Post No. 10,785

Date uploaded in London – –    27 MARCH   2022         

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Marshall observes (1931) about the cotton textile of the Harappans

“The cotton resembles the coarser varieties of the present day Indian cottons… This discovery which is one of the most interesting of the minor discoveries made at Mohenjo-daro , disposes finally the idea that the fine Indian cotton known to Babylonians as Sindhu and  to the Greeks as Sindon was a product of the cotton tree and not  true cotton.

(But all these remarks come from impressions made by cloth used for bags and may not be of much value)

Tamils have never mentioned Sindhu river in Sangam or later literature. Sindhu for cloth was also used in late literature. Sindhu is used in Tolkappiam and Silappadikaram in different sense.


But Neithal is a very interesting Tamil word

It is interesting to compare the words in English with Sanskrit and Tamil words –

Attire – aadai/ udai for clothing in Tamil

Warp and woof – Paavu and Uudu in Tamil (W/V= P)

Tunic – Thuni in Tamil

Kanchuka – Sanskrit word in Sangam Tamil literature

Suchika in Skt. Is Uusi/needle in Tamil.

Neith – goddess of weaving in Egypt; neithal is weaving in Tamil.

Uurna / skt becomes Wool in English and ‘Vaya’ becomes Weave in English.

Karpasa for Cotton in Sanskrit gave birth to words in Greek and Latin :-

“The word for cotton in Sanskrit is KARPAASA. It is found in Greek, Hebrew and Latin. The botanical term Gossypium is also derived from the Sanskrit word. There are two more ancient words for cotton – katn in Arabic and a few other old languages. Tamil which is spoken for at least 2000 years, has PANJI and PARUTHTHI for cotton. We don’t find Tamil word anywhere else in the ancient world”.

Indigo – colour dye was exported from India according to Pliny.

Purple for Roman Toga- Dye from sea shell was exported to Rome

Roman trade with Tamil land was flourishing in the first few centuries according to Greeks, Romans and Tamil literature.


A.Kalyanaraman in his voluminous, scholarly work Aryatarangini (1968) says,

“Weaving was well known in Vedic times; the warp, the woof and the shuttle are mentioned. Technical words like tantu (warp) and out (woof) are found in the Rig Veda. The shuttle and the loom are found in the Yajur Veda. The Greek writers mention “silk and woollen cloth in gold and ornamented with precious stones. In Panini’s time , clothes made of silk (Kauseya) wool (aurna), linen (aumaka) and cotton (karpasa) were freely worn. It would appear from Panini;s descriptions that ordinary people in his time wore two satakas or pieces of cloth one for the lower body and one for the upper.

(Panini is dated 7th or 8th century BCE by famous Sanskrit scholars of India and Indologist Goldstucker)

The Greeks of Alexander’s army were much impressed by the simplicity and elegance of Indian dress. Arrian observes thus, ‘The dress worn by the Indians is made up of cotton;—— they wear an under garment of cotton which reaches below the knee half way down to the ankles; also an upper garment which they throw partly over their shoulder and partly twist in folds round their  head”.

Panini mentions the under garment as ‘aaprapaadinaa’  (i.e. reaching to the ankles) which was tied to the waist by a girdle (as evidenced by the numerous statues of Mauryan period). The price of each ‘sataka’ ( or Dhoti to use a more modern word) was one silver karshapana in Panini’s time.

Buddha’s Dress

The wearing of a tunic or a loose gown seems to have become very common by 6th century BCE. Buddha is occasionally portrayed wearing such a gown; (more often, he is draped in loose cloth, worn in plaids). Panini mentions a ‘brhatya- aacchadana’, which was also known as ‘pravara’, a big all covering mantle measuring about 24 feet X 12 feet (Roman Toga)

. He also enumerates various kinds of blankets worn over the tunic, particularly the Pandu Kambala, brightly dyed and embellished with zigzag designs

The Mauryan sculptures make it clear that a loose gown hanging down the to the leg was a favourite custom with all classes of people. The Amaravati sculptures also show good evidence of the tailor’s art.

Ancient Sanskrit literature contains terms for embroidery, darning (tuna vaaya) and tailoring (suuchikaa). In fact there was a separate caste of tailors known as sauchika and their incidence must have been widespread. The names of various dresses also indicate the existence of this profession all over the land. ‘Kanchuka’ was a waist coat or a male dress shaped like a bodice some times going below the waist to the knee.  The sages who attended the Yuthisthira’s coronation are mentioned as wearing turbans and ‘kanchukas’. The ordinary term for eunuch gurads was kanchukinaa, i.e. wearers of gowns (as distinguished from those wearing belts and armours. The feminine or dimunitive form of Kanchuka was kanchulikaa, over which was worn a short jacket with half-sleeves (called angikaa), often shining with bright borders and golden lace work.

The following items of made dress are mentioned in Vedic literature:

Atka (mantle), Upanah (sandal), Usnisa (turban), Tarpya (silk garment), Drapi (mantle), Nivi (under garment), Paridhana (garment), Pandva (un coloured garment), Pesas (embroidered garment) Vatapana (wind gurad), Samula (woollen shirt)

Nivi – tape with which drawers or skirts were tied to the waist.

Indian cloth has been found in countries like Sumeria and Egypt. Sanskrit Karpaasa became carpus in Hebrew, Karpasa in Greek and Carbusus in Latin. That it is native to India, is now freely admitted; from India it travelled all over the Pacific and into the New World.”

–from Arya Tarangini of A.Kalyanaraman


Tamil literature has more about dress (given in third part of this article).

(While I am writing this, I am reminded of my weaving lessons. 65 years ago, I was studying in Madurai Yadhava School in North Masi Street. We had one period to spin yarn from raw cotton with Taqli. Later , about 60 years ago, when I was studying in Madurai Sethupati High School, where the great poet Bharatiyar worked, there were lot of weaving machines, in a corner room. Those who opt for Thari (loom/weaving) lesson, were taught there. Though I did not opt for it, I used to enter the room now and then to watch them with curiosity. Just before coming to London for BBC broadcasting in 1987, I used to visit lot of Sourashtra community weavers’ houses for RSS work. We used to sit between the weaving machines and talk. RSS shakas in East Madurai were conducted in open fields which the weavers used. As soon as the RSS exercise finish at 7-30 am, weavers used to peg their poles and start their work of dying the clothes etc. Just to say my connection with weaving until 1987. Muppuri Nool/Three ply Thread of Brahmins is mentioned several times in Sangam literature . I have seen Brahmin youths spinning and making it in Madurai Dhanappa Mudali street Veda Patasala/Vedic school ).

To be continued……………………………….

tags-  Weaving, cotton, Tamil, Sanskrit, Words,  Cloth, Dying, Neithal

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