1801 - 1950

Textiles and Attires: 19th-Early 20th Century Bombay Presidency

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

The sartorial history of the Bombay Presidency from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries is reflected through the Museum's collection of textile pieces, prints and clay models. The early curators of the Museum put together the collection to showcase the raw products, decorative and industrial arts that represented the life and culture of the Bombay Presidency. In addition, several clay models were produced to display the communities, occupations, housing,  lifestyles as well as dioramas and three dimensional maps of the region. Many of the clay models were modelled from ethnographic prints and studio photographs published during the colonial period in India. These were made with great attention to detail, capturing attires, stances, work tools and processes of the artisans. This exhibit puts together attires, cloth histories and some of the textile processes, that give a visual insight into the exchanges between artisans and consumers, reflecting on fashion, identities, trade and industry of the time. 

Many of the clay models in the Museum's collection were inspired by Company prints and ethnographic documentation. Seen here is a plate from Forbes Watson representing male attires in cotton.

Textile Collection 
Paithani sari derives its name from Paithan, a city located on the northern bank of the river Godavari in Maharashtra. Historically Paithan was ruled by several dynasties- from the Satvahanas (230 AD) to the Nizams (1724-1958) who patronized woven textiles, playing various roles in the local textile production and design vocabulary of the area. 

The distinct feature of the Paithani saree is the brocade pallavs (long trailing part of the sari), which is woven with a weft of gold thread.

This early 20th century clay model shows an artisan flattening gold wire. Flattened gold threads were traditionally used for weaving and embroideries.

Brahmin lady from Maharashtra, presumably wearing a Paithani sari. Paithani saris were handwoven with silk and with gold woven borders, popular among the wealthy communities.

The Shaloo is a version of the Paithani sari that tends to be more popular because of its association with Benarasi Sari. It is believed that Peshwas of Pune brought several Benarasi Saris.

Woven on a simple, horizontal handloom with two string heddles, the patola sari is always woven in a plain weave. The intricate patterning is achieved by tying and dyeing the warp and weft threads separately, and according to the specific design of the overall sari. Motifs on the Patola sari were of flowers and jewels, elephants, parrots, tigers and dancing women used either in the border or in the central field, sometimes in a grid-like alternating pattern. These were always interspersed with geometric designs. The designs themselves varied between patrons who were largely from the Hindu, Jain and Muslim communities with the latter not wearing animal and human figures.

All three Patola saris in the Museum's collection are devoid of animal and human figures, and were probably meant to be worn by women from the Muslim Vohra [Bohra] community. Patolas were, and still are, highly prized and patronized only by those who could afford them. They took tremendous patience and precision to make. While double-ikats were woven in Patan and Surat, patola ‘imitations’ were made in single-ikat in Rajkot and Saurashtra. While a limited selection of Patolas continue to be woven today, mostly by the Salvi Jain community, natural dyes are seldom used.

This patola sari features a 'pan-bhat' (pipal leaf) pattern also known as 'vohra-gaji-bhar', along with the caterpillar, lotus flower and stars.

This patola sari has a central black ground with individual floral motifs in the border and the pallav.

Himroo is a type of brocaded fabric. It is said to be an extra weft fabric with a cotton base and silk weave. It is made on a throw shuttle loom using cotton in the warp and silk in the weft. One peculiarity of himroo is that the silk threads used to form pattern on the surface of the fabric are collected in long loops that forms a soft warm layer. This red himroo sari from Surat has a ground of small butis arranges in evenly spaced rows. The pallavs (long trailing part of the sari) has eight large keri (mango) shaped butas firmly anchored in the ground, each filled with small flowering plants.

This handspun and handwoven cotton blouse is from Dharwar in Karnataka which is widely known for its cotton sarees, often made in earthy colouts with contrasting borders in red and dark dorwn. Saris and their accompanying blouses were often decorated with kasuti embroidery. Shown here is the blouse/bodice embroidered in colours that contrast the base material. The designs are appliqued and embroidered.

