Fashion as a Popular Representation of Hindu Culture

Nowadays Indian fashion is a mixture of extremes, where traditional clothes are combined with modern ones. The street fashion trend can be definitely called a popular representation of Hindu culture. It is connected with the national history, religion and social life. In addition, it is creates an image of the country and influences the way people percept India. Modern Hindu fashion is the product of post-modern civilization, where heterogeneous elements are combined in kitsch.

The subject of this research essay is investigating into contemporary Indian fashion as a popular representation of Hindu culture. The issue is analyzed from different perspectives. The first thing is mythological and cultural background that has an impact on formation of modern fashion. The second point to consider is historical context and the influence of colonialism on Hindu fashion. Then, the modern designer trends in contemporary Indian fashion will be described.

The topic of the research essay is urgent because it helps to generalize the popular image of India and Hindu culture. The country has a long historical and cultural background that is the world’s heritage. In addition, India is a rapidly growing country that is why the destruction of stereotypical image created by Bollywood is important in a strategically.

In this research, several methods are used. The first method that is applied is the functional one. This approach describes the results of the research so that they can be compared afterwards. The main method is the comparative one. However, it is possible to say that every investigation is comparative in its nature. A descriptive-qualitative method is used to analyze the literature on the research problem. Qualitative data analysis approach is used to describe the impact of historical and cultural background on the modern fashion. Qualitative analysis of the information is an indispensable part of searching for information for thematic descriptions and overview. The collected data was also fractured and contextualized to increase understanding and allow making conclusions. Categorical strategies were used to divide the collected information about cultural and historical background of India and contemporary fashion into subcategories.

According to the framework of this research paper, the following questions are important in creating a thorough image of Hindu fashion:

1) What are the general characteristics of modern Hindu fashion? This question covers such characteristics of the industry as kitsch, heterogeneity and multiculturalism, which are the most important features of post-modern culture. It is also necessary to mention the notion of visual culture. These questions are discussed in the works of Tomas Kulka Kitsch and Art 7, David Morgan The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice 11, Paul Duncum Visual Culture: Developments, Definitions, and Directions for Art Education 4. This question gives an overview of the most significant figures in modern Hindu fashion like Manish Arora. The information about the designer is taken from the articles, for example Hilary Alexander’s Stars of India blazing a stylish, global trail 1.

2) What are the main characteristics of traditional Hindu clothes? What is its cultural and mythological background? This question covers the description of traditional clothes, the symbolism of colors that are traditionally used in creating them. It also investigates into the myths connected with traditional garment. The works by Amar Chitra Katha New and Improved. Recollections of Myth in Modern India 6, Albert C. Moore Iconography of Religions: An Introduction 10, Kate Smith India. A Country of Symbolic Colors 12 and William Buck Mahabharata 2 provide information about these issues.

3) What is the influence of historical background on the state of contemporary Hindu fashion? In this part, the colonization period in India is described. The presence of Europeans led to two different results. From one side, the Indians adopted much from the European way to dress up. From other side, it led to the burst of nationalism and the cult of traditional clothes. The works of the following authors provide the information about colonial period in the country and its influence on Hindu culture: Mathur Discplayind the “Hindoo”: Colonial Exhibits in Britain and France 9, Nicholas B. Dirks Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India 3, Donald Johnson Colonial Influence on Dress in the Indian Subcontinent 5.

4) What is the popular image of India and Hindu culture its fashion create? This part of the research is a generalized conclusion that discusses frequently used stereotypes about India and compares them with the information from the previous parts of the paper.

India is a big country, where people of different nationalities and religion live. They speak more than a hundred languages and Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists are living nearby. India has a unique and old culture that becomes even greater from this multicultural diversity. However, this pluralism and the tradition to combine incompatible things is not only a historical fact that is mentioned in scholarly sources. It is an indispensable part of Hindu culture and is evident in everyday life of the country. Fashion is one of those things that illustrate the contemporary tendencies of mixing European and Indian ways, and creating an original image of an active and developing country.

