Clothing and Society in the Mughal Empire: Geographical Factors and Social Classes

Category: Clothing, India
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
Pages: 7 Views: 237
Table of contents


The Mughal Empire The Mughal Empire In seeking to determine the clothes worn by the wide range of people that entered India during the Mughal period, one has to take into account the geographical factors that influence their form of dress, the region they come from, how they lived, how the terrain, climate and their professional occupation affected what they wore.

Brief History

Order custom essay Clothing and Society in the Mughal Empire: Geographical Factors and Social Classes with free plagiarism report

feat icon 450+ experts on 30 subjects feat icon Starting from 3 hours delivery
Get Essay Help

In 1526, Babur established the Mughal Empire, which lasted for over 200 years. They ruled most of the Indian subcontinent by 1600.

The Mughal emperors married local royalty, allied themselves with the local maharajas & attempted to fuse their turko-persian culture with ancient Indian styles. The Mughal dynasty reached its peak during the reign of Akbar and it went into a slow decline after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 and was finally defeated during the war of independence in 1857.


The marketplace The marketplace The society of the Mughal period can roughly be categorized into the rich, middle and poor class. The difference between the richest sections of society and the poorest was very wide.

At the top of the social and economic ladder was the king followed by his nobles. This class lived in extraordinary luxury with abundant resources at their disposal. They lived a life of reckless festivity, grand banquets, lavish homes and often had inflated egos. Their food and dress was very costly, and their homes were huge palatial structures. Both indoor and outdoor games were popular with this class, for they had the time and resources to be able to indulge in them. An unfortunate aspect was that as a result of their tremendous wealth, many of them squandered away their money and lives in vice and temptations.

Towards the close of the Mughal Empire, many of the emperors were no longer interested in running the empire; instead they were keener on enjoying the wealth they possessed as kings. Tyranny of the Emporer over the lower sections of the society Tyranny of the Emporer over the lower sections of the society The middle class was a relatively new development, one that would grow and become an important force during British India. They were usually merchants, industrialists and various other professionals. While not being able to afford the extravagance of the rich class, they led comfortable and perhaps more sensible lives.

Many middle class families were also very well off and were able to indulge in some luxuries. Purdah system was followed during Mughal Era Purdah system was followed during Mughal Era Below the middle class lay the poor class, the most oppressed and neglected part of the society. There was a major difference between their standard of living and that of the two preceding classes. They were usually without adequate clothing and in cases of famines even without food. They held very low paying jobs, where they were expected to put in long hours.

Their condition can perhaps be described as voluntary slaves. They were often harassed by the officers of the king, who extorted money out of them by making false charges against them. The economic conditions of the peasants continuously declined, especially towards the close of the Mughal period when the tyranny of the provincial governors constantly troubled the peasants' lives. The position of women in Indian society changed considerably with the coming of Islam. The Indian women now came to occupy an even lower status. Muslim inroads made strict enforcement of purdah and seclusion of women.

Women’s education was not encouraged. The birth of a girl was not regarded as a happy event. On the contrary the position of the women of the noble and royal families was little better. Miniature paintings of the Mughal era Miniature paintings of the Mughal era Miniature paintings: important source for Mughal costumes Mughal painting is a particular style of South Asian painting, generally confined to miniatures, which emerged from Persian miniature painting and developed during the period of the Mughal Empire (16th - 19th centuries).

Miniature paintings were a variety of Islamic paintings done during the reign of the Mughal Emperors. The Mughal paintings often covered scenes from the court and help our understanding of how the court functioned. These paintings also provide us with information on what the emperors looked like. The Mughal miniature paintings had depicted the costumes and ornaments which were prevalent in the time of medieval India. Mughal artists had rendered exquisite detail of the costume of the people of that period. The Mughal Emperors who helped the art of painting to flourish were Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Mughal Queen covered in fine clothing and jewels Mughal Queen covered in fine clothing and jewels The costume of Mughal women Traditional Mughal costume Traditional Mughal costume The ladies of the Mughal dynasty were as remarkable as their men and in certain cases even more cultivated. The way these beautiful, educated and extremely talented Mughal women used to dress became a matter of interest for many.

Royal women wore beautiful clothes made from the finest materials and adorned jewellery from head to toe. They used to spend a lot of money in getting for themselves fine silks, brocades and muslins from which they got stitch beautiful garments. They were mostly covered in white colored veil because of the prevalent purdah system and they could not go out on the street without the veil otherwise they were forced to join the profession of prostitution. Early costumes When the Mughal ladies first set their foot in India they were dressed in long gowns, caps and trousers.

And upto the time of Akbar, Persian dress was worn by muslins but during Akbar’s time Rajput dress was adopted.  An inner garment or kartiji was invariably worn beneath the gown as a short bodice reaching to the hips.  Queen in her chambers Queen in her chambers Another jacket or nimtena was frequently put over the dress somewhat like a vest (Gulbadan begam, the daughter of Babar while describing mirza hindal’s marriage in her memoirs, mentions “nine jackets with garnitures of jeweled balls” and four shortered jackets with bal trimmings among the articles of dowry for the bride Sultana begam.

