Indian Boys' Clothes: Chronology

Figure 1.--This photograph was taken in 1944 by Frank Bond in a village beside Gushkara Air Base (West Bengal, India). Gushkara was a major Allied air base during World War II. It shows a rural family in front of its house. We can see that they are wearing both traditional and western style clothing.

HBC has not yet developed detailed information on chronolgical trends in Indian fashions. Information on historical periods is cery difficult to obtain. We have begun to develop a basic outline of Indian history. We do have some information on ancient India, the Mogul Empire, the British Raj, and the modern independent Indian Republic. Fashion information on early Indian civilizatuion is very limited. A major problem is that the limited information on the Indus Valley civilization. The script is very rare and has not yet been deciphered. And even on subsequent civilizations, sculpture seems more fanciful than realistic. Early paintings are relatively rate. We have much more information befginning with the Mogul Empire. Religios restructions on human representation were much more relxed in India than the rest of the Muslim world. India has a marvelously colorful history which is not well known in the West. Even at the time of independence, Western clothes were not widely worn in India, but that began to chsange in the late 20th century. While Western clothes are nowwidely worn, especially by boys and men, traditional styles continue to be important.

Ancient India

Ancient India is less wll studied than the other great early civilizations. Settlement of the Indus Valley is believed to have begun before 4000 BC. Archeologists have divided the history of ancient India into three principal eras. The early Indus River civilization dominated India for a millenium and a half (3000-1500 BC). This civilization was notable for planned cities hich had straight streets. Cotton is known to have been grown in India as early as 3,000 BC, but was almost ceratinly grown much earlier. Ancient Indians are known to have worn brightly colored clothes. Ancient India was conquered by the Aryans about 1500 BC by the Aryans, a nomadic people from from Central Asia. They entered the Indus Valley through the Khyber pass--the traditional invasion route into the Southern Asian sub-continent. As in so many cases, the Aryans were a war-like hearing people that conquuered a more ophisticated settled agaraian civilization. The Aryans employed chariots and engaged in constant warfare. They did not have sophisticated governmental structures and were instead still organized in tribal clans and warrior chiefs called rajas. They left few structures that archeologists could study. They did leave a rich setof stories at first sung and told orally. The principal Aryan beliefs as well as descriptions of daily life were set down in the Vedic Scriptures, a collection of poems and sacred hymns, about 1500 BC. Veda meant simply knowledge and include four parts: the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas. The ancient warriors caste, the Kashtriya, are described in the Vedic scriptures. The Aryan dominance gave way with the age of empire which began about 500 BC. There were numerous empires in different regions of India. The greatest of these empires was the The Gupta Empire (320 AD to about 500 AD). The Gupta Empire existed at about the same time as the final yearsof the Roman Empire in the the West. The Gupta Empire controlled northern India. The Gupta Empire brought law and order to northern India. Elephants were incorporated into the emperial army. Some call the Gupta period, the "Golden Age" of ancient India. There was religious freedom and the Empire promoted education, literature and art.

Mogul Empire (1526-1707)

Curiously when the Mongols in the 13th century exploded upon China, the Middle East and Euope, they left the Indian sub-continent unscated. It was a later Mongol invasion that overwealmed India. Baber or Zahir ud-Din Mohammed (1483-1530), a descendents of Genghis Kahn and Tamerlanre, was a child warrior King at age 11. He began raids into India for booty (1519-24). He defeated the Sultan of Delhi, taking both Delhi and Agra (1526). Baber founded India's famed Mogul dynasty (1526-1707). He greatly expanded the domininions that hd been held by the Sultan of Dwlhi. The Moguls were an Islamic dynasty which governed India for more than 200 years. The Moguls reformed government and promoted the arts. One of their major accomplishments was uniting India. The greatest Mogul ruler was Baber's grandson Akbar (reigning 1556-1605). Akbar significantly expanded the boundaries of the Empire. India was a great challenge for the Islamic Moguls. The subcontinent was populated by a largely Hindu people. Not only did the Mogul's encounter a largely alien religion, but dizzing variety of languages and traditions. Akbar's genius was not only his military conquests but his his toleration toward Hindus, and Christians. Akbar also promoted the arts and learning. The resulting artistic flowering is one of the glories of India, expressed in painting, glass, and carpets. The last of the Mogul rulers was Aurangzeb ( -1707). Unlike Akbar Aurangzeb was intolerant of other religions, resulting in Hindu uprisings which drained the royal treasury.


