Cosmetics, Costumes and Ornaments in Ancient India

by Remadevi. O. | 2009 | 54,177 words

This page relates ‘Materials for Garments (b): Silk fibers from Silkworms’ of the study on cosmetics, costumes and ornaments of ancient India based on Sanskrit sources. Chapter one deals with cosmetics and methods of enhancing beauty; Chapter two deals with costumes, garments and dresses; Chapter three deals with ornaments for humans and animals. Each chapter deals with their respective materials, types, preparation and trade, as prevalent in ancient Indian society.

1. Materials for Garments (b): Silk fibers from Silkworms

Yarns prepared from the cocoon of silk worms living in certain trees were used to manufacture certain types of clothes. Some of the cloth materials prepared in this way are—

a) Kauśeya

According to some scholars, Kauśeya is produced from the cocoon of silkworms seen under the leaves of mulberry tree. Our writers have used the term Kauśeya mostly in connection with a women’s attire, though the cloth is common for both men and women. Pāṇini[1] and Kālidāsa[2] call all sorts of silk clothes by the term Kauśeyaka. Kauśeya clothes were given as presents and offerings. We have descriptions of Kauśeya of different colours. The expressions Pītakauśeyavāsinī and Raktakauśeyavāsinī are common. In Matsyapurāṇa[3], Pārvatī in one context is described as dressed in Pītakauśeya.

In Mahābhārata, Subhadrā dressed as a cowherd is described thus—


b) Patrorṇa

The term Patrorṇa has been defined in many ways. One commentator of Amarakośa defines Patrorṇa thus -


While in the text, Patrorṇa is stated as a washed silk. Kauṭilya[6] agrees with the interpretation of the commentator. Kālidāsa has used the term Kauśeya patrorṇa in Mālavikāgnimitra[7], while describing Mālavikā. On this basis, some people are of opinion that Patrorṇa is perhaps another variety of cloth other than silk and hence in their view, there Kālidāsa refers to a cloth having a mixture of two materials.

c) Aṃśuka

Aṃśuka was used to denote all sorts of garments. Breast clothes were named Stanāṃśuka. Veils also were made of Aṃśuka. Aṃśuka was dyed in various colours and was printed with different designs and some were gem studded also. These cloths were of different qualities. Some fine and costly variety was generally called as Varāṃśuka or Paṭṭāṃśuka.

We come across Asitāṃśuka or Śyāmāṃśuka (Black), Nīlāṃśuka (Blue), Aruṇāṃśuka (Reddish brown), Raktāṃśuka (Red) etc. in the works of Kālidāsa[8] and Bāṇa[9]. Even though it is a variety of cloth, it is interesting that Kālidāsa[10] has always mentioned the term Aṃśuka in connection with women’s dress. Bhāsa[11] has mentioned a white one, resembling the colour of Kāśa flower. In Karpūramañjarī[12], we read of a parrot green Aṃśuka. Matsyapurāṇa[13] attests a yellow coloured one. Red coloured Aṃśuka was most popular especially among aristocrat ladies. They wore it on ceremonial occasions. In Ratnāvalī[14], we have a reference to the heroine attired in a Aṃśuka of red colour. We meet with a lady of high social status clothed in a pair of red Aṃśuka in Nāgānanda[15] also. Similarly, Bāṇa[16] has described the queen Yaśovatī as covering her face with a veil of red Aṃśuka.

Aṃśuka painted or printed with different figures were called as Citrāṃśuka. References to such types are in plenty. The dress of Śrī characterised by Bāṇa in Harṣacarita[17] is a Citrāṃśuka, embellished with flower and bird patterns. In another place, Yaśovatī is described as attired in Aṃśuka of wavy pattern[18]. While describing the dressing of Ṛṣidatta, Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha[19] compares his floral designed Aṃśuka to a garden in spring with full blossoms.

d) Cīnāṃśuka

Cīnāṃśuka is a sub variety of Aṃśuka. As its etymology indicates, the origin of this cloth is ascribed to the country China. It is usually white and shining. Cīnāṃśuka is defined in Bṛhatkalpasūtrabhāṣya[20] in two ways. As per it, it is either a silk cloth made of the fibres prepared from the worms namely Kośakāra or a cloth made in China. Cīnāṃśuka was employed in both upper garments and lower garments. In addition to its use as garment, Cīnāṃśuka was a material for royal banners also. It was a texture of people having good financial status and hence to entice the courtesans, such highly priced clothes were presented to them. Cīnāṃśuka is sometimes called as Cīnapaṭṭa.

Most of our references are to Cīnāṃśuka of white colour. However, Bhāravi[21] and Bāṇa[22] have mentioned rainbow coloured Cīnāṃśuka. Bāṇa[23] has also referred to Cīnāṃśuka decorated with various patterns. In Harṣacarita, a breast garment in Cīnāṃśuka is cited[24], which gives indication to Cīnāṃśuka used as upper garments. Princess Campā, characterized by Daṇḍi[25] in the story of Apahāravarman in Daśakumāracarita is seen as clothed in a lower garment of Cīnāṃśuka.

e) Paṭṭa

Paṭṭa is mentioned as a soft silk texture usually worn by aristocrats. It is also known as Paṭikā. Some writers use the term Paṭṭa in the sense of Dukūla. Use of Paṭṭa is usually seen in lower garments.

Footnotes and references:


. Aṣṭādhyāyī, 6.3.42


. Mālavikāgnimitra, p.105; Ṛtusaṃhāra, V.8


. 157.14


. Ādiparva, 221.19


. 2.6.113


. India as Seen in the Bṛhatsaṃhitā of Varāhamihira, p.225


. Act V


. Ṛtusaṃhāra, VI.19, Vikramorvaśīya, III.12


. Harṣacarita, p.146, 32


. Ṛtusaṃhāra, I.7, IV.3; Vikramorvaśīya, III.12; Raghuvaṃśa, VI.75, XI.4.26; Kumārasambhava, I.14


. Pratimānāṭaka, Prologue


. Act III


. 162.324


. I.20


. Act IV


. Harṣacarita, Yaśovatīvarṇana


. p.114


. Ibid


. pp.25,100


. DAOAI, p.23


. Kirātārjunīya (Kirātārjunīya),16.58


. Harṣacarita, p.78


. Ibid, IVth Ucchvāsa


. Ibid, Vth Ucchvāsa


. Daśakumāracarita, p.97

Let's grow together!

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: