Coveted by the Timurid Mughal emperors to beat the stifling heat, mul-mul also offered a clean slate for their priceless gems
At times so fragile mul-mul garments were reputed to last only one-wear, and consequently very few specimens survive today. However, miniature paintings, folios and albums are proof of the delicately diaphanous nature of this exquisite textile where kings and queens are both clad in virtually transparent jamas or robes, and where the body, the material and print of the pajamas – the lower garment – are clearly seen through what appears to be a layer of breeze. Even in winter scenes, mul-mul is clearly visible, worn under layers of poshak, pashmina chogas with collars of mink and ermine, fine pashmina patkas or kummerbunds (waistbands) and swathes of shahtoos shawls.
Accounts from travelers also provide vivid descriptions of the attire at court. The French jeweler Francois Bernier, who visited the Mughal court in 1670, while recording the royal karkhanas or workshops says, “…. In a sixth (one) manufacturers of silk, brocade and those fine muslins of which are made turbans, girdles with golden flowers and drawers worn by females, so delicately fine as frequently to wear out in one night.”
Subsequent techniques to embellish mul-mul included jamdani, a ‘flowered and figured’ muslin with loom-woven patterns of a discontinuous weft, which could be cotton silk or silver thread. Later the art of chikan kari, cotton thread needle embroidery with its 32 stitches, and badla, pure silver strand, also emerged as embellishment, ostensibly patronised by the co-sovereign Nur Jahan, with her superb Persian design aesthetic.