Ancient India Didn’t Preach Sanskar that the Modern Day Custodians of Culture are Asking You to Follow

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Every custodian of culture, guardian of morality, and stooge of patriarchy have been thrusting us, women, with an uncalled weight of sanskar on our shoulders especially when it comes to our dressing style. Our character, moral values, ethics, and modesty are measured by the length and cuts of our dresses.

As the moral police continue to perpetuate their chauvinism on us, I sometimes wonder, if modern Indian women (both in urban and rural India) are really crossing their line according to their culture, ethnic and sanskar that these self-proclaimed custodians of morality preach?

By giving us lectures while hiding their sexism and patriarchal mindsets, are they really following the dictums of Indian culture, values, modesty, and ethics?

Well, not really! Because in none of the eras of the ancient India was the modesty of a woman measured by her clothes! In fact, if you notice all the earliest representations of women from different times, you’ll notice that they were always in minimal clothing.

The normal dress of the women during the Indus Valley Civilization was a very scanty skirt (antariyas) up to knee length which left the waist bare. Even during the Vedic period, there was a free spirited form of dressing. Back in ancient India, clothing was only related to comforts. Modesty was never equal to covering the body in a certain aspect. In fact, in terms of clothing, nothing has been ever imposed on us.

While the brigade of moral policing ‘label’ girls wearing sleeveless and crop tops as unsanskari (not cultured), it is interesting to note that there is no dictum in our culture on what to wear and not to wear. A quick glance at old carvings suggest how the upper area coverings were minimal and it was part of the normal life.

For a brief period of time, Indian women didn’t even wear a blouse underneath their saree. Much later, even during the colonial times, some lower caste women in south India didn’t cover their upper body and women even from the elite class in Bengal wore saree without the blouse.

Nobody tagged them uncultured or slut-shamed them because the sumptuary laws of what one should wear never really existed in India. In India, throughout the centuries, it was only important for a woman to cover her body with a draped fabric, saree, no matter what lied underneath.

However, things did change post the entry of the East India Company. It was the Victorian society that had issues with such dressing even when Indian society was okay with it. No wonder, they had their own code of conducts and only because of their protocol did the imposition of blouse became a norm.

In our culture, the dress has always been as per one’s comfort, it was never because of one’s values, modesty or moral because unlike the westerners, Indians never had any code of conduct about what to wear and how to wear.

It was because of this dressing code that Rabindranath Tagore’s sister-in-law Jnanadanandini Debi was refused an entry in a club for not wearing a blouse underneath her saree. Yes, measuring one’s character, moral and status by their dressing style is a modern phenomenon gifted to us by the goras, it was never a part of our culture or sanskar.

I, therefore wonder, whether these guardians of hemline who are under the impression that they are teaching women some sanskar by prescribing what women should wear, realize that they are not endorsing our culture but are following in the footsteps of their older administrative overlords.

About Deepti Verma 93 Articles
Deepti Verma is a Political/Social Writer and Researcher based in Navi Mumbai. A lightworker, she is often seen spreading the light via Law of Attraction, Positive Affirmations and other Manifestation as well as self-healing techniques. Follow @universal_rover