COMPARING SARTORIAL INDICES: COSTUME AND COURTLY CULTURE IN MING CHINA AND MUGHAL INDIA
PEOPLE International Journal of Social Sciences
Mughal India and Ming China, two of the greatest empires in medieval Asia, were successful in influencing the cultures of their respective territories and beyond. Although the two empires differed on many grounds like art, society, environment etc., there are nonetheless striking similarities between the two. These similarities are often overshadowed and neglected because of the differences. One such similarity is the clearly defined social hierarchy in the society, articulated explicitly in
... ed explicitly in the functioning of the court, of both these empires. An individual's attire in Ming China clearly reflected his/her position in the courtly hierarchy. Building on this, we tried to look at the role played by attire in establishing social rank in an equally powerful and hierarchical empire of the Mughals in India. Utilizing both primary as well as secondary sources for the purpose of this study, we have tried to bring out parallels in both the empires on practices related to attire or material possessions that led to the nurturing or establishment of social hierarchy. We could observe that, although attire facilitated the establishment of hierarchy in PEOPLE: International Journal of Social Sciences ISSN 2454-5899 25 both the empires, the degree to which it affected the court varied. Our primary sources include contemporary political texts of the period such as "Ain-i-Akbari" and "Da Ming Hui Dian" along with the study of Mughal miniature paintings and classical portraits belonging to the Ming era. During the course of research, we also realized, little work has been done on the relation between attire and social hierarchy, especially in the context of these two empires. Existing scholarship on the subject is mostly by historians of art or fashion specifically. Thus, we believe our work will add to the emerging research on the topic, and takes into view a new perspective to clothing, which is not limited to certain streams of history. 30 them was an acknowledgement on the part of the recipient of subordination to the donor (emperor) and inevitably their superior status (Balakrishnan, 2005). Women's Clothing Despite the noteworthiness of emperors' influence one cannot ignore the role women's clothing in Mughal India. The importance of women's attire is reflected in the fact that Abul Fazl mentions almost sixteen different ways in which women are adorned in his Ain-i-Akbari, which ranged from bathing and combing ones hair to adorning oneself with henna and jewelry made of precious materials. Almost thirty six types of ornaments are mentioned and emphasis is laid on perfumes, so much so that the empire had a separate department, the kushbhukhana for overseeing the production of perfumes (Abū'l-Fadl, Blochmann & Jarrett, 1873). Apart from the accessories, the attire of women of the harem, were not much different from those of the men, they were often made of fine materials like muslin and heavily decorated with gold threads. Some women, with the permission of the emperor, also wore highly ornamented turbans. Considering the heterogeneous nature of the harem, it also acted as a place for the fashions of women to evolve into an amalgamation of the indigenous attire of skirts and the newly emerging styles. Leading among these innovations were those of Nurjahan, who apart from politics had also made considerable contributions to the realms of arts and culture, especially fashion, such as the bringing in of chikankari embroidery. Women from outside the harem mostly wore either lehengas with saris or shalwars/ghagras with qabas (Misra, 1967) . Differentiation in Clothing of the Royal Family The Mughal women of the harem were the representatives of the smooth working of the empire in the social sphere, thereby their sartorial finery were expected to reflect the message (Kumar, 2006) . Not just the women, but the elegance and extravagance in the clothing of the royalty in general acted almost like an assurance of their power. From Akbar's period onwards one can notice the attire of the emperors becoming more sophisticated. Thus, though virtually same clothes were available to all, the attire of the emperor showcased his importance subtly yet clearly. Sometimes, emperors also ordered certain garments for their exclusive use, unless granted permission, as in the case of Jahangir and Akbar. Jahangir, following the footsteps of Akbar, ordered that the nadiri, the tusi shawl, and a few types of qaba were to be worn exclusively by him (Jahangir & Thackston, 1999) .