This red cotton skirt , with a purple waistband, is embroidered with trellis design enclosing floral motifs in alternating rows. Each motif consists of an individual flower, the stem appearing as if rooted in the ground with a pair of leaves on either side. The outline of the ogival pattern in embroidered in white. There is a scrolling floral border.

Clay model of a lady embroidering

This bright red kurta (tunic) in satin silk is intricately embroidered with silk threads and small pieces of mirror (abhala). The front of the kurta is embellished with an almost shield-like yoke that starts at the neck and extends till the waist, where it ends in a fan-like repeat pattern. Similar embroidered patterns extend over the shoulders and down the length of the sleeves. The edge of the neckline is emphasised by a strip of embroidery, and another is worked on the lower hem of the garment. The embroidery is executed in a dense chain stich with running, straight and interlacing stitches.

The mirrors are held together by buttonhole stiches. Such kurtas were worn by women at the time of their wedding and were usually embroidered by the Memon merchants of Kutch.

The Collection for Kinkhabs at the Museum come from Gujarat. Gujarat is considered to be the home of silk and brocade weaving in India. It was customary to restrict the word 'kinkhab' to a brocade in which there is a liberal use of metallic band (Imperial Gazetteer of India, the Indian Empire Vol III). During the Sultanate period until the 16th century, under Mughal patronage, Ahmedabad and Surat had large workshops where fine gold silk-brocades were made.

Kinkhabs were generally used for skirt lengths and furnishings.

According to the Bombay City Gazetteer (1909), during the late 19th and early 20th century, Pathare Prabhu were regarded to have always set the fashion in dress, food and mode of living. Pathare Prabhu community is regarded as one of Mumbai’s (Bombay) oldest communities. Pathare Prabhu held positions of trust and responsibility and the community played a vital role in the early settlement and development of Mumbai. Prabhu women ensembles consisted of a Saree from Dhanwad or Nagpur in Maharashtra or Ahemdabad in Gujarat accompanied with a tight fitting choli.

By the early 20th century, the apparels of the Prabhu's were significantly influenced by the European fashion. Here, the Angarkha, known as the long-coat adapted the European cut.While attending social gathering, women carried a shawl over their attire (Bombay City Gazetteer 1909). Shoes of European patterns were also incorporated in the attires of some of the Indian communities.

This clay model couple represent the late 19th and early 20th century Deccan Brahman community. The man wears a four-part ensemble, with an elaborate headdress that is associated with the Maratha belt of Maharasthra and the Deccan. The woman wears a saree with a brocaded blouse

Both wear Indian-style leather footwear, Jutis or Mojaris.

"The Parsis, when they first settled in Gujarat, adopted the dress of the Gujarati Hindus, the only difference being that their males and females both wore the sadra, kusti [girdle worn around the waist] and trousers and that the latter covered their head with a white cloth.The man here wears a behedi turban, usually donned by the Parsis of Mumbai. It is regarded that the earlier headdress of the Parsis was a heavy bundle made out of many yards of cloth wrapped around the head. The weight of the turban was considered a measure of the dignity and respectability of the wearer"

- Bombay City Gazetteer 1909

By the beginning of the 1900, the Parsi dress was rapidly supplanted by European attire. This style of dressing for men in the Parsi Community became popular among the British Presidencies and urban in India. The man here wears a collared coat and trouser and dons a hat with a walking stick. (Bombay City Gazetteer 1909).

Gradually the Parsi turban adopted the English hat design with a ring around it rather than the customary brim.

In the case of the woman, the ensembles consist of a typical embroidered saree, known as the 'Gara' and western-style bodice blouse that became popular among the Parsi women during this period. The blouses were modelled on European dresses in vogue at the time, and used imported fabrics as well as embellished elements such as lace. It has also been suggested that the style of wearing petticoats under the saree began around this time, and that a seperates of petticoats and blouses were derived from western gowns.