The tendencies of street fashion allow wearing sari with snickers and printing Buddha on t-shirts and this kitsch is not something out of norm in India. Implementing ethnic motives into western clothes gained popularity in Europe and the United States. This led to appearance of well-known and prolific designers from India, who started popularizing the culture of their country. One of those designers is Manish Arora. He uses classic silhouettes of European clothes and adds traditional Hindu embroidery, beading and appliqué. His works are all created in bright colors and feature religious themes in a kitsch way. The designer said in the interview:

There is more to Indian fashion than just being ethnic and traditional. Ninety percent of Indian fashion design is repetitive. Everybody is stuck in zardosi, zardosi, zardosi. But I look at the new, contemporary India for inspiration in my fashion. Everybody is looking at the booming India at this moment. It is as if the world has just discovered a new land. And I am very much part of that discovery. If outsiders are looking at us, then that makes us look at ourselves harder”8.

Traditional Hindu clothes have a long history. Sari can be called one of the most well known garments, which is very popular nowadays even outside India. There is a legend about sari in Mahabharata book called “The game of Dice”. This episode led to the Mahabharata war in the end. Yudhishthira, the ruler of Indraprastha, lost everything in the game of dice. He put his wife Draupadi as a bet in his last game and lost. The woman was brought from her room when she was not dressed up fully. She had only “a clad in one piece of attire” on her, which referred to the sari. No one was able to undress her, because the cloth was very long and Draupadi was not dishonored2.

The colors of traditional Hindu clothes are symbolical and closely connected with religion. They have not lost their significance during the time and even now, they mean the same things as several centuries ago. Kate Smith writes about the symbolism of the red color:

Red is dynamic and constantly breathing fire in the eyes of the beholder. It incites fear and is the color associated with one of the most revered goddesses in Hindu mythology – Durga. Her fiery image is enhanced by her red tongue and almost red eyes.Red also stands for purity and is the preferred color for a bride’s garment. Red has a deep meaning in the Indian psyche. It commemorates the union between two people and is visible right from the wedding, where the bride is decked in brilliant hues of red to the red tikka (spot on forehead) that she adorns after the wedding as a sign of her commitment”12

Even though the Western way to dress is popular in India, it naturally combined with local traditions. Colonization period had a great influence on the development of the country. Many things were taken from British, but this historical period also led to the burst of nationalism in the country and numerous protests against such government. The political and social life is inseparable from fashion. For example, in the nineteenth century the colonizers from Britain wore only clothes of European style, rejecting to mix with local population. This led to popularization of western clothes among Indians, who thought that wearing a European suit might make them as powerful as British colonizers were. The twentieth century became the age of revolution against the colonization and as a result, the supporters of Mahatma Gandhi wore traditional Indian clothes. Fashion became a symbol of independence and understanding the nation’s value.

People usually judge by appearance. This statement is true not only for individuals, but for entire nations too. Fashion creates a popular image of the country and simplifies its cultural and historical background to minor details in the garment. Hindu fashion is not an exception, as it combines centuries of cultural development.


1. Alexander H. Stars of India blazing a stylish, global trail. The Telegraph; 2007.

2. Buck W. Mahabharata. Motilal Banarsidass; 2000.

3. Dirks NB. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton

University Press; 2011.

4. Duncum P. Visual Culture: Developments, Definitions, and Directions for Art Education; 2001. Available from

5. Johnson D. Colonial Influence on Dress in the Indian Subcontinent. Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion. Available from

6. Katha AC. New and Improved. Recollections of Myth in Modern India; 2000.

7. Kulka T. Kitsch and Art. Penn State Press; 2010.

8. Lakshmi R. From Low Art to High Fashion in India. The Washington Post; 2008. Available from

9. Mathur S. Discplayind the “Hindoo”: Colonial Exhibits in Britain and France; 2003.

10. Moore AC. Iconography of Religions: An Introduction. Chris Robertson; 1977.

11. Morgan D. The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice. University of California Press; 2005.

12. Smith, K. India. (2013). A Country of Symbolic Colors. Available from

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