Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
This is a little story about the background of a Punjabi textile that is a few metres long.
It is about the culture of Punjab from a century ago.
It is a leaf out of an unwritten cultural-history book.
Here is the object of my awe:
Made of at about 3-4 metres of soft fine mulmul type of cloth, it is a wrap around skirt to be fastened by the yellow and green handwoven ropes and has dozens of gathers at the waist.
On the cold winter morning in a small town near the border of India in Punjab, upon seeing such a skirt for the first time, I presumed that the low winter temperatures (combined with no central heating and outdoor tasks) are the reason for layering with a heavily pleated additional garment.
But I was wrong.
This is actually an “overskirt” to be worn over the Salwar and under the Kurta.
Now in my side of the world in the olden days (and even today in many traditional families) the outlook is to cover up one’s body and do what one can to avoid attracting the vision of others to one’s body.
This is one aspect of that model. The other aspects of that thinking are as follows: a) that such display of physical beauty is to be reserved for intimate moments only and is not a matter of public consumption b) that every individual is judged on not just beauty (roop) but also 32 individual ‘qualities’ or characteristics (gunh) that loosely translate to skills, capabilities and other factors. My guess is that since our visual senses have a great influence to overpower one’s judgement, a way was found to limit this influence that could prove to be counterproductive in the long run. So one way to avoid such stumbling is to prevent or at least limit visual display. And so covering up was the norm.
The more covered up a woman is, the less distraction there is in the world, and for any man, the sin of coveting another’s wife is rendered improbable if he can see very little of her or her form.
So, to ensure that even her form remains undefined, loose clothes were worn. A loose shawl over the shoulders is commonly used in many cultures even today. But this was my first encounter with a loose skirt with a thousand gathers that would cover up the form of the legs that might still be definable within the pants or the salwar.
And that is how this overskirt came to be.
The logic of this thinking could be the start of many conversations and many many arguments. Pros & cons are many and protaganists on both sides will have many valid things to say.
I look forward to engaging in these debates in person!
But for now, this is just a note narrating a cultural anecdote of a garment from the past.
ADVISORY: Readers are warned of severe disappointment if they travel to present-day Punjab in search for maidens dressed in such overskirts! Today the style statements of the young ladies of Chandigarh or other cities in Punjab are in line with their counterparts elsewhere.