THE rulers of the Mauryan dynasty founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 323 BC draped themselves in unstitched garments that flowed with simple functionality. But in the court of the aesthete Nawab Asaf- ud- Daulah of Avadh (1775) mere courtiers, on an average day, draped themselves in about 11 metres of opulent fabric, elaborately cut, stitched and embroidered!
Clothes and costumes make for unconventional manuscripts, hieroglyphs of civilisation easy to ignore. But as Nehru once said: "The history of India may well be written with textiles as its leading motif." Ritu Kumars lavish book, Costumes and Textiles of Royal India which traces the evolution of costumes from Vedic times through the Mauryan, Kushan and Gupta periods, and continues from the Sultanates, the Mughal and British eras right up to the 20th century is a fascinating example of such a history.