Kolis, are regarded as the original inhabitants of the islands of Mumbai (Bombay). Often the men wore rough wollen waistcoat, loin cloth folded diagonally strung around the waist and a warm close fitting cap, known as kamblichi topi. A cord with a sacred thread was put around the neck like a sacred thread. The woman ensemble comprises a nine yard saree and a choli (blouse). The sari is draped in a peculiar way attributed to the Koli community, where after being draped around the waist, one end of it is taken between legs to form a trouser like division. This style is believed to make it easier to swim in the water.

Agri Koli couple, who mainly worked in the salt pans. The man wears a three piece ensembles comprising of a head gear, an upper garment and an un-stiched lower garment. The upper garment is front open and has visual similarity to cotton garment worn under Sherwanis and Achkans by men at the turn of the century. The cotton textiles were mill made. Both imported and Indian fabrics were being used by population in Mumbai (Bombay). The woman wear a saree with a fill sleeved garment accompanied by a scarf wrapped around, covering the entire upper body.

Many attires developed around community, profession and caste during this period. seen here is a dhobi couple, or washerman/washerwoman. On the male model we see Angarkha style upper garment. He wears a dhoti where the central part of the drape is taken in between the legs and fastened around the groin area, a style similar to draping a langot. The length of the dhoti is shorter which was attributed to relatively lower castes of people comprising of working class. The woman wears a style of saree which belongs to the broad Western, Central and Northern regions of India.

In the following plates we see communities on display at the Museum that showcase the people of Mumbai, their attire, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The model of the Baniya man from Surat in Gujarat is shown wearing a similar type of head-wear as worn by Parsis.

This painting by William Simpson (1867), shows an embroidered shawl being worked on. Shawls were seldom woven as single pieces but pieced together with patterns woven in sections and then stitched perfectly together by experts known as 'Rafoogars'. When William Simpson visited Kashmir, in the first part of the 19th century, shawl designs were getting more complex and elaborate with the colour palette more varied. 

Cashmere shawls are woven from 'pashm', the fibre that comes from the fine undercoat of goats reared by nomadic pastoralists living on the high plateau of Changthang in Eastern Ladakh and Western Tibet. The goat has been called by several names: shawl goat, pahmina goat and changra(northern goat).

The painting depicts men working on a woven shawl known as kani or jamawar. It is made using a technique known as twill tapestry weaving where a large number of bobbins, each loaded with yarn of a different colour, are used instead of shuttle.

A portrait of Dr. Bhau Daji Lad, one of the founders of the Museum and after whom the Museum is named, is portrayed wearing a Kashmiri shawl. Kashmir has always been recognized for its high quality Pashmina shawls bearing finely embroidered designs.

Head-dress was important throughout India among men. It determined ones status, community, class and profession. 

John Forbes Watson (1867) documents that, 'Turbans are to be found in India presenting every colour and hue in the rainbow but white naturally takes by far the most prominent position. Red comes next, then yellow, and after them green, blue, purple and occasionally even black; the darker colours being almost invariably relieved by embroidery'

This is a lilac coloured turban with a narrow red and gold border, worked in a simple plain weave.

Turbans were made from range of fabrics and forms, from simple soft single-toned caps molded to fit the wearer's head.

Elaborated decorated hats were made of metal threads and bejewelled head coverings were made of silk.

This turban piece from Gujarat has an elaborate lehariya (striped) pattern block printed with alternating rows of single flowered creeper in bands of purple, yellow and mustard colour.

Individual busts from the headware case at the Museum categorising different communities and styles of headdress prevalent in the 19th and early 20th century. Top, left to right: Koli Fisherman, Mumbai, Pathare Prabhu, Mumbai, Bohra, Surat. Middle, left to right: Bhatia from Cutch, Baniya from Surat, Khoja from Mumbai. Bottom, left to right: Maratha from Kolhapur, Afghan from Peshawar, Brahmin from Deccan.

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum
Credits: Story

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Advisors: Dr. Jyotindra Jain, Monisha Ahmed and Mayank Mansingh Kaul.

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