The drapes of Rajasthani women reflect a fascinating aspect of their region. Each community has a distinct custom, dwelling, occupation and dress. The attire and jewellery of various groups of the regions right from nomadic tribals, camel-herders, shepherds, craftsmen, traders to warriors had a history of aristocratic tradition and an aura of mythology and religion.
The most important factor that determines variation in a woman’s costume within a community is her marital status. Colour played a vital dimension to social status and connotations. Kachcha colours like red, yellow, saffron, parrot green are considered auspicious and worn depending on customs, time of the year and occasion.
The picture shows Rani Roopmati, wearing a yellow choli, brown odhni embellished with a golden border. The transparent texture of the odhni shows off the zari embroidery.
For centuries together, the ensemble worn by the women in Rajasthan has been a combination of an upper garment (the puthia, or kanchli and kurti), a lower garment (the ghagra or the skirt) and the veil (odhna) draped to flow across the upper and lower parts of the body. Although garments and jewellery may be broadly similar, each community in the region developed an individual version of its costume. These three items of dress comprise the essential costume typically worn by Rajasthani women even today.
The young unmarried girls wear the puthia, a double-breasted garment with an upper flap crossing over the right side and tied with a cord under the left armpit. They graduate to a kanchli, choli or anglia (a short blouse) once they are married. These upper blouses have cords attached on the backside for tying which allows for minor changes in body proportions, and makes it extremely practical. They are embellished with mirror-work, beads and sequins, coral and shells, and creative-cut work.
The ghagra can be a simple gathered skirt or a flared skirt covering the legs fully, and a single length of thread is used to create the gathers at the waist by hand tacking. The ends are ornamented with beads and tassels. To impart elegance, it is embellished heavily with antique borders, or gota-patti work which also gives a natural fall to the skirt.
The odhna or odhni is a veil, which represents and unbroken tradition of wearing unstitched lengths of fabric. It is a rectangular cloth of 3-4 metres in length, tucked with few pleats on the left side of the ghagra. The other end is carried under and behind the left arm, over the head from the back, on to the right shoulder, and tucked back into the ghagra on the front left, covering the chest. The odhna is a symbol of woman’s community, her social and marital status as also her sense of modesty. For example, the Rajput women used the odhni as a purdah to veil their face.
The draped clothing of earlier periods continued to be used in certain regions in India, with new concepts of dress gradually fusing with the ‘timeless’ Indian wear!