and a thick many-stringed kayabandh withknotted ends-kalabuka


Mauryan and Sunga Yakshi [Baranmara]YAKSHI [Baranmara]

Antariya: langoti style small strips of cloth drawn between the legs and attached to a cord at the waist.

Uttariya: There are two: one has an embroidered border and is worn crosswise over the head with a jhalar (networking fringe) at the forehead; the other is draped across the back and over both arms.

Kayabandh: Flat cloth band, pattika style, worn in a looped knot.

Mekhala: Four stringed beads hip belt.

Patka: A strip of woven beads tucked in at the front of the waist reaching the ankles

Atkan: bead necklace worn aslanr over the left shoulder and under the right arm

Kangan: five bead bracelets on each wrist

Baju Band: three row of beads on the upper arms

Karnika: trumpet shaped earring

Lambanam: long necklace of beads

Kantha: Short necklace of beads

Sankla: anklets made of thick chains

Mauryan & Sunga - Donor Figure [Bharut]Donor Figure [Bharut]

Antariya: worn in same style as in the Kuvera Yaksha except that only one long end is tucked in at the back, the other is a finely pleated apron tucked into the centre front of the antariya.

Uttariya: looped at the chest and thrown back over both shoulders.

Kayabandh: embroidered flat cloth band, Pattika style.

Lambanam: phalakahara style necklace.

Baju Band: simple leaf-patterned armlet.

Kangan: three bracelets of beads on each wrist

Karnika: trumpet-shaped earrings, Karnaphul

Mauli: turban in which the long hair and cloth are twisted together, wound around the head and made into a top knot in front, the cloth then continues to be wound around the head and fixed with a separate band.

Mauryan & Sunga - Donor figure [Bharu]Donor Figure [Bharut]

Uttariya: printed or woven in a lozenge design in stripes, with a border; it is worn crosswise on the head and thrown back hanging to the waist like pouch

Kantha: short necklace with granulated design

lambanam: in phalakahara style

Hair ornament: jewelled and worn below centre parting of the hair

Mauryan & Sunga - Courtier [Bharut]COURTIER [Bharut]

long hair is twisted into a top knot at the left around which the  turban is wound so as to completely cover it, an ornament heart shaped brooch is fixed on the right front and a decorative band visible at the forehead is tied under the turban

mauryan_sunga_girdle_bharut.gifGirdle [Bharut]

Mekhala: elaborate seven-stringed saptaki, the two outer strands are square, interspersed with rows of beads across and aslant the hips in gold or hard stone, and are early imitations of the strings of red rati seeds that were originally worn; the pattika, a flat ribbon-shaped embroidered gridle of cloth of gold is also worn

Mauryan & Sunga - Eearring [Bharut]Earring [Bharut]

Karnika: this style of earring in the form of a triratna or triple gem of Buddhist triad, was peculiar to the Buddhist; this symbol was used on necklaces and to decorate soldiers, scabbards and the top of standards

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

Tags: Chandragupta Maurya, Alexander, Mauryan Empire, Babylon, Greek Seleucid Court, Mauryan Period, Mauryan Period History And Social Life, Mauryan Period Costume, Mauryan Period Headgear And Hairstyles, Mauryan Period Jewellery, Mauryan Period Military Costume, Mauryan Period Religious Persons, Mauryan Period Textiles And Dyes, Mauryan Period Style


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