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Post No. 10,795

Date uploaded in London – –    30 MARCH   2022         

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The oldest Indian sculpture with a shawl is available from Harappan culture dated between 2500 BCE- and 1700 BCE. The Yogi or Priest king is wearing a shawl with flower designs. This floral design is mentioned in many of the Sangam Tamil verses. Later we see plain shawl on Buddha from 3rd century BCE where the shawl is without floral designs. But Buddha was an ascetic, and the sages and saints wear only plain saffron cloth. Later Buddhists changed it to yellow, probably to differentiate from Hindu ascetics. One sect of Jains wore plain white clothes (Svetambharas). There is a gap of at least 1500 years between Harappan and Buddhist period sculptures.

Talking about floral designs on cloths, following Tamil verses give interesting details:

Pura Nanuru verse 274 by poet Ulochanar sings about the dress of a soldier; that man was wearing a shirt with floral design and a blue colour belt. He also had a peacock feather on his head (like Lord Krishna).

But all the words used are Sanskrit words : Neela, Kacha, Aadai (attire in European languages); poet’s name is also in Sanskrit Su+ Lochana)

(Neelak kachai poovaar aatai- Puram 274)

Puram .verse 393.

Garments were so thin and transparent like the skin of a snake (snakes shed their skin periodically)

Ref. Pornararrupatai – lines 82-83, Puram verse 383

The cloth was as light and thin like smoke or steam says one poet in Perumpanaatruppatai (lines 469/70)


Women in assemblies wore bra and a transparent shawl. Most of the verses in Tamil show bare breasts; Malayalees in Kerala wore dress only covering waist till recent days. They did not cover their breasts; We see such pictures in Andaman Islands as well. All the 2300 year old statues in Buddhist sculptures and 1500 year old South Indian temple statues and idols are also bare breasted figures. But Tamil women had flower designs with sandal and other paints drawn on their breasts. They also had ornaments covering their chest.

Ref.Mullaik Kali 11- lines 16/17

Silappadikaram –  13-172


But women wore new clothes (saree?) covering up to their face on the wedding day. What happened to a bride during Honey Moon day (first night) is explained in Akananuru Verses 136 and 86. Her body shone like a glittering sword just out of its sheath when the bridegroom removed her new clothes (Koti Kalingam in 86 and Murungaak Kalingam in 136). She was too shy to expose her body. So, she tried to hide it with her long hair and flowers (garlands?)

Koti, Murungaa= new, Kalingam = dress


Kachuka (Sanskrit word )

Kanchuka is like a shirt covering chest of men. Those who worked for government wore uniforms. One can identify a person’s vocation from it. Ministers, foreign/Mlecha body guards, soldiers wore Kanchuka/shirts. But we may assume they were different in designs. Even sages who attended Yuthisthira’s Coronation wore Kanchukas and turbans; it was a ceremonial dress as well as uniform. It covered the body from chest to knee.


Women , particularly widows, were doing spinning to spend their time; they must have earned some money by doing this. They were called Cotton Women (Paruthip Pendir).

Ref. Puram verses 125, 326; Narrinai verse 353

Rig Veda also links women with spinning.


Wool, silk and rat hair

‘Unspun thread or yarn’ in Tamil meant wool, silk and other sources like rat hair .

Ref. Pathirrupathu 12

Noolaak kalingam – clothes made up of unspun yarn


Kunjam/ knotty ends

“Kunjam is any of the several knots made by gathering threads of warp into a knot at the end of the saree after weaving is finished” ; (it is similar to tassel)

-Cre-A Tamil English Dictionary

This kunjam /knotting work is also referred to in Sangam Tamil literature.

Ref.Porunar atruppatai, line 155

Maduraikkanchi – line 514


Colour of the clothes also mentioned in some places.

The colour of the cloth looked like Indrakopa insects. It is called cochineal, a small red colour insect or worm. Ancient people of South America made carmine dye from this insect. Probably Tamils also used this insect for dying.

Ref. Tirumurukaattruppatai line 15


Tamil Nadu is famous for its silk and cotton sarees from Kanchipuram, Tirubhuvanam, Dharmavaram, Chinnalappatti. The town names have become synonymous with those sarees. The white Dhoti made in Nagerkoil, the Dhotis with Garudalvar border are also famous. Brahmins use the word ‘Soman’ for Dhoti/Veshti. Origin of words like Tunic= Thuni, Soman, Tukil , Kacha, Kanchuka , Mara uri, Varkalai need to be studied in detail.


Lines given here are according to English translation of the text; not the number of original line.


Their legs are round

Their waists are slim, and they have shoulders smooth

Their undyed garments  wrought with flower designs

And resembling insects purple hued

–Tiru Murugaattruppatai (about Tirupparankundram)



Their locks are decked

With fillets made of petals. Round their waist

That shine with waist strings they a leaf-dress wear

—-Tiru Murugaattruppatai (about Kundruthoraadal)

(For leaf dress and reed dress, see my 2012 articles)



In storeys high where artless dames

At night enjoyed their mates’ embrace

Discarding silks for raiment.

-PATTINAP PAALAI – lines 122/124



And gave me clothes whose texture was so fine

Its threads could not be easily traced and worked

With floral forms resembling skins of snakes

Porunaraatrupadai 103-105


Ere thou dost do this he will make thee wear

a spotless dress that shines like bamboo bark

–Sirupaanaatruppadai , lines 307/308


These waters look like  shining garments white

Kurinjippaattu – line 67


He will give some pretty clothes

Whose fine web is not visible, for thee

To wear in place of rags

—Malaipadu kadaam


This is not an exhaustive list.

Source : for the above Paththup paattu songs, I used J V Chelliah’s translations 1946, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

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