MAGADHA was an ancient kingdom located on the Indo-Gangetic plains in eastern India and spread over what is today the modern state of Bihar. At the height of its power, it claimed suzerainty over the entire eastern part of the country (roughly the area of England) and ruled from its capital at Pataliputra (modern Patna, Bihar).
In 326 BCE, when Alexander the Great was camped at the river Beas on the westernmost part of India, his army mutinied; they refused to march further east. They had heard about the great Magadha kingdom and were unnerved by stories of its might. Unwillingly, Alexander turned back (and was to die en route).
But this was not the first time that the might of Magadha had forced kings westwards. One of the earliest references to Magadha is in the epic Mahabharata, where we see the entire Yadava clan abandoning their homeland on the Gangetic plains to migrate south-westwards towards the desert-ocean land to avoid constant battles with their eastern neighbour, Magadha.
The people of Pataliputra* dressed well in flowered muslins embroidered with jewels, and an umbrella was carried by an attendant behind the head of a noble when he went into the road. Kleitarchus, however, found that in other, poorer parts of India, they wore fillets (turbans, no doubt), on their long hair, and robes of plain white muslin or linen. Intercourse Between India and the Western World, H. G. Rawlinson, 1916.
Conclusion to the sari history series which I started in March 2014. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to blog when I started it but as it stands I think it is proof that what we as Indians wear reaches way back to the past (the extract describes the Mauryan Empire around the 3rd century BCE) and yet it is not wedded to the past. The forms our clothing adopts is constantly shifting, we are constantly stimulated by the external world and yet we always stay true to our own principles of aesthetics. Elsewhere in the 21st century there may be normcore, a culture where body shape itself is couture and a tendency to follow male clothing history in the West. In India on the other hand trims, gems, sequins and gold and silver threads bloom in profusion on our fabrics today. This is true even for Indian fashion designed for men. Our fluid drapery remains even with the most ornate of our clothes. Our clothing is experimental and also recreates our past. At the same time the ordinary, worn beauty of our everyday clothing is also evident on our streets.
What we wear, what we deem fashionable, the changes with each decade are all defined by us. It is unique to us of the subcontinent. Our clothing and fashion history is rich and wonderful and of our own making. May that never change.