Aurangzeb's descendents were unable to remaint control over relbelious provinces and the territory of the Mogul's steadily shrank in the 18th century to the area around Delhi. India in the 17th century was rather like the Holy Roman Empire with the Emperor having only nominal authority and meerly ruling one of several petty principalities. A Hindu revival in the southwest led by the Mahrattas ousted Islam and restored Brahaminism over a wide swate of southern India. . Islam was also replaced Raiputana. Raiput princes seized power in Burtpur and Jaipur. An Islami Shiite kingdom was established at Oudh with its capital at Luvknow. AnothervIslamic kinfdom flourished in Bengal. Sikhs rejecting both Hinduism and Islsam established a kingdom in the Punjab. Although initially a pacifist sect, the Sikhs eventually adopted the sword of aggressive Islam to win converts. [Wells, p. 707.]

Power Vacuume

The lack of central authority on the subcontinent invited foreign invasion.

Persia and Afghanistan

Nadir Shah (1736-47) ac Turkoman ruler of Persia invaded norythern India through the famed Kyber Pass. No Infdian army was able to stand before him. He sacked Delhi and brough large quantities of booty back to Persia. When Nadir died, Afghanistan exerted its independence. Nadir had so devestated the northern principalities that the Afghans mounted a series of raids to collect booty of their own. The Mahrattas challenged the Afghan's for control of northern India, but broke up inton small principalities (Indore, Gwalior, Baroda, and several others). [Wells, p. 708.]

The Europeans

The Red Sea Arabs for cebturies controlled the trade between Europe and India. The Portuguese led by Vasco de Gama as a result of the Voyages of Discovery were the first Europeans ro reach India. The Portugese with their larger better armed vessels prevailed in a series of sea engagements and broke the Aran trade monopoly. The Portugese and other Europeans encountered a deeply divided India with a large number of independent principalities. The Portugese established a monopoly of its own, but were eventually suplanted by the Dutch. Other European powers (Denmark, England, France, ans Sweden) initiated hostilities to obtain a share of the India trade. Here naval engagements were fought in European waters, the most important by the English fleet by Blake. There was no strong central authority capable of effectively resising the Europeans. Many of the Indian princes turned to the Europeans in their rivalries with neighboring princes. The European did not come as collonizers. There interest was trade. Only gradually did this change. At first the Europeans built warehouses for their trade goods. Conditions in India were so unsettled that the Europeans found forts were needed to protect the warehouses and other facilities from not only plundering by Indian princes and brigands, but also attacks by rival European powers. [Wells, pp. 708-09.] Indian princes sought support from the Europeans to support their domestic conflicts. The two principal European powers in India by the beginning of the 18th century were the British and French. The British expansion in India was not conducted by the British Government, but rather the British East Asia Trading Company. The British centers werec Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras and led by Robert Clive (1725- ). The French were centered at Chandernagore and Pondicherry and led by Dupleixh. Bitish victories at Plassey (1757) and Buxar (gained Britain sypremecy over the French as well as the armies of Bengal and Oudh (1764). The struggle in India was fought with the Seven Years War in Europe, The end of the War left the British supreme in North America and India. The Mogul Emperor was now a puppet of British East Asia Trading Company.

British Raj

The East Asia Trading Company at the end of the 18th century found itself in possession of a subcontinent with a population far exceeding Britain itself. The company gradualy ceased operating as a mere trading company and gradually began acting as the defacto government of India. Yong men came out from Britain and acted with virtually no limits on their authority. We know from accounts of the Industrial Revolution that men with mopney often acted without concern for the welfare of others. In India this situation was even more unfettered because there was no Parliament to supervise, the distance and exotic culture of India precluded effective public scrutiny, and racial diiferences clouded humanitarian sympsathies. As a result, there were great abuses of power. [Wells, p. 710.] The last Mogul was Bahadur Shah II, began his reign during 1837. He participated in the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) against the British and was subsequently expelled. The British built modern infrastructure. They also founded he country's first real educational system, in part to train an educated elite to help run the administrative strycture of the Raj. The British did not impose their culture including fashion. Indians were left to chose what they wanted to adopt from the British, included clothing. The British-educated upper and middle class commonly chose Western fashions, mostly the boys and men. This included a young Mahatma Ghandi. After he returned to India he and the Congress Party as part of their rejection of colonial rule, rejected Western fashion and British produced cloth. The fashion was not a major issue as the great bulk of the Indian population ws never affected by Western styles. Western produced cloth was a different matter. This rejection was Britain had profound consequences. Many independence leaders rejected free market capitalism. Gandi in fact rejected modern economic development. The result after independendence was several decades of attempting Soviet-style socialist command economics. As in the Sioviet Union, this meant dismal economic failure. Happily for the Indian people, Congress did not reject British parlimentary democracy and law.

Modern India


Wells, H.G. The Outline of History: The Whole Story of Man (Foubleday & Co.: New York, 1971), 1103p.


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Created: January 30, 2004
Last updated: 11:57 PM 3/28/2011