The effect of these gorgeous dresses embroidered with gold and pearls was astonishing. So in a whole the early Mughal costume for women consisted of wide topped trousers fitting snuggly from calf to ankle, long kurta, fitted outer jacket, dupatta, high Turkish hats, sometimes with a small veil attached and some feathers too. The Jaguli The Jaguli Influence on Hindu women The glamour of these dresses must have cast its spell unmistakably on the susceptible Indian women. Opportunities were not lacking for frequent contacts between Indian and Mughal ladies.

It is therefore not astonishing that Indian women associated with the court of Delhi and high ranking ladies living in the Rajput dependencies of northern India should very soon have adopted the distinctively Mughal style of dress. The jaguli worn by women- a sort of empire gown fastening at neck an waist, opening between the fastenings and permitting a glimpse of the breasts and with long tight wrinkled sleeves and long flowing skirt reaching as far down as the ankles. This attire was worn by the Muslim dancing women. Later Mughal costume

Later Mughal costume The skirted robe of these women which was slit in front from the waist to the bottom and which in their language was known as peshwas distinctly resemble the jagulis of the Kangra painters. Later Mughal Costumes consisted of Long sleeved choli, Isar (often striped), Brocade vest, Short and long ghagra (often in sheer material),Silk or muslin dupatta, Apron (with embroidery) and farji (long sheer vest like garment), Long sleeved floor length gown with a sari that drapes from the jeweled embroidered crown and an Ornate turban.

Male Costume

Men wore

  • a pagri (turban),
  • a jama (coat),
  • a patka (shawl),
  • a katzeb (sash)
  • and either trousers or a dhoti (loincloth).

The Jama: Essentially, the jama is a snugly fitted garment that is complemented by a pair of long sleeves, a distinctive crossover bodice and a full skirt. The jama is differentiated from other coats of the Mughal era (such as the angharka) in that the skirts overlap in the same fashion as the bodice.

The Jama The Jama

The social status and wealth of the wearer were indicated by the textiles used to create the jama, the fullness of the skirts and the length of the sleeves. The sleeves were tight-fitting to the wrist, and were commonly so long as to form soft folds along the forearm. The sleeve also features an inset triangular gusset in the armpit, which allows for a snug fit without compromising mobility. Dhoti or Paijama: Another term for these trousers is paijama, from which comes our familiar word denoting sleep attire.

The word is a compound of two Persian words, pai meaning “feet” or “legs”, and jama meaning “covering”. Both men and women wore paijamas, possibly in imitation of the warlike Rajput princes who preferred them to the dhoti or the mobility they afforded. Mughal King Akbar Mughal King Akbar Pagri or Turban: Paintings from the court of Akbar indicate that there was a difference between the wrap used by a Muslim and that of a Hindu. Generally, Hindu turbans were fuller and rounder than those of the Muslims, who favored elaborate jewelry to embellish their headgear.

Patka, Katzeb and Juttis

Three more items finish off the male costume and these are the patka (shawl), the katzeb (sash) and Juttis (shoes). The Patka: The patka is a handsome garment often depicted in illustrations of the period draping elegantly from the shoulders of Akbar’s courtiers. It survives today in India as the dupatta, worn by women as a scarf with Emperor Shah Jahan Emperor Shah Jahan their salwar Kamiz and Hindu men on their wedding day. Patka, Katzeb and Juttis worn by Prince Salim Patka, Katzeb and Juttis worn by Prince Salim

The Katzeb

Even more ubiquitous than the patka, was the katzeb, or sash. In illustrations of the period, it is clear that the patka and the katzeb never matched one another, but like the patka, the katzeb was richly decorated in a number of ways. Sashes in the reign of Akbar seem to be of two lengths, long and short. Laborers, servants and courtiers in a hunting party are often shown with shorter and plainer katzebs. Wealthy emirs and the Akbar himself are depicted as wearing longer and more abundant sashes, and in a few cases, two sashes of contrasting colors at once.


Hindus and Muslims differed greatly in their approach to footwear. Followers of Islam wore shoes and boots habitually to protect their feet from the heat and hazards of the Indian landscape. Hindus, on the other hand, view feet and leather both as “unclean”. The making of leather goods, therefore, is and was left to the members of the lowest castes. As a rule, Hindus preferred to go either barefoot or in sandals called paduka, which were made of “pure” materials such as wood or even metal. Shoes were invariably removed before entering living areas and temples.

Cite this Page

Clothing and Society in the Mughal Empire: Geographical Factors and Social Classes. (2017, Jan 01). Retrieved from

Don't let plagiarism ruin your grade

Run a free check or have your essay done for you

plagiarism ruin image

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Save time and let our verified experts help you.

Hire writer