Suniti, the Maharani of Cooch Behar - So elegant in white, but she is wearing mourning. This formal portrait was made in 1929 when she was about 65 years old.
Her son Jit was one of the most devastatingly handsome men I’ve ever seen in photographs. Jit’s daughter, her granddaughter, was the exquisitely beautiful Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. But all those good looks don’t matter when your husband and sons die young. Suniti’s sense of style was highly fashionable early on, and even here her utter calm and unique way of wearing an absolutely plain white saree over a long-sleeved blouse, are striking and timeless.
This young Parsi lady posing for a studio portrait wears a western dress bodice as a blouse – highly fashionable mid-to-late 1870s style – just what the English women were wearing then. She makes the combination work, though, with the head covering, jewellery and western shoes, and looks thoroughly elegant. The large cuffs and sleeve trimmings are a hallmark of the 1870s.
Delightful collection of outfits here – listed as Parsi and Brahmin girls in Bombay, probably the 1880s. Photographed outdoors, the group exhibits a variety of styles in sarees plus the striped tunic and trousers on the smallest Parsi girl. While the girl on the chair wears a dark saree with fancy narrow borders (like the 1870s image above), the one at the left has a beautiful saree of high-contrast leaves or flowers woven in close formation.
The little girl on the ground wears a traditional choli with her subtle saree, but the three older cmpanions have long sleeved western-style blouses, small prints on white or light coloured cotton that reach just below their waists. Tiny spots fill the saree with the broad-banded pallu, an early style still woven in a few parts of India today.
Pretty saree in a plum colour, with what must have been a very lovely pallu, wrapped and tucked around at the waist. Grandmother’s unadorned white saree didn’t photograph well, so drape lines were drawn in by hand afterwards. Baby wears a simple dress of ca. 1920s Western style, low waisted, and reaches into a biscuit tin.
Rather garish tinting on this postcard, but still an interesting look at the choices the American missionaries made. Also from the earlier decades of the 20th century, I like the traditional skirt outfits the younger girls are wearing. Many places in what is now Andhra Pradesh are known for their hand woven and printed cotton sarees; lots in my collection.
Taken through glass at an exhibit and not a good copy, here is the earliest photograph I’ve found of one of my favourites, Maharani Vani Vilasa of Mysore: mother of the five adorable children I blogged about for the past two weeks, and whose Maharaja husband died young, making her Regent to their son. As a pretty girl in the late 1870s (married at age 12), she wears Mysore’s characteristic front-trained saree in a light woven check with silk and/or zari borders and pallu, the end around her upper right arm like a sleeve. She retained her sweet expression over the following 50+ years.
This carefully selected and posed woman graced a postcard advertising Indian tea. Not exactly ”tribal” in the sense of a remote indigenous culture, but different from town or city styles, her saree is clearly a holdover from simpler days. Contrasting borders, well draped, add an aesthetic design element worthy of a Paris fashion house of any era. The body of the saree appears slightly variegated, suggesting even in black-and-white the soft hues of natural dyes and hand-woven cloth of homespun thread.
Here is the follow-up photograph from Father’s Day last Sunday. The elder princesses wear very traditional belted sarees with woven checks this time. Black and white is appropriate, but I wish there were tinting on this image. The littlest girl’s costume is not really visible, but it is different from her sisters. The boys look more mature now; all of them seem somber. This was taken soon after the Maharaja’s death from diptheria, leaving their mother as Regent until ten-year-old Krishnaraja IV came of age. He ruled Mysore until 1940, highly praised for the cultural and technological advancements of his state.
HH Chamaraja Wadeyar of Mysore, a handsome man whose family has been shown here before, sits with his five beautiful children. This is so elegant, and the little ones look so innocently out of the image in their lovely silk sarees, suits and jewellery. Careful hand painting added the colours here, rich pink and green with golden borders on the girls’ dress. I like how the short end of the pallu makes a “sleeve” over the right shoulders of the older princesses. I believe His Highness is still in his late twenties in this image, and will tragically die in 1894 at the age of 31.